First of all it's useful to make a plan of all the things you need to get done such as booking the farrier, thinking about transport, arranging a couple of coaching sessions. Getting all the practical things organised will help you to avoid last minute panicking and rushing which could mean that things get forgotten or missed out.
Next it will help you enormously if you look at your mental preparation so let’s break this down a bit
What are your goals for the competition? Are you there for the experience and looking at it as a learning opportunity? Or are you aiming for a win or a placing which could lead to qualification for a national or regional competition? Are you motivated by the process or by the results? There are no rights and wrongs here, it just depends on your motivation but it is very useful to have clear goals in mind.
2. HELPFUL THINKING
Anyone who’s ever been to any of my talks or had a 1:1 session will have heard me speak about ‘Helpful Thinking’. It can take a while to develop this skill but you will believe what you are telling yourself so if that voice inside your head is telling you that things are going to be difficult or perhaps that everything is bound to go wrong then start challenging it. Start off be recognising what you are telling yourself (and therefore what you are believing) and then try saying to yourself ‘Wait a minute, is there another way I could look at this?’ ‘Hang on, is there another possible outcome in this situation?’ Keep practicing this until you find that you are starting to say more helpful things to yourself (and therefore believing those more helpful things). It really makes a difference.
Now is the time to work on improving your focus so that on the day you will be less liable to be distracted.
Practice relaxing breathing techniques which will help you to ride in the moment and focus on the task in hand when you are competing.
Practice ‘letting go’ of any mistakes you may make such as having a fence down or missing a transition. Developing greater focus will help you avoid dwelling on errors and concentrate on what happens next.
So, plan for distractions and have a think about how you will handle them and if necessary do some de-sensitisation work with your horse if he is spooky about banners, flowers etc.
4. DEVELOP A MANTRA
A mantra is a word or saying or sound which will help your concentration. It can be something like ‘Let’s go’ or ‘I can do this’, think of something for yourself which you can use to aid your concentration, motivation and self belief. Practice using it and the more you use it the more powerful and helpful it will become.
5. MENTAL REHEARSAL
Mentally rehearsing your performance can be of enormous help in preparation and of course, you want to be mentally rehearsing your performance going as you would like it to go. When mentally rehearsing it is useful and much more realistic to involve all of your senses so make a mental picture and include feelings, sounds and smells too. See yourself sitting on your horse, feel your seat in the saddle and the reins in your hands, hear the sound of his footfall and background noises as well. Can you smell your horse?
All these things will help your mental rehearsal to be realistic.
Practice this frequently until it becomes a skill which you can use to help your focus and increase your confidence.
So, if your work on these things you are doing everything you can to help yourself on the day and the more preparation you do then the more likely your are to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
Next month we will look at mental preparation in the couple of days before your competition and at some techniques for dealing with last minute nerves.