Plaidcast 370: Tonya Johnston’s Inside Your Ride with Nick Haness by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 370 Tonya Johnston's Inside Your Ride Nick Haness

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Tonya Johnston, Mental Skills Coach speaks with top rider and trainer Nick Haness about his mindset for training and competing, how he manages his busy schedule, maintaining consistency, his mental preparation for big classes and more. Tonya also asks Nick several listener questions such as how he stays focused for the last jump when it’s been a great round, how he managed to overcome the biggest obstacle in his career, and what mindset advice he gives his amateur clients. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!

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Tonya Johnston: This is episode 370 of The Plaidcast. I’m Tonya Johnston, mental skills coach, and this is Inside Your Ride. Today’s podcast is brought to you by the Taylor Harris Insurance Services and The Plaid Horse Magazine. On today’s show, I’m thrilled to welcome top hunter jumper rider and trainer, Nick Haness. We speak about his mindset for training and competing, how he manages his busy schedule, what it takes to maintain consistency, his mental routines to get ready for big classes, and more. I also asked Nick several questions from listeners about things like how he stays focused for the last jump when it’s been a great round, how he managed to overcome the biggest obstacle in his career, and what mindset advice he gives his amateur clients. 

Tonya Johnston: ​​Thank you so much for joining me today. How are you and your horses doing? Have you been competing at a winter circuit or at an indoor horse show near you? Maybe it’s winter, everything’s inside. Are you getting at least to ride in whatever weather your neck of the woods has been getting? I do hope so. I hope that you’re out there and getting ready for spring. The days are getting longer. It’s very exciting time of year. So I’d like you to pause for a moment now and take a deep belly breath in slowly expanding your belly. Right. So we’re going to inhale. We’re going to expand the stomach. Inflate, if you will. And then let’s exhale and flatten your belly.  Let’s just get present for a moment here. So let’s do another one. So let’s breathe in and pause and let’s exhale. I just want you to clear your mind here for a moment. And I want you to think about a recent mindset wind you’ve had with your horse in some situation, whether it was a hack, a lesson or in the show ring. What was a time that you remember really using your mental skills to your advantage? Where were you? What was happening? How did your mindset support your progress in that moment or accomplishing a small goal or facing a challenge or something unexpected that came up?  When I do my mindset boost group mental skills sessions, one of the things we talk about are our recent mindset winds so that we can celebrate them as a group. I even have people post videos that they have of recent winds. So they are posting a video and then in the caption, they’re talking about what was going through their mind and how they coped with it and why they consider that a mindset win. I think it’s essential for you to call out and be mindful of what is working both in your focus and preparation as well as in your riding. So to keep you in the loop on mindset boost, my next session starts on April 2nd, so please do see my website at tonyajohnston.com for more information. I’m happy to have you join. Please reach out to me with any questions. We just are wrapping up to this week actually as our grand finale for the original mindset boost group as well as my advanced alumni group, which have both been fantastic. So that’s going on. I also want a personal note. Cosmo returned back to the show ring at Thermal a couple of weeks ago. So much fun. We had a blast. It was so amazing to get back into the ring and feel like we could go forward and have fun. And it’s all the best feeling as you all know, as we I’m I can’t believe this, but I’m starting my seventh year with Cosmo. I got him when he was five coming six and he’s about to turn 13. So one quote that comes to mind that I really love that I have always gathering quotes and inspiration. And this quote is from Duke women’s basketball coach, Kara Lawson that says there’s no rule in life that says you have to stop growing or getting better at some point.  Never give up on your own growth. Keep fighting for it every step of the way. Keep doing the extra things. It’s going to pay off for you. So inspiring. And I think that’s a great sort of touchstone for all of us that that are have been in the sport for a long time. Maybe you have a partner like I do where you’ve had your horse for a very long time, but we’re still growing and learning together. And that’s the journey and that’s the joy. And I’m just hoping that you’re all engaged in things in your riding that are really fun and joyful and feeling like you have partnership and connection, both both your horse and your team. So inspiration for you there. And so speaking of inspiration, I’m so excited for this episode and for you all to hear my conversation with Nick Haness, which we will get to right after these messages.

Tonya Johnston: Nick Haness is a top 100 jumper trainer who is based out of Temecula, California. His list of wins and accolades is incredibly impressive. Nick has topped $5 million in prize money earned, was named the Chronicle of the Horse Showperson of the Year in 2022, and recently won the $100,000 WCHR Peter Wetherill Hunter Spectacular in Wellington. With wins, championships, and grand championships at the country’s top horse shows, Nick is on an amazing role that shows no sign of slowing down. Thank you so much for joining me, Nick. I’m so excited.

Nick Haness: Thank you for having me today. I’m super excited.

Tonya Johnston: Yay. This is so great. And I just am so thrilled to be able to have you on the show and offer my congratulations for like the millionth time of your recent success. I am so excited for you.

Nick Haness: You’re always so great at following and reaching out. I always really appreciate you so much and think of you often when I’m at the horse show. So thank you for for saying that.

Tonya Johnston: Absolutely. I’m always cheering and like watching. It’s so great nowadays that we get to watch folks no matter where they are in the country. And I was for sure cheering for you recently for your recent win in the WEF Hunter Spectacular, which was just like what a night, like so competitive. Like I heard there was more people there than ever.

Nick Haness: It was a huge night. Lots of great atmosphere and ambiance there at the WEF. Yeah. The Peter Weatherall 100,000 dollar Hunter Spectacular was super fun. And it’s always so great to have the hunters be supported in that way and be recognized in that light. So it’s even more fun for, I think, for the riders and you feel the horses, feel the energy. And it was just, it was awesome. So much fun to be in Wellington and under the lights in that huge stadium. And so many people there to attend. It was pretty great.

Tonya Johnston: Yeah, no, absolutely. I’ve heard you say before that, that your, your energy or if there’s like butterflies or any kind of what we would call nerves or just that extra energy that you know, you know how to make it work for you. Can you talk about that? Like in that setting?

Nick Haness: Oh yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s, I think it like the crowd being there in that kind of pressure with everyone watching and you know, it’s a super important event. Typically you get the butterflies in your stomach and you kind of get nervous. For me, it’s sort of a good feeling when I have that little sensation, that kind of nervousness or butterfly feeling. It just sort of encourages me to just give them my full effort and produce a real, a great round and even prove to everyone watching we’re there for a reason. So I think that’s one thing that I tried to instill in others or my students. You know, when you feel nervous and you feel the pressure, you know, use that energy in a positive way to prove yourself and to not let it get you nervous or get you thinking about too many other things. So for me, I compete a lot. I’m obviously a professional rider. So I’m used to riding a lot of rounds every single day. And sometimes those rounds just kind of become complacent, kind of, you know, just day after day. And when those important events like in Florida or a big hundred class like that make you, you know, really wake up and, you know, you really feel that pressure, it’s kind of fun, honestly. And for me, like I said, I just strategize. Obviously, there are certain things that I do for myself to just get in the mindset but honestly, it’s, I always refer back to this, like just ride like you know how to ride. Just treat it like it’s any other day. Like you’re just schooling your horse. Like you’re just having a fun time and silly as it is. Sometimes I sing to myself or to my horse or I talk to my horse. I think in a situation, you know, we’re riding a horse. It’s not just all about us. We’re riding an animal and it’s a two-way partnership and relationship. So it’s just as important for your horse to feel relaxed as it is for us as the rider. And I really, really believe that the horses pick up on our energy. So, you know, I was fortunate enough to ride two horses in the night class. And one of them was more of a seasoned horse that’s used to the atmosphere. And the other horse that I rode, Circa, is just eight years old. It was her first time in a real big arena at night under the lights with all that ambiance going on around her. So, you know, the biggest thing that I think led to our success that night with that horse and the 90 plus scores that we got was just keeping her happy and confident. And as I was going around the ring, I would just talk to her and tell her, hey, you’re fine, you’re good or, you know, good girl. Whoa, slow down. You know, just really separated the course and took moments to breathe on course. You know, a lot of times the jumps come up so quickly to us and before you know it, you’re at the next jump. So it’s really important to separate, compartmentalize your round and find focal points on the course to downshift, take a breath, exhale, both you and your horse. And I think those moments are what produces a great round.

Tonya Johnston: Right. And so you felt like that helped her kind of handle the environment that night. 

Nick Haness: Absolutely. You know, I remember trotting in the ring and getting a little tour of the ring and letting her adjust, her eyes adjust and her mind just get settled. But as I was cannering to the first jump, I saw like out of the corner of my eye, like a little group of five-year-old children running on the sidelines. And I knew that might spook her. And I just sort of took her eye to the inside and said, hey, hey, hey, you’re okay. We’re good. We’re fine. We’re going to the first jump. And then and she kind of stopped paying attention to the people outside and just sort of stay focused on the job. And at the at the jump we had been heading to.

Tonya Johnston: Right, right. Amazing. Yeah. Okay. So I have obviously a couple of questions. Okay, one, I think it I think the perspective of using your butterflies to your advantage is so huge and I’ve heard it before and I talk about it a lot with clients and I think it’s something that we are either sometimes people are born with it. Sometimes people learn it like was that something you feel like you learned like through your junior career that you had to work on of like making the nerves work for you instead of against you? Like what was that process like?

Nick Haness: I completely I agree with you in the sense that I think like some people when they get that it goes in their advantage and some people it’s harder to work through but it’s absolutely workable. For me I think that I had so many years of in my junior career where I watched from the sidelines not being able to do it myself that I had wanted that moment so badly that when I finally got there those nerves were like fun nerves you know and it worked but it definitely is it’s something that you have to work on. I remember for the first time when I was in New York for the 500,000 hundred class there in Socrates you know as I drove through the horse show that day my nerves started that morning you know that’s a new for me I never get that nervous that early but just driving to the horse show the anxiety started to kind of take over and the thought of competing in history’s first five hundred thousand dollar class and what was at stake that day was so nerve-racking to my own you know in my own head yeah and that could be for me was that class for someone else it could be a low children’s hunt around at the horse show or.95 classic it doesn’t matter the level you’re competing in it happens to all of us on any level for me it was that day and I remember just driving to the show again being anxious I’m a little nervous and getting the butterflies and and thinking in my mind what could go wrong what could go right what I wanted to accomplish of course was winning so that just also adds a little bit more you know fuel to the fire really in the big in the big equation of it all so I think that as riders and as you know competitors those moments really develop early even the middle of night the night before or the morning and again for me it’s it’s just kind of all vanishes once they get on the horses back and become become unified and one with my horse and whether that is talking to the horse or singing to the horse or singing to myself or I often I joke about doing my taxes while I’m riding in my mind you know doing things like that but honestly it’s all just about having that really symphony between you know you and your horse where you can just really be in that moment and block out the outside Let’s get to the outside noise and the outside pressures and focus on what you’ve prepared to do to get to that point. As riders and students on all levels, we practice daily at home. We have lessons, we rehearse, we have morning lessons maybe sometimes at the show. And in your quietest moment when you’re not being watched, sometimes you have your best rides and you have to try to remember those natural feelings. Just let that happen as you’re warming up for a big event and carrying that through to the show ring.

Tonya Johnston: Yeah, absolutely. 100% agree. Now, and what do you remember about that Socrates experience? Like how, so you talk to yourself, did you work your way through it? Like, did you feel like you did things that supported like the energy being used positively that day?

Nick Haness: Honestly, I just remember using that to just think positively. I think in my mind for me, when the glass is half full versus half empty, it’s always better. So I don’t think of the bad things that could happen. I only think of what could happen. And I sort of like to envision the award ceremony, how we’re gonna go out there and get our ribbon after we have a great round. And I just sort of try to keep it mentally in a positive way. Of course, that final day in Socrates, we were hit with like torrential downpouring rain. So it sort of changed the like bright sun shining rainbow, you know, day of our ride. So it kind of threw out some elements that we had to just get through anyways. And that actually kind of made things even probably even better in the end because kind of just took that pressure away. And it was like, OK, let’s just survive because it was like pouring rain and the horses were shaking their heads. And, you know, just like that happened that day. But in general, I feel like just remaining positive and thinking about your success as a rider, getting to that level and your confidence and what you know you can do. And that, I think, is what propels me to be able to do it.

Tonya Johnston: Yeah, 100 percent. That’s such good advice around reminding yourself that you’ve done the homework, that you have the skill, you know, that the preparation is in place.

Nick Haness: Yeah. And I always say, you know, it’s like the horse show, the warm up arena is not a clinic time. You know, you’ve done your work at home. You’ve prepared yourself. Your horse is ready. I like to keep things a little bit short and sweet in the schooling ring, not just for the horse, but for myself. I think if I spent too much energy in the schooling ring, jumping too many jumps or overthinking everything at the last minute and trying to fix something or change something, I don’t like change. You know, at the last minute we’re here, we’re ready. Let’s just let it go. Let’s just go with what we got. And the rest is in the universe’s hands. And that’s, I think, the best strategy for most.

Tonya Johnston: Yeah. 100%. Can you walk us through? I mean, that was a question that I had and listeners had as well, is just like walking us through. Maybe we can use the WCHR Spectacular, the recent one, as an example. But like, what is your typical routine as far as your mental warm up or your mental preparation, your pre-ride routine, like visualization? Or do you get time alone? Or do you, you know, like what kinds of things were part of your day that day? As an example.

Nick Haness: I kind of, everyone’s different. For me, I actually personally, I kind of thrive on a little bit of stress slash anxiety before I show in a big class. So sitting around doing nothing and thinking too much about it is actually worse for me. So I try to stay busy. Honestly, I kind of like to go run some errands, you know, do something at the barn, hack a few horses, just kind of keep myself in a mentally busy state so I’m not overthinking things before a big event. So like Saturday in the night class, the Saturday night. So Saturday daytime, I’d be, you know, doing things like at the barn or organizing clients or doing something on my emails, you know, catching up on stuff like that. So I kind of stay a little bit busy and mentally focus on other things leading up to the event. And then once it’s time to really focus, I kind of like to be alone. I like to find a place or several places to sit and watch if the time allows, the way the course is riding from different perspectives. I think that’s very helpful to see the arena from different viewpoints. So I’ll oftentimes like I know before Derby finals in Kentucky or before the night class in Florida, I will sit in different areas of the arena by myself just for a few minutes, not a long time, just a few minutes and watch sort of how the jumps look from certain angles, the turns, the corners of the ring. And that’s when I start to mentally visualize my plan of how I want to enter the ring. And that’s really important, not just knowing the numbers of the jumps, but knowing your plan when you go in the ring, where you’re going to trot, which jump are you going to start to canter when you pass by, where are you going to circle? Those are all things that are pre-thought out as I’m watching and finding the different spots around the arena, what I’m going to do. And that’s sort of how I prepare.

Tonya Johnston: Great. Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great example. And I talk with that about clients all the time. I call it ring research where you’re watching from different angles. Like, and ideally that you’re doing that, even if it’s a class you get to walk, that you’re doing it even before the walk, because then you’re absorbing the environment so that when you’re walking, you can really dial in the technical information even more. Because you’re already acclimated, but yes, watching from different angles. And I think you gain so much understanding, because I think people forget like you’re the one that know, you’re the team captain, like your horse doesn’t have that opportunity, right? Like you have to be so comfortable and so confident in what you know. I think what you do, I think that’s a great example and great inspiration for folks. 

Nick Haness: Absolutely.

Tonya Johnston: Yeah, yeah, no, that’s awesome. And so with, you know, going, how about talk, can you mention just a little bit around, you know, I talk about sometimes with folks like in my groups or what have you, we’ll talk about challenges you choose. Like instead of just goal setting, which I feel like goal setting can get a little bit like, did we check the box or not?Like, did we accomplish the goal or did we fail? But if you frame it like a challenge, like, hey, I’m gonna go after this hard thing and it’s gonna be like an exciting like journey. And you know what I mean?Like how long, how much time did you spend with this class as a long-term goal? Like how do you set your long-term goals for your bigger targets that you have? 

Nick Haness: Definitely, it’s a good question. You know, for me as a hunter, rider, an exhibitor, a competitor, like classes like that are obviously so sought after. And I forever, I mean my whole life, I’ve wanted to win that night class there. I’ve competed in the class many times before and I’ve done well. I was third last the year before, I was fifth the year before that. So getting ribbons in the class has been super exciting and I was satisfied with that. Honestly, I was super happy. Of course, it would have been great to have won the class at one point in my life. So I think there was something that I, I didn’t put immense pressure on myself as far as having to win it. And if I won, sort of the cherry on the top of the cake. But there’s just like little goals and challenges that I think that are part of the puzzle that equal success and that, and by that I mean, like on one of my horses, she doesn’t like to land one lead particularly. So in the days prior building up, I worked on just landing that lead and landing that lead and landing that lead and making the horse understand my cues and relax into our training sessions before the class. And if you can accomplish not over big jumps, just over little cavalettes even, or just something simple, I’m working on some things that you know your horse and you could improve on are, and Tonya, I’ve watched you ride before. I’ve been able to coach you a few times. It’s been so much fun. But we even sometimes just set a line of poles on the ground and keep it simple and just jump those poles and work on your strides, adding a stride one time, leaving it out the next time. And those are really great little tools that I think, again, you can simply rehearse them and they can have tremendous success and value in your overall success. And I’m always a little bit under the mindset, like I said, like when I win a big class, it’s more for me, like it’s about the journey, not necessarily like winning every class, but it’s just sugar, the cherry on top if you win. And not expecting to win or making the horses feel that pressure, they have to have to perform, you know, and they have to win that class. So I think that it’s like you let things sort of happen as they will. And I always believe they fall into place as they’re supposed to. 

Tonya Johnston: Mm hmm. Right. And I think you’re a great example of that, of just being excited to go in and put your best foot forward and like hopefully things are working. Like as far as outcome, I totally understand what you’re saying about the pressure. When people are too outcome focused, it creates this distance. It’s almost like a distance between you and what you’re going after. It’s almost a curse.

Nick Haness: Exactly. 

Tonya Johnston: Like you want it so much and it’s so distant that it’s like, you’re grabbing at something and like, you know what I’m saying?

Nick Haness: Absolutely. And I have really, really strongly believe in achieving your personal best. It’s not about beating someone else. It’s not about a certain score you have to get. I feel like if you go out and you perform and give your personal best and you’re happy with that, again, the results will follow and the success will follow. Like McQueen, who won the night Class, is a horse that’s had tremendous show success last year. He was a champion or grand champion almost every time he showed. He was the grand champion at Devon. He won the 100,000 in Thermal last year. He was Horse of the Year. All these things. And I didn’t really let that carry over in my mind before the night Class. I just thought, I want the horse to go as well as he can go. We’re going to prepare him as best as we think we can. And the rest will just happen. And that, I think, honestly, is why I have that success with him. I don’t put the pressure on him to have to win. It’s more of, I’m happy when I know he’s in a good place. We’re in sync together. And he’s doing what we’ve rehearsed at home and leading up to the show. So I remember actually laughing this past week in Wellington with his trainer Jim Hagman. On Tuesday, we were schooling him and I was missing the lead changes. I mean, missing lead changes. You would think, oh my gosh, I’m here to win this night class this week and I can’t get a lead change. We have a long way to go. I just laughed. I just said, Jim, everything’s going to be fine. He’s fine. We’re both jet lagged. He just got off an airplane. So did I. Our hair is a little messy. Give it a few days. And you know what? They’re horses. These are animals. And we let him have a few days to recover and turn out and practice. And we were ready to make a result by that Saturday night. So I always just like to reiterate that it’s not, you know, Rome was not built in a day and there’s good days and bad days. And you know, everything kind of is meant to happen that way. And it’s not always perfect. So it’s okay to have those moments and then you just don’t let them discourage you or freak you out because they certainly could have gone on for the next four days spreading about a lead change. But I didn’t even think about it again. So and the horse went great.”

Tonya Johnston: Right. And that is important. I think I think particularly what what you’re talking about can really get in people’s head when it’s a prep day or like people’s final lesson at home before they go to a show. They put immense pressure like it has to go so well for me to feel confident. And it’s like what you’re saying is we got to trust the process and any one day we’re not living and dying with any one day. Yeah. And I think that there’s that’s hard. There’s definitely a temptation to feel like you have to have that every lesson and sometimes you jump and jump and jump until you reach that moment. But you don’t have to. You know, there’s going to be mountains to climb sometimes. And one day it could be that mountain and the next day it’s smooth sailing. So it’s just it’s sort of funny how it all works out. But I just really do believe that it’s just supposed to be the way it’s supposed to be and you do your best, we’ll all kind of follow. In the moment. Yeah, exactly. So, so you’re like such an inspiration to watch, right? I remember I’ve told you the story before. I think you were like, really? I told you the story. I remember the first time I saw you ride, like when you were a teenager at Menlo, remember I told you that? And I was like, oh my God, who is that? Like I’d never seen you. I’d never met you. All of that. So you’re someone that I think lots of people watch for inspiration is how does that like do you tell us about like you who you get inspired watching or how does watching fit into your process? Like how does that even work for you? Like are you someone who’s visual and likes to watch people or there’s people you admire? Or maybe that was something you did more like growing up?

Nick Haness: I don’t know. No, that’s I still we’re still learning. I mean, I don’t think you ever can learn enough. And yes, for me growing up, I did visualize and watch and come to the ring and study a lot, which was for me very helpful. And you learn something from everybody, right? So I think in the course of my life, I’ve had a lot of different trainers. They were all fantastic in different ways. And you learn a little something and a little bit of a style from every one of them. And you kind of mold mold all of that into who you want to be as a rider and as a trainer. And still, again, for me, I still I like to watch how different people do different things. And it’s certainly still educational to go to the ring and just watch people warming up in how they warm up. How do you kind of jump? Do they jump? Do they wear draw reins? Do they what do they do with their boots? You know, there’s just so many still techniques. And I think for me, one thing that I I love to share with people is just the natural horsemanship of understanding your horse and talking to your horse, because every one of these horses is so different and they each require a different setup. And there’s not one horse that goes the same way as the next one. So I think that it’s important to mold yourself around what your horses need and allow them to shine in the best way that they can shine, depending on how they like to be ridden. And you know, I laugh because some people criticize me that my reins are too long always and I’m too soft. But there’s a lot of I can I can fake that a lot, you know, and I’m still connected with some horses that like to be connected. Some horses like more feel, some horses like more leg, some horses don’t like any. And I think that’s one thing that makes you a good rider is being able to be able to listen to your horse and adapt to what makes them tick, what makes them happy. And I’ve been interviewed about catch riding so many times and they’re like, how do you get on a horse and catch ride it? And honestly, I always say like you get on the horse and spend a minute or two understanding the horse what if they like to be flexed or have a tight rein or if they like a little bit softer rein, if they want, you know, too much leg or not enough, you know, you got to kind of just spend the moment and letting the horse tell you what they like and how they go the best they can go. So I think that’s one thing that again, I’ve learned by watching other riders and styles and I can really easily see like, oh yeah, if you let go of the reins at that last stride, the horse can put their head down and jump a really good jump or the opposite. If you let a horse go and they dump their front end, don’t do that, you know, so it’s really good to watch and just again, take a little piece from every different rider and every different trainer and really put that all into one final puzzle piece that makes it right for you.

Tonya Johnston: Right. And I think sometimes people get a little stuck, at least I think they’re, as far as the juniors and amateurs go of when they’re watching their, I think, a temptation to constantly compare and contrast and like, you know what I mean, like, oh, that person does that so well, I’d never be able to do that versus just what you’re talking about is more like an attitude of lifelong learning. And from everyone, there might be something I could learn from it instead of constantly feeling threatened or a challenge, you know what I mean?

Nick Haness: Yes. I think that people to compare themselves to someone else. I will never be able to ride like McLean War, you know, like that’s his style, his style. I won’t, you know, everyone’s a little different. And that doesn’t make you worse or better. It’s just your style. Also the way that you’re built. Some people have longer arms and shorter legs or upper body. There’s so many different physical attributions that, you know, people, attributes that people have that it makes it different for each rider. And Jenny Carriziz is a beautiful rider, so gorgeous on a horse, her legs are, I’ll never have long legs like that. So I’ll never look like that on a horse. We all, everyone rides a little differently and everyone has their own style. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. And I think it’s why our sport is also so unique and so exciting and always ever learning more and more and more about what we can do. So yeah. And comparing us to each other is never going to be healthy. It’s learning from different styles and taking a little piece of this, a little piece of that and for me, formulating something that works for you.

Tonya Johnston: Yeah, 100%, 100% agree. That’s super way you said that very well. And I think it’s super heartening to hear because I think people get a little stuck on the superficial pieces of it instead of also looking at, well, that person’s doing that with their body because that’s the way they’re effective. You know what I mean? Like, and that’s what you’re saying. Like finding your own style. Like how can you be most effective with that particular horse in what you have, like using it to your advantage? Yeah. No, that’s, that’s absolutely, that’s great. What about the use of I’ve heard you speak and I’ve seen you many times watching videos on your phone. Can you talk about like how you use video and any advice you would have for people who tend to be kind of hard on themselves when they watch their videos? I know that can be sometimes a little bit of a stumbling block, but there’s so much to be learned from watching. Like what’s your process like with your videos?

Nick Haness: Well, I think that as, as riders and for those that can remember their course, you know, when they leave the ring, if it’s not all a blur, which that can happen also. But if you can remember parts of the course and how you rode that line, maybe like you, you know, you remember adding a lot of leg at that jump. When I watch my videos of the horses, it’s super helpful for me to visually see how the horse performed. And I can then remember and correlate how I rode that distance or what I did approaching that jump or that corner, maybe, or a certain way I asked for the lead change. And if I did it well, or I didn’t do it well, and being able just to process a little bit of the feeling that I can remember and dissect from my round and then watch the video that correlates with that, that feeling. So I can see if it was a successful training technique or not successful. And again, I think we’re so lucky to have such great technology in this day and age to be able to watch and really study our rounds in that way, or even watch other people’s rounds and learn from stuff. Because I do feel like, again, for me, visually, it really helps, but it’s really, really important to remember how you rode that, how you felt going to that jump and what you did. Maybe you lifted the horse off the ground with your hand, or maybe you let go, or you squeezed or you didn’t squeeze. So just remembering little bits and pieces of how you rode the round and then watching to see how it looks is very helpful, at least for myself, to dissect and to change or to improve on certain things that come up better. 

Tonya Johnston: Right, right. 100%. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think that’s great advice for people. Sometimes it feels great and it looks terrible, you know. Yeah, you got to watch and understand and link it up. And I also think that with that, you know, you’re building muscle memory and we got to build muscle memory around the right thing. So like to your point, you know, let’s not memorize something that didn’t even have the effect that you wanted it to have. So yeah, yeah, that makes perfect sense. We’re going to take a quick break here and we’ll be right back with some listener questions.

Tonya Johnston: Okay, so we had so many listener questions. I think we’re gonna be picking and choosing, but I was so appreciative of everyone, so thank you all to people that wrote in. We’re gonna answer as many questions as we have time and are able to. I think one thing that I think is a universal good, a great question to kick off with is what mindset advice would you pass along or do you pass along regularly to your amateur riders? Is there any, I can speak to that a little bit for one hot second because you’ve put me in the ring in some big situations, right? And I totally appreciate you and I’m so grateful to you for your help and your support. And I think one thing that I really have learned from you is what you were saying earlier about trusting the preparation, do you know what I mean? Like not, like keeping it simple, you’re not giving a lot of information in the warm-up ring, it’s pretty like, oh, okay, good. And I take that, the way I interpret that from you is that you have confidence in me. So that your brevity, right? Your brevity and you’re like, okay, that’s good. Like, you know what I mean? Like, I know you would say something if we needed it and the fact that you don’t sometimes, I’m like, okay, like we’re good. Like that, the simplicity of it, I think, is what I’m trying to say is really appreciated. But sorry, so yeah. 

Nick Haness: That helps me and I agree with you. You know, I think confidence breeds success. I always say that. So I try my best to send my riders in the ring feeling confident, you know, as their trainer, we collaborate and make the horses prepared as best as we can prior to the show. And then maybe that even my job that morning of. So if I have an amateur or junior going to compete in a big class or like maybe like for you, we were at capital challenge. I just try to keep it simple. And again, focus on, you know, you know your horse really, really well. You know, I’m going to do my best in the schooling ring to get your horse jumping the best that, you know, it can jump. “And then as we’re approaching the show ring, I don’t say a whole lot. I kind of treat it like we’re at just a normal horse show and keep it sort of simple. We’ve done our homework. You look great. I want you to feel like you’re great and you’re confident and you’re going in the ring ready to just, you know, do what you know, you know how to do. That’s also following that, you know, furthermore, it’s even in the warmup is pretty simple. You know, we’re not going to introduce new things really, or challenge you in a way that gives you nervous or gets you anxious even more. I want you to jump in, feel confident before you go. And then in we go. ​​And super fun when I was able to cheer for you for your capital challenge. That was a big one.

Tonya Johnston: That was a big one. I so appreciate it. That was a great, that was amazing. So thank you so much. That was such a great experience. I’ll always have that memory. But I think, and so I think any other, like let’s say you have an amateur who’s struggled in the first round, like what kinds, like mindset wise, how do you help them put the pieces back together to send them in for the second round? Is there anything like as far as like when it’s a challenging day, what would you, what would you bring? Do you think when there are challenges that arise again. 

Nick Haness: I think it’s super important, you know, everyone learns differently. Some people need a little kick in the butt to perform better. Some people need a little bit more of a hand holding. So it really is adapting to your student is very, very important. And some of those people are more sensitive than others. And again, it kind of depends on what makes you thrive. And if, let’s say you had a sort of a bad first round and some pieces fell apart, I think I just kind of, my instruction from that point forward is pretty, like go back to basics and I just sort of tell them, okay, make sure your heel is down. As you turn this, you use your corners really well and focus on little things that you can perfect in your position, whether that’s keeping your elbows in or your shoulders tall or your heels down. I would tell them those three things instead of fix that distance there or don’t do this or don’t do that and just focus more on, you know, keeping it a little bit simple and reiterating basics in your position. And I feel like they have something to think about in the course and then the rest tends to go better after that. Usually.”

Tonya Johnston: Yes. Yeah. 100%. That’s great. Okay. So let’s jump ahead. Let’s go to our next. Okay. Oh, well, this came up a couple of times. Everyone is just in awe of this whole two coasts, like, you know, going one week in here and one week back East and then being back in thermal. Like how do you manage all of the travel when competing on both coasts? That was someone’s question. Like, tell us about eating, sleeping, like, how do you keep your body sound? Like keeping your body sound, like just you as an athlete, like what are you doing? Like, tell us about sort of your day to day and how that works.

Nick Haness: It’s got its challenges for sure. But, you know, typically what my week looks like is I would, you know, finish a week in thermal and then I spend Monday letting my mental health and my physical health deflate. I go home, see my farm and all my animals, which is like my happy place. So I think that my one day off to do that is usually a Monday. And I take full advantage of that. And then like just do things that make me happy. Get a manicure and pedicure, get a massage, kind of treat yourself day, like a self-care day, you know, a self-care day. And that’s super important, you know, just as athletes and as competitors and just as people, you know, we deserve that. And I definitely emphasize that once in a while, usually on Mondays. But I usually fly to Florida on the red-eye. So I would leave California like on Monday night, very late. And then I arrive to Florida like at 5 a.m. and get right to the horse show to get my rental car and go right to the show. And Tuesdays are warm up days. So I get to ride all the horses. But then I usually take a little afternoon, you know, nap and get a little rest before my big day starts on Wednesday. And then, you know, I’m very fortunate to have a lot of great support and teams on both coasts that kind of helped with preparing the horses and the schedules and keeping all of that rolling in the right direction. And then I can really focus on my time in the arena and showing. And so that’s, you know, it’s definitely a little stressful as I’m competing in Wellington, also keeping track of the horses and thermal and doing the add, scratch still myself and kind of doing that stuff for my phone. But thankfully, technology makes it pretty easy in the time difference. You know, at least when I’m done showing in Florida, I’ve got three hours to catch up on the California stuff.

Tonya Johnston: Right. But where is sleep in this equation? Are you a good sleeper? Like, are you sleeping on the plane? Like, where are we sleeping?”

Nick Haness: I’m a good sleeper. I can sleep on the plane, definitely. And yeah, that definitely helps. And my dog, Hunter, is the best little travel buddy ever. So I’m very lucky that he goes back and forth with me to Florida and to California because I’m kind of on my own. So it’s nice to have him and he’s sort of, he’s pretty good horse show dog. So he sits on the golf cart and watches me compete all day long. And I think that’s part of also my success. I get to go back and talk to him about my rounds and he sort of is ready to hang out with me and be my friend when I’m in Florida and busy. And then we fly back to California and get ready to thermal. And it’s kind of fun. So yeah, definitely sounds silly, but he definitely meant mentally. It’s great to have that constant with me all the time.

Tonya Johnston: So 100%. Is there any, do you have any eating tips? Do you have any like go to somebody asked that question of like, what’s his number one like snack protein recommendation? Do you have anything like that? 

Nick Haness: Well, it’s super important, you know, to, to stay really hydrated. So I really feel like when I’m traveling, I really try to drink a lot, a lot of water. And, and definitely in being in Florida with the humidity and then in the travel, it’s easy to get sick. I’ve been very, knocking wood lucky to not get sick at all this year with all the traveling. So I think I really give that to drinking a lot of water and napping and napping a lot. I do take, I’m a good napper so I can, I can sleep like for an hour or two here and there and catch up and let my body kind of rest because it’s a lot. Oftentimes there’s been, there’s been weeks where I’ve finished showing in Wellington on Thursday at like two o’clock drove straight to the airport, got on an airplane, got to California at like midnight drove two hours to the desert, got to my house at two AM and then did the Derby on recess and won the class by eight o’clock the next morning. So it’s kind of, it’s kind of a whirlwind, but I just, again, drinking lots of water and getting naps, kind of the key component to stay healthy and ready. I have been trying to diet. I’ve lost a lot of weight in the last year. So I’ve been trying to just stick to a lot of proteins and like my typical lunch at a show is just a hamburger patty with maybe some cheese and some onion and a little barbecue sauce. And that’s sort of my recipe for lunch. And it keeps my mind fed and energized and ready to compete because oftentimes I’m showing in, you know, 30 to 40 classes a day. 

Tonya Johnston: Yeah. That’s a lot. Okay. Great. Well, then that, I mean, I wish that there was a magic like lesson everyone could get of how to nap because napping is seriously, that’s like a a mental skill, honestly. The amount of boost you get from sleep is enormous. And it’s a really, really important thing for people to figure out their own sleep schedules and how to boost it for themselves, you know?”

Nick Haness: Yeah, absolutely. You know, and just know, yeah, knowing, you know, for me, I have to be well rested, you know, and I have to feel feel good when I arrive somewhere. So being able to take those little airplane, airplane naps are super helpful. 

Tonya Johnston: Yeah, that’s great. I could never like I, I have my red, my red eye expertise is very, very low. And I, I’m very impressed that that’s something you can do that must really help.

Nick Haness: So fortunately, unfortunately, I’ve been I found a direct flight on the red that goes from LA, straight to Fort Lauderdale or to West Palm Beach. So for me, like doing the direct flight is also really, yes, yeah, I have to stop over somewhere, I can just get on the plane, go to sleep for four hours. And I know when I wake up, I’m going to be on there and ready to go. So I don’t like to connect anywhere. But then I’ve got to drive a little further to LA. But it’s worth it.

Tonya Johnston: Yeah, no, it sounds like it for sure. All right. So let’s keep going. This is this is awesome. Thank you for thank you for answering these. Okay, let’s see. Oh, um, what about Okay, so here’s an on course question. Like, okay, the the round is going amazing. Like you’re loving it. Like everything’s going well. And then a lot of times people get in their head a little bit like headed to the last line or the last jump, like, oh, my God, it’s been so good. Right. So is there anything? Is there any tip you would share about that? Like how you stay focused going to the last jump?

Nick Haness: Um, I definitely when you know you’re having a good round, you know, you want to produce that that big score. I always again, I just find like, if I’m going to the last line, I just spend a little moment like in between the jumps just to like, downshift my thoughts, just kind of take a deep breath, exhale, maybe rebalance the horse. Like I think that sometimes we know we’re going to the last line, we kind of freeze or get stiff and just sort of like, get tense about it. And, and then it would when in those moments is when things start to go wrong. So I think that’s one of the things that we’re going to do is we’re to think in order for it to go well, really, it’s really important to again, to take a physical breath out, like, let it like, just think about something else, take a breath, whatever, talk to your horse again, if you need to, that’s what I would do. And just really mentally think about the steps you would take to just to produce a great jump. I did an article for the Practical Horseman a few years about the single oxer, which sometimes is our last jump. And I feel like if you have a good pace and a good corner, and you stay on that same stride, you’re going to have a good distance, and I just try to remember that going to the last jump.

Tonya Johnston: ​​Right, right, right. Absolutely. What about, here was one. This is interesting. What was your biggest obstacle in your career so far, and how did you overcome it?”

Nick Haness: That’s a really good question. I think an obstacle we all, I think, have faced at some point is the expectation in the social media has really given us all sort of a false sense of reality with other people. And you see all these results and you see all the success and all the great moments that are highlighted on Instagram or on stories or on Facebook. That’s an obstacle, I think, that as a young professional, it was a challenge for me in the expectation of having to arrive at this like at this spot in my life, you know, it all has to be taken into context. And remember that there are so many moments that are not good. There are so many failures and there’s so many times that we do things that don’t work out. And that’s all okay. I think for me, that’s been the biggest like learning curve is is understanding it’s going to take time to get to that point. And it’s okay if it does. And it’s okay if things don’t always go as planned. You have a bad round or your horse has an issue. It’s not always about blue ribbons and the cameras and the fakeness of all of that. I’m sorry to say it so bluntly, but it’s true, you know. And again, it’s fall back to put in the time, put in the effort, work hard, stay dedicated. And the rest, again, I just sort of feel like it just sort of it happens. It falls into place as it’s supposed to without adding pressure to it or expecting anything. Go back to hard work, put in the hours, do your pay your dues. And then don’t fixate on those other people that are claiming to have this perfect life because no one is perfect. And those moments are not really always true or real. And I’ve learned so many times by studying it like sometimes those people are the most unhappy. And it’s really important to find happiness within personal greatness. Maybe that’s even as small as winning an under saddle class that you’ve been trying to win or seeing your young hunter that you’ve been producing. Now it’s learned its lead changes and it never did before. Those are personal achievements and those are greatness moments in our horsemanship and in our journey with horses. So I feel like it’s very important to appreciate those small moments and those stepping stones in our journeys and our careers. And when you can be happy with that, then I feel like success follows. 

Tonya Johnston: Right. Wonderful. Yeah, I love that. I think it’s really, really important to remind. And I think that I think you bring up a great point, which is sometimes the obstacle is presented of like an illusion. The obstacle is actually an illusion. And that’s what you mean. Like, like as far as like social media goes, it’s like, no, it’s not overnight. Like nobody’s expecting an overnight. Like, that’s just not the way it goes. Like, I love that. I love that. And I think that relates. I just have a couple more questions. Here’s one that I think is really important after success. And as you’ve had these last few years, really so much great momentum, you know, how do you manage to peek over and over again and like continue? It’s one thing to be the underdog and to be, you know, like, OK, I believe in myself and like, I’m here. I’m just here for me. And but once you’ve been there, done that, like that, I think, is its own sort of animal. Like, how do you stay clear and not get in your head with expectations or owners around you or you know what I mean? Like sometimes even with the best of intentions, it can end up feeling like pressure.

Nick Haness: You’re totally correct. I mean, without there being pressure, there’s pressure. So like, you know, and that’s just natural. I mean, you’re at the level and, you know, you’ve competed everywhere. You’ve won everywhere. I’ve had success west coast, east coast. And yes, there inevitably there is a deal of pressure that forms around all of that. And then, you know, people grabbing at you that want, you know, your attention or want you to do this or do that. Owners or anybody, it doesn’t really, it can be anybody. And I don’t know, I think for me personally, I can’t speak for other people, but for me personally, the way that I deal with that is, is I mean, you got to stay humble and stay realistic, but just keep. I feel like whenever I have, like, thought I was too good for something, I don’t need to, I don’t need to practice or I don’t need to hack this horse myself. And I can just let someone else do it. And I never get lazy. I feel like things go worse. So I think just staying active and staying busy and staying in the moment and staying a part of the horse and their preparation and their overall, you know, appearance and well and turn how they’re turned out and how you’re, you know, presenting yourself in the limelight or alone in the barn. All of those moments, I think, are what makes me like stay in the winner circle and stay current without there being, you know, too much forced pressure on any of it. And that I think is a really important thing for people to take away from me or from life in general in that sense. You know, I feel like you can’t fixate again on the successes. “That was yesterday. You’re only as good as, you know, the horse you’re riding. And as yesterday is yesterday’s news, you know, so today is a new day. And you can never forget about that. And you got to just sort of keep on being motivated and keep reaching for new goals. And they can be simple goals or big goals as long as you have goals. And as long as you’re working hard in that direction, it doesn’t matter.

Tonya Johnston: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That’s fantastic. And I think that’s a great way to approach it. Here’s one that I is actually a question that I meant to ask you earlier on and that I want to make sure we get to, which something I think that is a little bit maybe, I don’t know, unique. Something that I’ve really appreciated watching is the collaboration. I always I think as amateurs and as junior riders, it’s something that we get to sort of see like you working with Carlton or you, you know what I mean, like working with Tom Wright and like those kinds of partnerships and the teams that are created I think is really exciting for us to see. And because we feel like we have teams. You know what I mean, like as amateurs, like we have a team. We have like we have amazing trainers. We have barn friends, like all of that. And I think the collaboration and the cross-pollination is so inspiring. Can you talk to that a little bit of just like what that has meant to you and what you feel like that’s done for you?

Nick Haness: Oh, yeah. I mean, like I said before today, you know, you never know too much. You know, you’re always learning and it is for me. I feel like I’m a pretty accomplished rider. I feel like I know what I’m doing for the most part, but it’s absolutely inspirational to me and so educational to work with other professionals like Carlton, like Tom Wright, Jim Hagman, Archie Cox, you know, whoever it is I get to catch or be around. Everyone has, like I said, a different take and a different technique. And I think as individuals, we take a little something from every different angle by that to what works best for you. But it’s so fun to be a part of something like that and the teamwork that goes into it. You know, it’s not just a one stop show. “It’s not just one person or one thing. You know, particularly with Carlton, we’ve had a lot of success the last two years at Devon having the grand champion confirmation horse. And that’s such a fun collaboration. Carlton is so brilliant at producing beautiful horses. Their coats are so shiny. He puts so much effort and thought into the months leading up to that moment where the model class counts the most. And that’s an art and that’s a lifetime of horsemanship and knowledge. And it’s just, again, it’s so fun to be a part of something like that where he can do that part of things. And I can then, you know, apply my riding ability and talents in that department. “And when you blend sort of all of these things together, it really just equals, I think, a great outcome. It’s a beautiful collaboration of knowledge of people. You know, there’s so many different pieces that we all bring to the puzzle. And that’s what it takes to be successful. I think there’s so many things to learn from each other in that sense. And I’m lucky to be able to fly back and forth from coast to coast and have such different experiences. You know, I’m in Florida preparing the horses there. And the way they do things is totally different than maybe it is here. But it’s nonetheless completely educational and completely awesome. 

Tonya Johnston: Yeah. to soak all that up. Yeah. And so motivational and inspiring to hear. It’s sort of just keeping that growth mindset front and center. There’s always something to learn. And I think that’s, I would imagine that’s something that just keeps you motivated.

Nick Haness: Very much so. It’s very motivating. It keeps things intriguing and exciting and fresh and new.

Tonya Johnston: Exactly. Yeah.

Nick Haness: Yeah. And like I said, these are all people who have had success at different levels in their careers. And there’s something to be learned from all of them. And just the trial and errors too. I think it’s good that I’ve been able to go to Florida. It’s been hard on my life and my schedule to balance and go to Florida five times already this year.  I flew there on New Year’s Day, but it was a commitment that I was willing to make to have a moment like week six where I was champion on almost every horse in every division we went in and I won the night class in a week where it was one of the most sought after and most challenging 100 weeks maybe all year long. And I feel like that preparation leading up to that moment and all of the work we put in in the circuit before then and the collaboration of team works and it was so inspirational and motivating that I just was so there and ready in that moment week six to just do what we would have been doing and it just worked out so beautifully.

Tonta Johnston: Yeah, and so energizing probably even though it is a lot of effort. I would imagine it’s something that literally like, you know, fuels your battery. Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Wonderful. Like so, so great. I just love that. And I wish you all the best and I so appreciate you taking the time. This was fantastic. And I think people are going to learn a lot and be very inspired by you and continue to cheer for you. So thank you. Thank you so much for doing this. 

Nick Haness: Absolute pleasure as always to have the opportunity to talk with you. And I admire you and all that you do and you as a rider as well.

Tonya Johnston: Thank you. Thank you so much. I’ll see you soon.

Tonya Johnston: You can find the links to today’s guests and the show notes at theplaidhorse.com/listen. Follow the Plaidcast on all of the social medias, just search for The Plaid Horse. You can follow me on Facebook at Tonya Johnston, Mental Skills Coach and on Instagram @InsideYourRide. Please rate and review our shows on iTunes, five-star reviews help people discover our show. And if you enjoy our conversation, please share it with your friends. If you have a question about your mental skills for riding, please message me on Facebook. Inside Your Ride is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook. You can find out more about my mental skills coaching on my website at www.tonyajohnston.com. Remember, focus is a skill. Use it to make every ride great.