Mental training for Equine Athletes
Mental training is an important aspect of any athlete’s training program, and our horses are no exception! Just like us, horses can benefit from mental preparation when it comes to performing at their best. We all have our “off days”, but here are some ways that might help make them few and far between!
Increased focus and concentration: There are many reasons why we may lose focus when trying to complete a task, and that is no different for our horses! Every horse is an individual and will have varying stimulators for motivation as well as distractions. In most cases though, training does come down to a quality over quantity matter! As our horses training session lengthen, if they are not being stimulated by the work we are asking of them, it is likely that the quality will decline and distractions become more prominent. Keeping our training scheduled varied and having a plan in place before we saddle up can help to keep each session fresh and invigorating for our horse, thus maintaining their focus and concentration.
Increased Confidence: There is nothing better than feeling confident for the performance you are about to produce- and how do we get there? Preparation! To give our horses the best confidence, they need to have had ample preparation. It isn’t fair to bring our horse into work after a break and take them straight to a competition with only a hand full of rides. Not only are they un-prepared physically, but mentally they are unfit and out of routine. The same is applied in the sense of over facing our horses, they may be of good fitness, but (for example) taking them out to jump a height or perform a dressage test several levels higher than what you have been practicing at home, isn’t setting them up for success, thus potentially decreasing their confidence.
Communication: A big part of achieving confidence and being able to measure such is effective communication between horse and rider. The way we ride when we train should best emulate the way we ride at a competition – which is of course easier said then done! However, making sure our communication methods are clear and consistent, and using the same tools to achieve this communication (whether it’s the type of bit/noseband/spurs/whip etc) between at home and at competition locations, will assist in increasing confidence and decreasing stress and “pressure” that can arise from the competition environment.
Reward: One of the most important aspects of any training- reward! If our horses are not rewarded, they can not distinguish if what they have done is correct, and thus can loose motivation to replicate the outcome. We know that in our own life, negativity and perhaps even a lack of recognition can become very deflating and consuming mentally- the same goes for our horses! Rewards and praise should be given regularly and on the immediate instance of performing a desired action. A reward can come in many forms; release of pressure, a voice command/sound, a pat/scratch, a treat – just to name a few!
Making sure that our horses are best prepared for success with primed physical and mental preparation can make a huge difference to our performance potential. Striving to increase our horses concentration and confidence are two major components in reaching this goal, but is not to be achieved without our own effective planning, communication and, of course, provision of rewards!