You enter the ring full of anticipation for a clear, fault-free round. You’ve done your homework at home and warmed up well. Just as you’re channeling your acceptance speech for that blue ribbon, things start to unravel. Maybe you get to a short distance, bunny-hopping over the fence and throwing off your striding to the next. Or maybe you knock a rail down and give up that clear round you were working so hard to achieve.
Mental fortitude is everything when it comes to competitive equestrian sport. Having the ability to own a mistake and move forward from it is important, even if that mistake comes in the middle of your course. How do you keep one mistake from ruining the rest of your round?
“I don’t think you can be married to a number of strides,” upper level event rider Justine Dutton, of Malvern, Penn. said. “You have to go in thinking of your plan but also being prepared to ride your plan B.”
Walking your course, you come up with a strategy tailored to you and your horse’s styles. When you walk a line of jumps, you count how many strides the line is measured for and plan accordingly. But what happens when you don’t get an ideal jump into that line?
“If you get to a five-stride line, but you get in too close, kicking and flying down the line to make that number in your head work is probably going to cause problems at the next,” Justine explained. “If you miss on that first fence, make adjustments accordingly so that that miss does not cause a mistake going forward.”
I always tell my students to treat every jump as if it’s the first on the course.
If you hear a pole hit the ground behind you, it’s easy to shake your head and keep thinking about it through the rest of your round. All too often, this distraction will cause you to make other mistakes, thus leading to an unraveling.
“Mistakes happen,” Justine said. “I always tell my students to treat every jump as if it’s the first on the course. Don’t think about the rail that’s down or the bad distance you found before, focus on how to make that next jump quality and finish on a good note.”
It’s easy to let one mistake get the best of you, so being able to recognize that it was just that — a mistake — will help you get through the rest of your ride without issue. Learning to live fully in the present and not the recent past will help clear your head.
“I’ve had rounds before where a pole down would cost me the win or a higher placing, and as soon as I would hear that rail rattle, I would try to forget about it and concentrate on making the rest an improvement. From there, I go home and work to fix the mistakes that led to having a rail down or a missed distance or turn,” she said.
Keep inventory of your mistakes, but don’t let them define you. No rider is inherently perfect, but striving for improvement, even after things don’t go to plan, will get you that much closer.