6 Ways to Build Your Emotional Muscles for Show Jumping

By John Haime

Working with some of the world’s leading athletes in mental/emotional development has taught me many lessons about what is important to be a consistent high performer. One thing I have learned for sure is that emotions run the show in elite performance and they certainly do in show jumping. Head and heart are equal partners in high performance.

How many times have you gone into a lesson or a class in a show in a negative emotional state, and that lesson or class turned out to be a disaster for you? Have many times have you had a calm, confident energy leading to a surprisingly good ride and a great result? It doesn’t always happen that way, but it certainly does most of the time.

Most elite athletes work to create a calm, confident, positive internal environment that helps them deal with the distractions and pressures that surround sport. If they are able to create the right internal environment, chances are they will be able to execute practice routines and play to their abilities. If the internal environment is stressed, anxious, conflicted, hesitant or uncertain, the battle begins to showcase the practice routines when it counts.

Show Jumping and Emotional Muscle

Enter you as a show jumper, who not only has to manage your internal environment for your own performance, but also for your partner – doubling the difficulty! Your partner will always sense a stressed, anxious, hesitant attitude and will also sense a calm, confident, positive attitude – all directly impacting the result of your performance!

This is why building “emotional muscles”, or being smart about your emotions, is so important to you as a show jumper. As an athlete, to be a consistent performer, you must always be building your emotional muscles and aware of how your emotions are impacting your performance. Are you aware of how your emotions affect both you and your partner? Developing your emotional muscles is as important in your development as a rider as your work in the technical and physical areas of riding. Each piece is important on the road to be a consistent, high performing rider and balanced person.

Emotional Muscle and Building Key Behaviors

Building emotional muscle casts a wide net around behaviors that are critical to high performance. The abilities are often the separator of average and elite athletes and help build the characteristics necessary for high performance. The primary abilities for you as an equestrian athlete include:

Self-Awareness
Your ability to be aware of how emotions impact your performance, know your strengths and limits and align values and goals with your actions. You are acutely aware of emotional experience and motivations.

Self-Confidence
Your ability to believe in your abilities, decisions and opinions and express confidence in challenging circumstances.

Self-Reliance

Your ability to be independent in actions and judgments and take responsibility for your performance.

Achievement Drive
Your ability to set your own personal standard of excellence and not be constrained by the expectations of others.

Competitiveness
Your commitment to winning and aggressive willingness to compete.

Resilience
Your ability to cope effectively with setbacks and recover quickly from difficult circumstances. And, your ability to commit to interests and goals over the long term.

Focus
Your ability to keep your mind on a task for an extended period.

Self-Control
Your ability to keep impulsive emotions under control when under pressure.

Flexibility
Your ability to adapt your approach to changing situations and take appropriate risk.

Optimism
Your ability to see the big picture and sense opportunities in the face of adversity.

A Few Ways to Build Your Show Jumping Emotional Muscle

So, what are some actions that you as a show jumper can work on to build your emotional muscles and create that calm, positive, confident attitude that will help you enjoy riding and achieve your goals?

Here are a few ideas that may help …

  1. Be aware of your emotional state before you lesson or show your partner. If something has happened that has created a stressful, anxious environment within yourself, develop an approach to shift your emotional state to a more positive one before you begin. Always being aware of your emotional state is important for you and your partner.
  2. Take responsibility for your performance and don’t blame your partner. You are the pilot in the partnership, not the passenger, so assume responsibility for your partner’s behavior and performance.
  3. Create a strong, positive voice within yourself that supports you and is your own best friend. Your own voice is the most important voice in your performance. Many young athletes have a self-critical voice that creates a negative internal performance environment. Work on keeping your voice positive and supportive.
  4. Set your own standard of excellence in practice at home and take this standard of excellence to the shows. It’s easy to be distracted by all of the drama at a show environment, but stay focused on your own goals. What happens at the show outside of you and your partner is not important!
  5. Move past mistakes quickly. Mistakes are a part of riding and will happen … often. You and your partner will both make them. It is critical to move past mistakes immediately and not allow them to have an impact on the remainder of a lesson or a competition. If you make a mistake, drop it quickly and move forward.
  6. Make your focus excellence and not perfection. The unrealistic expectations of perfection can create negative emotions like frustration and make you feel like a failure. This will not help you or your partner. Focus on doing the best you can do and on manageable goals – and be satisfied with this effort.

So, spend some time developing and building your emotional muscle. It takes time to build, but it is a skill you can work on every time you ride. It will help you have more fun, enjoy the sport and allow you to reach your capabilities as a show jumper.

John Haime is President of New Edge Performance.  A former professional athlete and current bestselling author of “You are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve more … in business, sports and life,” John understands how athletes think and feel … he’s been there – under the most intense pressures of amateur and professional sports. As a world-class specialist in the area of performance and one of the world’s leading authorities in Emotional Intelligence, as it relates to performance in sport, John coaches top athletes in all sports (including equestrian), executives and artists in a variety of performance areas. He is trusted by some of the world’s leading athletes – professional and elite amateur. 

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