Your mental preparation starts the moment you walk your course. Ok maybe it starts the moment you get your venti latte, but the course walk really is one of the most critical elements in any rider’s pre-class prep. It might seem like just another routine at the show and after riding many horses at many shows, you might feel like you can get away with a quick browse or walk through the numbers. However, the better your preparation, the better your ride will be. Don’t leave anything to chance and prepare like a pro. Put that FitBit on and get ready to log some steps, my friend.
Photo by Thomas Reiner.
Instead of walking just to memorize the numbers, walk your course like it’s a story. Take in all the details, starting with how you will enter the arena, where you will pick up the canter, how you ride in between each fence, and finally, jumping the last fence and exiting the arena. You can even visualize your celebratory post-win champagne. It’s all part of your story.
Many of my clients have mentioned they get confused or start to doubt their plan when watching too many riders go around. Watching others fail or riding the lines completely differently than you’ve planned can throw you off track. So, if you recognize yourself in this, try only watching a few riders to keep you focused and confident.
When interviewing McLain Ward, he told me how important it is to be open-minded, or in other words - have a certain amount of time to adjust your plan (when watching other riders, for example). But, he also explained it is important to finalize your plan at some point to avoid going into the ring and still not knowing how to tackle your course. Pick a moment when you finalize your plan, then stick to it. Perhaps straight after watching a few other riders or, like McLain, when getting on in the warm-up area. And let’s be real: if McLain does it, it’s probably a good thing.
Now that you have a specific plan, you can visualize this plan in your mind. Watch it like a movie. Ideally, you repeat this visualization three times exactly how you would like to ride it. Aim to include as much detail as possible. What will you hear, what will you feel and what will you see? The more this mental video comes to life, the more powerful it is. Once you’ve gone through it three times, let it go and trust yourself: you will ride exactly as you imagined it!