What makes for a truly great rider?
Amazing skill, a great horse, lots of money and a trainer at your beck and call? Undoubtedly any one of those attributes would be exceedingly helpful to any equestrian, never mind a great one. Yet is it enough? Or is it even what is most important in the quest to being truly successful?
Upon closer examination of what makes top performers, be that riders, athletes, musicians or business people, so very good at what they do, we soon notice that they all share a number of attitudes, character traits and mental skills absolutely essential to success. First of all, every single top performer will have shown incredible levels of commitment to their chosen field. They will have lived and breathed whatever it was, sometimes to the detriment of other areas of their lives. But more often than not, they wouldn’t even have said that they had missed out on anything – quite simply because they wouldn’t have felt that they had! But that kind of commitment doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has to be fed by real passion, by the kind of fuel that keeps the fire burning even when things get tough! And tough they will get! Being exceptional and exceptionally committed, at the expense of what society considers a “normal” lifestyle, usually causes quite a few raised eyebrows, and more often than not a fair share of jealousy or even hostility.
This is where the concepts of single-mindedness and mental toughness come in.
Single-mindedness, much like commitment, means being prepared to put the blinkers on, and to just keep on going, no matter what. And mental toughness? Mental toughness will make sure those exceptional individuals pick themselves back up after they have been knocked down, trodden on and left to flounder. Mental toughness is the coat that keeps them warm in the chill of the headwind, and nice and cool under the scorching lights of scrutiny.
All these traits fit together like puzzle pieces to form the backdrop to another layer essential to top performance: solid mental skills! Being in control, confident in one’s own abilities and knowing precisely what to do and when to do it – extremely important in any type of sport. But even more so in equestrian sports. Horses are, after all, highly sensitive flight animals. That means that they’ll react first and ask questions, well, never… In essence, that also means that every time riders get on their horses, they need to be fully committed,aware and “in the moment”, they need to be in control of their bodies, their thoughts and their emotions, just to make sure that whatever they communicate is precisely what they had aimed to do in the first place.
And the good news is… the traits and skills described above can be achieved by anyone. All it requires is the right kind of mindset and the willingness to put just a little bit of effort into it. But that’s the beauty of dealing with equestrians – at least that is one trait that just about every single rider already has in bucket loads: a real sense of commitment – to their horses and to their sport!
So, really, what are you waiting for?!
Inga Wolframm is a writer, scientist and sport psychologist focusing on equestrian sports. Read more about Inga HERE.