Daniel Stewart’s Question Suggestion

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


Keeping your mind focused on what’s production (like transitions between dressage movements or fences) instead of what’s destructive (like worrying about the crowd) is one of the most important skills any rider can learn. While it’s a skill that can require a bit of practice, it’s also one that can be learned pretty quickly… as long as you know a trick. The good news is that there’s a a trick… and that trick is called question suggestion.

The idea behind question suggestion is that asking yourself leading questions like, “What can I do to relax” is much more effective than simply telling yourself what to do like, “Quit Freaking Out!” because self-directed leading questions stimulate your brain to search-out their answers.  For example, asking yourself, “How can I stay calm before a show” might lead to answers like “Take a few relaxing breaths, think of a positive memory from the past, and listen to calm song before mounting.”  

Question suggestion works because it allows your focus to shift from the problem to the solution, and from the past to the present. It also creates purposeful and intentional thoughts instead of allowing your mind to randomly lock onto something it shouldn’t (like who’s watching you). Self-directed questions do this by stimulating your mind to search for solutions to problems instead of allowing your mind to be consumed by the problem itself.

Here are a few tricks to creating your own questions suggestions:

1) Ask yourself questions that begin with “How” and “What” because they tend to direct your attention towards solutions. For example, “How can I remain calm?” can be answered by “Say a motivating motto like, Keep Calm Ride On.” 

2) Avoid questions that start with the word “Why” because they tend to direct your answers towards the problem. For example, “Why do I always get so nervous?” is often answered with something like, “Because everyone’s better than me!” 

3) Never answer your questions with the words “I don’t know.” You can avoid this by pausing for a brief moment after asking your question (so your mind can find an answer). If you rush your response you may not have time to find the answer.

4) Consider asking yourself questions about how you look and/or feel. For example, “What do I look like when I’m confident?” or “How do I feel when I’m relaxed?”  Once you’ve created the picture in your mind, change your body language to match it.

Originally posted in Daniel Stewart’s Pressure Proof Academy monthly tips.

Daniel Stewart has been an equestrian for over thirty-five years and has coached riders all over the world for the past twenty-five. Combining his knowledge as an equestrian with a degree in physical education, he created an empowering and inspiring clinic series that helps riders develop equally strong minds and bodies. As the internationally acclaimed author of Pressure Proof Your Riding, Ride Right, and Fit and Focused in 52; he’s widely considered one of the worlds leading experts on equestrian sport psychology, athletics, and performance. He teaches clinics and seminars to thousands of riders each year including an annual summer clinic-tour that includes 50 clinics in more than 30 cities over a span of  60 days. He’s a sough-after keynote speaker, has published countless magazine articles, and is an equestrian sport psychology and rider fitness contributor for many other equestrian associations.