Practice What I Preach

I have been having a most amazing horse show season walking much of my talk as a competitor, student, sport psychologist and equestrian community member. Just back from my last show, Sacramento International, I felt I must write about a magical moment I had of re-finding my joy. There is a lot of rich material left uncovered in that final day’s experience, which I had planned to write about soon. But hours after I returned home from Sacramento the Sonoma County firestorm broke out, freezing us all in our tracks, and thrusting us into survival mode.

Now two weeks after the storm engulfed our lives, I just went for a Sunday morning run with my Chihuahua Riley in clear, stunning autumn air and got inspired to write about elements of my MindZone as depicted from a peak performance video from a recent show. My intention is to share my process of deciphering peak performance and elements that lead to it, so I may support others to do the same.

A fortunate surprise

On the final day in Sacramento, I had the gift of seeing the world through an 8 year old boy’s eyes (my trainer’s son) as he helped his dad help me on Classic day.

The boy proudly helped lead my gelding to the mounting block after we switched tack from my mare. For a second I was put off with a bit of concern but as I saw his confidence and connection with my horse, not to mention his pure energy, I was brought back to my original reason for falling in love with show jumping. The authenticity and joy this boy exuded brought me to my core values. My mood shifted upward and my gratitude for this opportunity increased! Thank you young man for the reset!

Although my final rounds that Sunday at Sac International didn’t produce ribbons (I had 4 faults on both horses), I reveled in this reminder that my young friend inadvertently gave me. There is deep joy in connecting with my horses to tackle challenging tracks under pressure. The connection and trust that these equines are teaching me is why I ride and compete.

Practice what I preach

It was the second week of a two-week run at Sonoma Horse Park September shows. I had been riding well and experienced flow many times in a row when competing in the Modified Junior Amateur 1.20 division. Somehow I haven’t quite dialed this in for Sunday Classic day but during the week and Saturday I feel calm, equipped, and confident in the ring every time I enter. After one solid round my trainer suggested I try the Low Junior Amateur 1.30 division the next day for the speed class. I was excited, a bit nervous and shocked that I had potentially reached this level. Much of this success I attribute to my mount, D’Artagnan VK who is competent jumping much higher, but it takes two so I was feeling a certain sense of prowess as well!

I had to work with my nerves to manage to stay focused and comfortable approaching the class. The walk felt comfortable and really the jumps did not look too big so I focused on learning the strides and the plan, knowing that all I had to expect of myself was to have a comfortable round. No worries about rails, time, or and simple mistakes – just ride and do my best. I had a clear mindset going in that really helped.

Note to self: keep pre-round intentions and mindset free of outcome-based thinking and seek my best in that/those moments.

Mindfulness Paves the Path to Peak Performance

Here are some of my debriefing thoughts that emerge as I review this round in an attempt to add to my MindZone personal preferences and behaviors:

  • Since there were only 6 in the class, I had to walk the course and get on directly after so I met Art at the ring. As I get on, my quads feel strangely numb! I have never felt this before. Is my body tired from the previous week of riding and competing? What is going on? Hmmm… I have to just power on with this observation, remembering to observe other parts of my body as well.

  • Breathing: in tact and strong.

  • Core: Excellent connection with Art’s core.

  • Lower leg: responsive and connected.

  • Shoulders: A bit rounded, trying to pull back and get taller.

  • Head/Mind: Clear, ready, focus has narrowed to the task at hand. Superfluous matters of life are not interrupting.

  • My first thought entering the ring: Create the energy now that I want to end the course with. Get him in front of my leg and make every stride intentional. Once he was in front of my leg, I focus on taking a second and imagining seeing through Art’s eyes so as to connect deeply to my partner.

  • On my way to jump one, before the bell if possible, take three deep breaths.

  • Jump one: Keep riding forward inside of this wonderful rhythm. There it is. Here, now, here now, jump…

  • Land, connect, keep going forward and reconnect to the rhythm. Jump two is coming so here now here now here focus on the jump that is the in of the line. Body tall for the vertical in, create the gap, stay connected.

  • Land connected and gather, gage the stride for the 6 to the oxer. See it, stay present and connect with leg and hand. Now, keep flowing middle to middle for the 7 to the tall vertical. Here now, here four, five, six, seven, allow him to jump up to me resist the urge to throw my body.

  • Stay tall and connected with leg and seat right roll back to the one stride combination. Keep the rhythm, keep the energy.

  • Land roll back left tidy to the oxer, 8 strides, one stride – feel, see, measure, connect, body tall, bouncey stride.

  • Left roll back to oxer bending line six strides to a five stride, keep feeling the bounce and the alignment between Art and me as though we are seeing through the same set of eyes. We measure together and adjust with our bodies mirroring.

  • Land and open up for a big gallop to the oxer on the end, blind turn off my eye to the vertical to end the course. Let the bounce grow a bit and stay with the rhythm even now. Breathe deeply to allow heart rate to stabilize a bit. Breathe, stay here and now as the oxer approaches. Feel my core, jump, look, ride the bounce to the final vertical and there it is here now here jump.

  • Land still in the rhythm, flow past the timers, exhale. Elation, relief, hard breathing, body language exchanges with Art as we circle past the in-gate to down shift and celebrate our debut in the 1.30!

Find Your MindZone – A Personal Checklist

So what of all this? How does it help me improve understanding of my personal MindZone? Here are some themes that I will take with me to training and to my next, and last competition of the season:

  • A body scan is helpful for feeling physically empowered as I begin to warm up.

  • Focus on energy creation and sustaining throughout the course.

  • See through my horse’s eyes for a moment before we start.

  • Create, connect to, and get inside the rhythm of the stride. Intend to stay connected to this feeling consistently.

  • “Here – now – here –now” mantra supports embodied focus. Keep using it!

  • While staying with each stride, keep going forward. Allow with my hands through the corners so as to avoid miscommunications with Art.

  • Keep using my eyes with Art’s eyes throughout the course. Sight down lines and through turns to support his knowledge of where we are going.

  • Keep the feeling of bounce in our bodies.

  • Stay strong in my breath and core as I go, remembering to breathe deeply when time permits.

This all boils down to:

  • Bodyscan

  • Energy creation

  • Here – now – here – now

  • See through horse’s eyes

  • Create and feel the rhythm

  • Here – now – here – now

  • Bounce

  • Breathe

My MindZone =

Bodyscan + Energy creation/rhythm + Mantra + Connect to horse’s vision + Breath

EXERCISE: Try finding elements of your MindZone: go through a video or memory of a peak performance moment by moment, writing down all that you can remember. Break the writing into chunks and see what overriding themes emerge. Let me know how it goes or if I can support you to uncover some of your core elements. I find this work endlessly fascinating and would truly like to hear what you discover!

I invite you to embark on this journey – start on your path to peak performance with the (W)inner Circle program, working with me to uncover and discover the elements of your own unique MindZone.

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