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BOOK REVIEW AND GIVE AWAY (Wordlwide)! Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride. Sport Psychology for Successful Riding by Inga Wolframm

REVIEWED

How do you become a successsful rider? I’ve been asked this question many times and it’s never easy to come up with an answer. The rider, the horse, the training, the facilities, the support team – eventually all these elements need to come together to form a whole.

And yet, I’m convinced that it all starts with the rider. […]

I believe that, as riders, we’ll need to work on ourselves, every second of every day. Being patient and remaining calm and quiet at all times, regardless of whether we’re going for a hack around the block or are about to perform at a major competition, whether we’re at the top of our game or things aren’t working out quite the way we’d hoped. Anyone who wants to get to the top of their chosen discipline will have to deal with the inevitable highs and lows. They are all part of the experience: one day you’ll win an event and the next you’ll hit the deck. […]

Foreword by Mary King, Olympic three-day eventer

The above is a fragment of the Foreword by Mary King to Inga Wolframm’s brilliantly readable,  educational and engaging new book Perfect Mind” Perfect Ride.

When I first heard about this book I thought it was going to be a fairly dry and perhaps scientific material but I couldn’t be further from my assumptions. Packed with real life anecdotes and examples of experiences of top riders and amateurs alike, this book makes sports psychology enjoyably digestible and totally makes you feel like you want to try the stuff out rather than survive through a painful lecture!

Deep down, we all know that confidence makes or breaks our pleasure from riding, training and competing. The same goes for our horses. Shy, distrusting, worried and spooky horse is not one most riders would feel connected with and happy on. Yet, as riders, we could sometimes be described with exact same adjectives…

Inga’s book gives you a great tool, a starting point to sort your own attitude, develop mental skills that train your mind.

Having said all the above, the content is not just or all about nerves control as such. It is also an insight into elements of a roadmap to essential mental qualities that any rider needs: commitment, focus, ability to deal with adversity, controlling moods, constructive approach to analysing performances.

Through conversational style, Inga sparks your interest in various concepts rather than simply telling you about them, which I personally found very captivating.

Imagery. It’s all about seeing yourself perform, right?

Wrong. Or at least, not quite right.

Remember the descriptionists’ explanation for why imagery works? It is our language that makes an experience come to life. But words don’t merely paint a picture. They also describe how something might sound, smell and taste. Most importantly though, the words used during imagery should describe how an experience might feel.

What does it feel like as your horse engages his hind quarters? What does it feel like when he is soft in the contact? What do ‘keeping a rhythm’ or ‘collection’ feel like? […]

The book will also help those who always strive for perfection not just in their riding but also in other aspects of life – for me, it helped me with understanding and easing off pressure I put on myself to deliver best possible lessons and blaming myself if the rider isn’t doing as well as I think they should. There is a fine line between healthy desire for excellence and unhealthy expectations that don’t deal a hand of responsibility evenly.

Physical fitness isn’t much without mental fitness. ‘Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride’ is like a jolly, personal mental trainer with whom you will get to know yourself in ways you perhaps did not consider before…a trainer who will take you for a fascinating session in understanding that confidence is not something you have or don’t have, it’s something you work on every day.

AND THERE IS MORE 🙂 Inga and her publisher – Quiller Publishing – has kindly sent me a copy of the book and I would love to offer it as a Give Away. If you feel you would benefit from reading ‘Perfect Mind: Perfect Ride’ here is how to snap it! 🙂 

1) Share this blog post either by Re-blogging it, sharing on Twitter or Facebook or by emailing link to it to your friends.

2) Email me at aspire@outlook.com with a few sentences about why you would like this book and mention how you shared the post.

The deadline is 16th July 2015, 10pm UK time and I will email the lucky winner to ask for address and contact details by Monday 20th July.

Look forward to hearing from you and letting the book fly to someone who will make a great use of it 🙂

If you already read it, please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wiola

Dr Inga Wolframm: Horse sports – almost like the Hunger Games

“I almost faint at the sight of my calf. The flesh is a brilliant red covered with blisters. I force myself to take deep, slow breaths, feeling quite certain the cameras are on my face. I can’t show weakness at this injury. Not if I want help. Pity does not get you aid. Admiration at your refusal to give in does.”

If you’ve read “The Hunger Games”, you might – as I do – consider this scene as one of the most pivotal ones in the “arena”. If you haven’t, allow me to summarise: Katniss Everdeen, the main protagonist in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian world, is one of 24 “tributes” – teenagers sent into an artificial habitat with the sole aim of killing one another until only one is left standing. However, once in a while the brains behind this most cruel version of reality TV lend a helping hand and come up with additional “challenges” for the contestants. In this particular scene, Katniss has just been caught by a fireball the size of a hand grenade.

The scene is gripping on so many different levels, but it’s Katniss’ reaction to her harrowing injury that struck a chord with the sport psychologist in me.

fallingOkay, I grant you, it is unlikely that, as a rider, you’ll have fireballs thrown at you. Still, there’ll be many instances where your equestrian career will feel as cruel, forbidding and dangerous as the Hunger Games (we even have arenas too!). At a show, you’ll be fighting to come out on top (at times you might even feel like murdering the competition or shoot an arrow at the judges), you’ll have to manage injuries – your own or that of your horse – and, unless you’re exceedingly lucky, you’ll continuously struggle to make ends meet.

It’s a lot to deal with by anyone’s standard. And the question is, how do you cope?

Researchers in (sport) psychology agree that there are various ways of dealing with problems, but which particular manner we choose really depends on the situation we find ourselves in and how we’ve dealt with things in the past. Generally speaking, coping can be divided, on the one hand, into two styles, i.e. approach- or avoidance-styles, and, on the other two, into two coping strategies, i.e. emotion- or problem-focused coping.

As the names suggest, an individual choosing approach coping aims to face the problem head on, while avoidance coping means temporarily sticking one’s head in the proverbial sand. Problem-focused strategies are action orientated, that usually involve some kind of cognitive element too. Emotion-focused strategies focus on dealing with the feelings a problem has evoked.

By the way, whether you should use problem or emotion-focused strategies depends quite a bit on the situation itself. If you’re facing an issue that requires thinking your way through, you should employ the more analytical problem-focused strategy. If, however, your emotions get in the way, you might be better off using an emotion-focused strategy.

As Professor Mark Anshel from Middle Tennessee State University demonstrates in his two-dimensional framework this leaves us with four coping measures to choose from:

Inga W photo

However, as interesting as such a framework is, you’ll presumably know from experience that there are ways of dealing with your problems that are more effective than others. Evidence suggests that, in the short term, both approach and avoidance styles have merit, but – and you’ve probably already guessed it – in the long term, the approach style wins hands down. The reason? If you keep running away from a particular problem, chances are, it’ll keep coming after you. If, however, you decide to come to grips with it, you’re much more likely to solve it once and for all.

I’m a firm believer in approach coping.

In equestrian sports, we continually deal with an animal approximately ten times as heavy as we are, with a will of its own. Sticking your head in the sand is likely to make things much, much worse. Much better to figure out a strategy of how to overcome a particular problem. This could be anything from letting your horse get checked out physically, taking lessons from a good coach, getting good, safe kit for yourself, or learning new skills, such as relaxation techniques (always a good one to improve fine motor skills.)

It’s what Katniss Everdeen did and it really worked for her. She refused to engage in the ultimate avoidance – lay down and die. Instead, she chose to fight, dealing with her problems the best way she could, winning the Hunger Games in the process (she also caused a revolution, but that’s another story for another day).

Dr Inga Wolframm: “When Things Go Wrong…”

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Off for a XC schooling…

It doesn’t matter what it is: an important show, a training session with the world’s greatest trainer, a once-in-a-blue-moon trip to the beach with your mates. You’re really looking forward to it. You’ve trained your socks off for it. You’ve planned the whole thing to within an inch of its life. You’ve worked so hard on your mental and physical fitness that you’re considering changing your middle name to “Nijna”.

And then, on the big day, it all goes TERRIBLY wrong.

The weather, the judges, the organisers, the traffic, the quite simply enormous waves – everyone and everything seem to be conspiring against you. To add insult to injury, as you pull your horse of the trailer, you discover that he’s undergone a personality transplant without your prior knowledge. The polite, well-behaved equine gentleman (or woman) you’ve known for years has morphed into a fire-breathing dragon and you forgot to bring the fire extinguisher. Or your superman reincarnation on four legs suddenly appears no bigger, nor fiercer, than the average field mouse. No coaxing, pleading or bribing can persuade him to go near his own shadow let alone any other horses…

It’s enough to drive anyone crazy. It’s enough to question your preparation, your planning, your training. Enough to doubt anything you’ve ever done with your horse.

You know what? That’s both normal and understandable. If faced with circumstances we’ve never had to deal with before, even the most confident among us might get a case of wobbly knees for a a second or two and worry what we should do.* But it’s what you do next is that counts.

And for many riders, the thing to do next is… errr…panic!

All at once, they stop doing what they’ve always done. The routine they’ve built up over the years and their horse has got used to vanishes in the blink of an eye. No more tacking up in a specific order (for example), no more walking for 10 minutes to warm-up (for example). No more 15 minutes of easy loosening up, before horse and rider start to work in earnest (for example).

Oh no! Circumstances change, and the temptation to adopt a state of emergency is simply too great. Tack is thrown on, riders jump on board. Reins are tightened and the horse is told to “behave” in no uncertain terms.

And the horse? He quite literally has no idea what’s going on. He simply reacts to a situation that has now gone from a little scary to absolutely terrifying. And we all know what that means … The rider, already in a state of heightened arousal (to put it mildly), more often than not interprets such behaviour as yet another reason to take drastic measures. A vicious circle of behaviour ensues that is tricky to break. I think we can all agree that it’s much, much better to not get sucked into it in the first place!

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“[…] So especially in situations that are different to “normal”, you should try and stick to your tried-and-tested routines as much as possible. That way, there’ll at least be some things your horse is familiar with and derive feelings of security from. […]
How? 

Horses thrive on routine, especially in times of stress or uncertainty. Doing the same thing, following the same order of events, applying the same aids, using the same cues and rewards will help a horse settle much more quickly than any abrupt changes of proceedings ever could.

So especially in situations that are different to “normal”, you should try and stick to your tried-and-tested routines as much as possible. That way, there’ll at least be some things your horse is familiar with and derive feelings of security from.

By the way, there’s an added bonus too: reminding yourself of how you always do things in times of crisis, will also help you feel more secure and keep that feeling of rising panic at bay. Really, it’s just another behavioural circle, only it’s not vicious: a calm(er) you resulting in a calm(er) horse; a calm(er) horse resulting in a calm(er) you.

And even though things might still not go quite the way you might have hoped, they’ll at least not turn into a complete disaster!

*Please note: A little bit of self-doubt once in a while can be a good thing (but only when you’re not smack-bang in the middle of a stressful situation). It makes you reevaluate the status quo, question where you’re currently at and where you want to be. It might even make you think outside the box and allows you to come up with innovative solutions (this, incidentally, is why I’ve argued in one of my previous blogs that a bit of trauma can be good for you – it teaches you how to cope).

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More about Dr Inga Wolframm: HERE

Dr Inga Wolframm on Dealing With Nerves [Harry Potter Style…]

Remember the “Boy who lived”, aka Harry Potter?

As it turns out, J.K. Rowling didn’t just manage to set a trend for so called “crossover books” – books that appeal to children and adults – she also knew a thing or two about sport psychology…

Picture the scene, if you will: It’s the morning of the first Quidditch match of the season. Griffindor is playing Slytherin with Ron Weasley as their new keeper. Harry and his friends are just settling down for breakfast.

“How’re you feeling?” Ginny asked Ron, who was now staring into the dregs of milk at the bottom of his empty cereal bowl as though seriously considering attempting to drown himself in them.

“He’s just nervous,” said Harry.

“Well, that’s a good sign, I never feel you perform as well in exams if you’re not a bit nervous,” said Hermione heartily.

nervesHermione is right. Nervousness, anxiety, stress, whatever you want to call it, can be a good thing. Adrenalin is the body’s very own energy drink. It energises people, boosting reaction times and the ability to concentrate. Faster breathing rates and a pumping heart means more oxygen and the release of glucose (facilitated by cortisol). The result? More fuel for hard working muscles.

Stress can be a very good thing. It can help improve performance. As long as people – Ron, Hermione, or, most importantly for the purpose of this blog, riders – are mentally tough enough to deal with it. Several groups of researchers, among them Dr. Graham Jones and his colleagues, have gone about trying to define this concept called mental toughness. It is summarised as

“having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to, generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer and, specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.”1

Quite a mouthful, right? In essence, what Jones and colleagues are saying is that individuals who embrace the stresses of competitive sports generally end up outperforming their peers time and time again – not because their necessarily more skilful or talented, but because they thrive on the stress of competitive life.

So how do you develop mental toughness?

Well, one of the key elements to it, is the concept of “self-belief”. Jones and colleagues have managed to distil it down to four elements, that I have summarised for you as follows:

1. Reminding yourself of all the things you had to do to get to where you are now. Remember all the hours learning, training, refining you and your horse did over the years? They will pay off. They always do, as long as you keep at it.

2. The conviction that you can achieve anything you want. (We’re often told that being arrogant doesn’t win you any favours. Well, in sports, it’s a necessity to think you’re excellent at what you do. Think of it as being your own biggest fan.)

3. No obstacle is too great to overcome. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to go out and buy yourself a top show jumper – and even if you had a spare 8 million lying around, London’s no longer for sale. But you do need to develop solid coping strategies.

4. Be passionate! Passion, if it’s strong enough (and with riders it usually is), will give you the necessary staying power to enable you to reach your goals in the end.

So what about Ron? Did he come to see his nerves as something positive? Well, not for the first few games. In fact, the Slytherins were so delighted with his abysmal performance, they came up with a this little ditty:

“Weasley cannot save a thing,

He cannot block a single ring,

That’s why Slytherins all sing:

Weasley is our King.”

Not particularly encouraging, is it? Especially when you’re already struggling to believe in yourself.

But then (this is one book later, by the way), on the morning of yet another Quidditch match, Harry pretends to spike Ron’s juice with Felix Felicis, a lucky potion. Ron, believing luck is on his side saves every single quaffle (the ball Hogwarts students play with). After the game, Harry admits that it had all been a ruse to help Ron believe in himself.

“I wanted Ron to think I’d done it, so I faked it (putting the potion into Ron’s juice) when I knew you were looking.” He looked at Ron. “You saved everything because you felt lucky. You did it all yourself.”

Finally, realisation hits and Ron starts to believe in himself for real:

“See! I can save goals without help, Hermione!”

Sure enough, from that day on Ron’s nerves stop being a problem and he becomes a very good keeper. (He also ends up having a blazing row with Hermione, but that’s beside the point.)

The moral of the story? Believing in yourself, trusting in your own abilities, knowing that you are good enough to do what you have to do, will hone your mental toughness and turn your pre-competitive flutters into the wings you need to excel.

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1 Jones, Hanton and Connaughton (2007) A Framework of Mental Toughness in the World’s Best Performers

More on Dr Inga Wolframm: https://aspireequestrian.wordpress.com/guest-bloggers/affiliate-blogger-inga-wolframm/

 

Dr Inga Wolframm: A Measure of Success

It’s a question that plays a central role for most competitive riders. How to measure success.

We live (and ride) in a world where one record score is chasing the next. I’m not just talking about that international lot either – even at local, regional, national level reports focus on “highest score of the day”, “the week” or “the competition”. And because of the ever-present social media, it’s become almost impossible to not know about it. So, being a competitive rider striving for some level of recognition, some small measure of success, is tough. Perhaps tougher than ever before.

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Therefore, you and many other riders, might tell yourself that being successful equals… exactly, winning! So if you want to make your mark in the horsey world – be that at local or international level – you must win.

You go to a show thinking that you’ll do just that. Win. And why the hell not? You’ve practised hard, you’ve got a good horse, you know your test. So, really, you deserve to win. By the time you get to the show ground, you’re wound up so tight nobody in your entourage dares to talk to you any more.

And then you find out who’s judging today.

Oh no! That judge hates your horse. But you’ve set yourself the goal to win. You’ll never manage now. But you must! You really, really, must.

So you get on your horse. You manage to calm yourself, telling yourself how hard you’ve practised and you walk him to the warm-up arena.

But there, heaven forbid, is your biggest competitor. What is she doing here? She rides that really expensive horse, and her trainer’s always by her side. That’s not fair! You were going to win, and now you probably won’t.

But you’re here now, so you might as well go through with it. You warm up your horse – keeping an eye on your nemesis the entire time. Her horse is more collected than yours, isn’t it? And in the extended trot, her horse has got a lot more reach.

But it’s almost time to go in, so you rush through another few of the movements. Your horse feels less through than usual. But how can that be? You’ve been practising so hard…

Never mind, you’re in the ring now. Just before the judge (that dreaded judge – she isn’t even smiling. Gosh, she really hates your horse), rings the bell, you notice your old trainer (friend, owner of your horse, etc.) standing at the enclosure, watching you. What will he think of you? Oh dear, he might think your horse is going much worse than the last time he saw you. And now your horse is dropping off your leg, and going against the contact.

That’s when the bell goes.

You muddle through as best as you can. The final score is not great. You didn’t win.

You go home. You’re so disappointed.

Okay, I admit, that example was perhaps a little over the top. But many of you will recognise yourselves in some, if not all, of the micro-scenarios described above.

The problem almost always starts with the wrong definition of success. To many riders today success equals winning. Not so! At least not in my view.

If you focus on winning from the outset, you’re putting yourself in a situation that is almost impossible to control. There’s simply too many variables to control: The judge, other riders, the horses other riders sit on. But if you want to win, everything needs to go in your favour. That’s luck, not skill. Deep down, we all know that we cannot influence luck – and it makes us terribly nervous.

The result is that we keep thinking about the things we can’t control, rather than the things we should control – namely the horse we sit on.

Much better than to shift your mindset from wanting to win to riding the very best test you possibly can. That means thinking about all the things you can do to make sure your test really sparkles: solid practise, good management, leaving on time, knowing how to ride your warm-up, and, most importantly, knowing how you need to ride your test (e.g. do you need to keep him sharp throughout, or does he need to stay relaxed instead, that sort of thing).

If you manage all that – if you manage to achieve everything you yourself set out to do – then you are successful. No matter where you end up compared to the rest of the world (in all honesty though, if you’ve done all of that, in all likelihood it’ll be reflected in your final score anyway).

P.s.: It’s quite obvious that I’ve used the disciplines that are judged, i.e. dressage, Western or vaulting as an example. But it equally applies to other, non-judged, disciplines too.

Dr Inga Wolframm on Being Great…

Bella (www.bellagiles-smith.co.uk) and Stuart Boyle’s Rudy during Aspire training session on 13th April 2014. Photo credit: Pacific Vidaurri

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

Pure Essence Photography

Great new book for riders’ and coaches’ bookshelves! – The Science of Equestrian Sports by Inga Wolframm

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See Inside the book feature

“The Science of Equestrian Sports is a comprehensive study of the theory and practice of the rider in equine sport. While most scholarship to date has focused on the horse in competition, this is the first book to collate current data relating specifically to riders. It provides valuable insight into improving sporting performance and maintaining the safety of both the horse and the rider.

Drawing on the latest scientific research, and covering a wide range of equestrian disciplines from horseracing to eventing, the book systematically explores core subjects such as:

 

  • physiology of the rider
  • sport psychology in equestrian sport
  • preventing injury
  • biomechanics and kinematics
  • coaching equestrian sport
  • the nature of horse-rider relationships

This holistic and scientific examination of the role of the horse rider is essential reading for sport science students with an interest in equestrian sport and equitation. Furthermore, it will be an invaluable resource for instructors, coaches, sport psychologists, or physiologists working with equestrian athletes.”

More: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415637251/