The past few weeks have certainly posed incredible challenges for our equestrian community and our nation as a whole. And while we know that many of the changes to our horse show and training schedules are for the best right now, it can still be hard to cope with the sense of taking a step backwards-- away from our goals, our progress, and our community. But in times like these, it is important to shift focus to the things we CAN do to continue to better ourselves and stay at the top of our game so we are poised and positioned to be our very best this season, whenever it comes! Check out the top five things you can do to keep growing and improving during this challenging time, right from home.
#1 - PRIORITIZE PHYSICAL TRAINING
You had to know this would be top of mind for us! In all seriousness, this is a great time to hone in on improving your strength, fitness, and mobility in ways that will translate over into your performance in the saddle. Not only will you gain the performance boost, but research shows exercise causes a boost in our immune response as well -- double win! Not sure where to start, or gym routine thrown off stuck at home? We are posting our EQFit Virtual Program weekly workouts and mobility routines FOR FREE over on our Pro-Activity EQFit Instagram Page for the next month to ensure our #EQ community has access to equestrian specific training that can be done at home. Want something more specific to your needs? Send us a message, we're happy to help.
#2 - MASTER YOUR 'MENTAL GAME'
We all know that our sport is often times as much (if not more) about our mental game as it is our physical one. The competitors who are consistently at the top not only have a tremendous technical ability and skillset, but also a strong mental game that fuels successful performance. Although natural to some, mental game is a skill that can be developed over time with intentional training. But just like we can't expect to learn how to ride our horse in the show pen, we can't expect our mental game to become and stay
strong without diligent practice. This is a
PERFECT time to start training your mental game to keep up with your physical one. Check out our favorite techniques below, and start adding them to your weekly training routine.
VISUALIZATION - research has shown that when you perform mental imagery, aka visualization, of a particular sport or skill, you actually fire the SAME pathways in your brain as when you actually perform that sport/skill. What does that mean for us? Spending time visualizing ourselves riding or competing may be the second best thing we can do to actually practicing. There are some nuances in proper technique, including making sure you are visualizing in first person (i.e. - imagine your actual view on your horse, not as a third person watching yourself ride), incorporate all your senses (visualize the sound of the announcer, the smell of the arena, the feeling of the reins, etc.), and practice at a high frequency. Check out this article for examples and tips from elite olympian athletes who religiously utilize visualization as a part of their training.
MANTRA / POSITIVE SELF-TALK - Our inner dialogue, aka our "self-talk", is so powerful that shifting it towards the positive has LITERAL impacts on our physical performance. Take the infographic above that studied self-talk in cyclists, where they found that simply shifting from neutral to motivational/positive self-talk lead to significant improvements in power output and VO2max in cycle time trials. The process starts with auditing our own self-talk, especially in the context of right before we ride or compete. Are we saying positive things to ourself? Or are we running through our fears and concerns about our ability, our horses' ability, the environment, etc.? With INTENTION, we can shift the narrative of this self-talk and reap the performance benefits. One strategy is to come up with a positive self-talk "mantra" -- a motivational word or phrase that embodies your best version of yourself as a rider that you can repeat to yourself over and over in those moments leading up to the gate. Some examples might sound like: "I am strong and confident", "Poise & Precision", "I am calm, prepared, and present", "Focus forward", "Ride Strong", "Grace", "Poise & Precision"... there is no right or wrong as long as it is POSITIVE and resonates with you. To start, grab a piece of paper and jot down a few ideas. Pick your favorites, and write them out on two notecards - one that you will put in a place you'll see daily (like your dresser or bathroom mirror) and the other that you will put in with your show clothes. Start practicing this phrase consistently-- the more you say it, the more it will become reality! Bonus points if you practice saying it WHILE you are visualizing...#prostatus.
PACED BREATHING - Controlling the rate of our breathing is a simple (and HEAVILY researched) hack into our nervous system, overriding the "fight or flight" part (the part that makes our heart race, stomach a little upset, hands a little shakey) and activates the "calm, cool and collected" part (the part that slows our heart rate, steadies the digestive system and allows for mental clarity and focus). Engaging in paced breathing - where we focus on taking slower, deeper breaths into our lower ribcage at a specific rate - actually forces on that "calm, cool, collected" part in a POWERFUL way. But you guessed it, it's more powerful when you have PRACTICED consistently. One of the most researched techniques is "4-7-8 breathing" - simply breathe into your belly to a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, breathe out to a count of 8, repeat. Too hard? Try a square breathing technique -- "in" for 4s, "hold" 4s, "out" 4s, "hold" 4s, and repeat. Shoot for at least 2 minutes of practice a day (right before bed works great, because it also primes the system for deep restorative sleep AND it's easier to learn lying down!), and by show season you will have a new hack into your nervous system to utilize as you get ready to enter the arena. For some apps that help, check out this blog.
#3 - FOCUS ON HIGH PERFORMANCE HABITS
With cancelled shows, lessons, and more time at home, some of us may be finding ourselves with a little extra time (if we can turn off the Netflix for a night or two anyways!). This is a great opportunity to devote some time to habits we often skimp on. For example, focusing on creating routines for fueling well with more fruits and vegetables (the immune boost is a bonus!), prioritizing our sleep (the body needs at least 8 hours per night CONSISTENTLY to maintain general health and to promote top performance), and engaging in stress management activities. Slowly chip away at building 1-2 "power habits" during this period so that when we enter back into the "regular routine", these high performance habits feel like an essential part of life.
Just because we are forced to be PHYSICALLY distanced from our horse community does not mean we necessarily have to be socially distanced. Finding creative ways to stay connected can mean the world of difference when it comes to keeping our head in the game and maintaining a positive outlook. Perhaps you want to get involved in the AWESOME Virtual Horse Show being hosted by Charlie Cole -- open to ALL BREEDS and a great way to stay in competition mindset and have some fun! Or maybe you don't have access to your horse right now, but you could schedule a 'virtual happy hour' or game night with your horse show or barn friends via Zoom to stay in touch. However you do it, know that staying as socially connected with the people who "get us" is CRUCIAL during this time.
#5 - VISION YOUR FUTURE
Rather than using the extra time we may be finding ourselves with to the lament over the rides or shows we're missing, channel that energy into visioning for your future. Take the time to actually write down your performance goals on a piece of paper -- goals for this season, the next 3 years, the next 5 years, and so on. Work backwards and write down the action steps along the way that will help you get there. You may even be able to pull your trainer in for a 'goal setting session' in place of a normal lesson (remember, their brain is just as valuable as their riding abilities, so compensate fairly!) so they can help you map out EXACTLY what it will take for you to reach those goals. Similarly, if you are a youth equestrian with hopes of riding in college in some capacity, this is a great time to set up a consult with Sorrel Equestrian Consulting to establish your plan moving forward. Wherever you are at, remember that sometimes, goals are performance/outcomes based, and sometimes they are fulfillment/quality of life based. Ultimately, balanced, realistic goals that incorporate both lead to a long, fulfilling career in the equestrian world!
We hope this gives you some ideas on what you can be working on during this crazy time to come out in fighting shape for the 2020 season. We are always saying that our community is made up of some of the grittiest athletes out there, I have no doubt we all will band together and come out of this stronger than ever before!
Keep at it and #RideSTRONG.