THINK EQUESTRIAN - Equestrian  & Performance Coaching
Performance Coaching Tips
Charlotte DuJardin on the morning of her gold medal winning performance
Taking Responsibility 

When things go wrong or not according to plan, then it is easy to blame someone else. However, letting go of blame and taking responsibility for what happens to you can be very liberating and allow you to learn how to take steps forwards. It takes strength to realise that everything you do has a consequence, that you have to take responsibility for your actions and to learn from mistakes. Whenever you assign responsibility to someone else you miss an opportunity to grow and learn. The aim of this article is to make you take responsibility but not to apportion blame- the aim is not blame yourself or others but to see what you can learn from mistakes or issues that impact on you. This will take you away from a victim mentality which can create a feeling of helplessness-your aim is to take responsibility for the life you live, the way you ride, the people you surround yourself with, the things you do or don’t do and the way you manage both people and the tasks that make up your life.
Write down the last three times you blamed someone else for something that went wrong- what did they do that made you feel they were in the wrong and you were blameless. Then write down how you could have taken responsibility without blaming yourself in each of those situations. By recognising how you contributed to each example you are taking back more personal power and control. Perhaps you could have communicated better with another person, agreed timescales and budgets on a project, not changed your mind so often, listened to someone’s concerns about what you had asked them to do or given yourself more time to get to a show.
It is important that you consider what you could have done differently and not just blamed yourself- it does not matter whether you blame yourself or others both are unhealthy- the healthy option is to look at what you can do differently next time. Remember that no-one makes you do or feel anything – you make the choice to do/feel it. Taking the word “but” out of your vocabulary can be very enlightening- change from “I did my best but ….” To “I did my best. The outcome was not what I had hoped for. What I am going to do is…..”.  Also try to eliminate victim statements such as “It’s not fair” and “You have to accept the luck of the draw” – language such as that encourages you to stay as part of the problem rather than becoming the solution.

Taking responsibility includes acknowledging when you make a mistake, acknowledging when someone else is right and being prepared to make genuine apologies. You will also take responsibility to stop allowing yourself to be hurt or disappoint by certain people repeatedly. Make sure you do not dwell on the past but use the past to give you ideas and clues as to how to improve your future. Once you do this you will stop waiting for something or someone to transform your life and start taking the steps to make the changes happen..

(Claire Knowles on Pendragon of Independence)
Developing resolve and resilience 

Being strong in the face of problems is a very positive attribute to have as challenges and disappointments are an inevitable part of life. Every aspect of our life can produce stresses and worries and our horses and competing are certainly no exception. Whilst financial stability or even great wealth can be give us may things it is not as effective as resilience against trauma. Resolve can help to maximise performance, improve health, prevent depression and help in our relationships with friends and loved ones.
There are two main characteristics that resilient people display, emotional control and openness to new experiences. The ability to stay calm in a crisis and the ability to express what you feel in words but resisting acting out your emotions (i.e. not throwing a tantrum when people let you down) are aspects of emotional control that can level out the roller coaster of emotions that some people are prone to experiencing. Those people who are open to new experiences are more likely to embrace change rather than fight it and to be able to rebuild their lives after experiences that could shatter others. By regularly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, meeting new people, trying out new activities or taking on additional responsibility you are likely to be more ready to cope with any challenges.
Reframing your thoughts in a more positive way can also help- expect good things to happen, think about what you want rather than what may go wrong and do everything you can to deal with setbacks with humour, courage and positivity. Compare the behaviour of people you know (whether they are celebrities or close friends) when things go wrong- which would you prefer to model yourself on- what behaviour so you admire- how can you replicate that behaviour?
Resilient people are also usually well connected with other people- they listen to those with problems and are generous in their help, they also accept help and support from their friends as needed. Make sure you take responsibility and seek solutions to your issues with those close to you- if you don’t feel you get to spend enough time with them, do not complain or blame them but instead ask for their help in making sure that quality time happens. Try to control your emotions, avoid shouting or becoming aggressive- try to recognise when you are likely to be stressed and make sure that you do not take it out on friends and family.

By managing your emotions, learning to handle obstacles, focusing on positives, have task based goals, maintaining perspective and behaving in a manner that you would admire from someone else then you will find it easier to deal with the traumas and problems that occur regularly in our lives- and especially with horses.

Former RoR winner Cheryl Jackson

Self sabotage
Self sabotage is often a reflection of a rider’s attitude, values or belief regarding themselves, their horse or the competition scenario. The very act of having these negative thoughts programme the mind incorrectly and cause physical as well as emotional reactions which are often perceived as performance blocks.
The reaction that a you have to your horse when it resists your aids can be insightful in understanding such issues. If you become tense and angry with yourself and that it is because you are a poor rider then that tension can cause more resistance in the horse. If your reaction is that the stupid horse is ignorant and against you then the anger will block your ability to think logically about the reasons behind the resistance. And these feelings will be magnified in a competition situation. Similarly, if you tell yourself that your nerves are stopping you from doing better, that the particular judge never likes your horse, that the horse knows when it is a competition and always plays up, the weather doesn’t suit you today etc etc  then you are denying yourself the opportunity to look at what is the real cause and therefore the answer to any issues that arise.
Some people also believe that there can only be one chance for success and that if they do really well then it will never be possible to repeat it or that, before their perceived peak performance they hold back on their performance in fear that they will be under more pressure to repeat it in future. This can often happen when someone is “chasing” a qualification and they become increasingly nervous about their ability to actually qualify or what will happen when they do.

The simple (well in theory) answer is not to blame yourself or your horse, nor the environment nor focus on the past or the future. In each session, whether at a competition or at home, focus on what is happening and what you need to do to improve the performance. Have clear priorities and task driven goals, avoid apportioning blame and if something is not working then make a change.

Christine Kershaw with Uri
Goal of the Month -
Maximising Feedback 
Every person learns and absorbs information through their senses but each individual has preferences as to which senses they rely on the most. For some, hearing feedback is more powerful than reading it, for others they need visual feedback whether that be the written critique of a judge or watching back their test and another group will most benefit from describing what they felt and what they learnt from their experience. A client of mine, who responded very well to verbal instructions rarely read their dressage sheets as the feedback made little impact on them- so I recommended having the sheet read to them whilst they watched the test back on video.  
The important thing is to work out is how you learn and absorb information best- in NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) these are referred to as Representational systems -the VAKOG model referring to each of the senses- Visual/Auditory/Kinesthetic(feeling)/Olfactory/Gustatory with  the additional area of data processing where individuals will automatically re-process any given information and will generally repeat it back for clarity. Individuals will use words that reflect how their brain works- a visual person will say “it looked alright to me” whereas the Kinesthetic will say “It felt right”. By listening to what you or your friends say you can iften work out how they best learn and therefore how best they will absorb and benefit from feedback.
So this month you need to work out what helps you to learn best, which senses you use the most – whether you are better hearing feedback form a third party or using internal feedback as the main stimulus for developing from the information you have gathered from each experience.
Whether your preference is for internal or external feedback, I usually recommend that you first write down your own feedback- how your experience went- what you experienced and how you performed against your goals. The purpose in doing it that way is to have a permanent recor that does not get influenced by external influences. Once you have done this then you can absorb other sorts of feedback such as verbal feedback from a friend or trainer, written feedback form a judge or visual feedback from a recording. You can then compare the two sources and compare where they differ and what that tells you about the reliability of your own senses. In the main, feedback from the rider is more likely to have a lasting influence than feedback from a trainer but you need to make sure that your own feedback is reliable!

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