Achieving Mental Toughness

Laura headshotWhen the participants in the Dressage4Kids Winter Intensive Training Program are in South Florida for the winter show season, Lendon Gray asks me to speak to them in the early morning hours once a week. This is the third in my series of talks to the dedicated young people in this exciting program.

Mental toughness is a term often used in sports psychology and it relates to how you handle yourself in stressful situations.

You should ask yourself some questions to decide where you are. How calm and relaxed are you on your horse? Is your self-talk negative? How well do you concentrate on your horse? Rate your level of performance anxiety. How fearful are you of your horse? Finally, rate your overall performance. Remember that learning is personal and it is linked to your own definition of words and how you perceive those words in your brain.

Is there a difference between getting on your horse and going for a trail ride and having a lesson? Start thinking that there is no difference. Practice breathing with every step when you are out on a hack. When you go out into the ring for a lesson, practice that you are on a trail ride. What you are doing is implementing in your brain that every time you sit in the saddle, you are riding at your peak level. When you are out on a trail ride, you should have your correct position, you should be breathing and, yes, relaxing and having a good time. I want you to take having a good time and attach it to riding at your peak level.

We can only be who we are by our thoughts in our head. The No. 1 screw up for equestrians is listening to the conscious level chitchat. When you are in control of the chitchat in your head, that’s going to help you block out anyone around you who is negative. You need to learn to override it. You need to have your peak performance so ingrained in your mind, that your subconscious mind tells your body where to go. You should ingrain in your subconscious mind the course pattern or the dressage test so that your brain is automatically doing it. You do this by mirroring, by role modeling, by doing.

Laura KingTrust, allow, breathe every time you sit in the saddle. In my MP3s designed to improve your performance, these words area strategically placed to create the optimal patterns.

Everything that you see, everything that you smell, everything that you hear has an effect on you. What I like to program into my equestrian clients is the ability to block negative reactions and self-talk. I want you to be able to say, “Delete!” and that word works just like it does on your computer screen. It’s an incredible mindset to help you to learn to function at your peak performance. When you learn and practice that, you have the ability to control everything you see, say and do in every aspect of your life.

Blocking a change can happen because of old habits and belief systems. What is happening in your head while you are riding? Your subconscious mind has zero reasoning ability and that’s what makes mountains out of molehills. The conscious mind is analytical, rational and logical thinking. It’s your short-term memory. It’s your will power. Your subconscious mind is where we are doing everything: habit, emotions, long-term memory. You are working on your long-term memory so you can be emotionally balanced in you performance on your horse.

Just like the brain is the hard drive of a computer, your programming has to be aligned the way you want it. We know that hypnosis taps into that. It is just like guided meditation, guided imagery or daydreaming. A hypnotist is a facilitator to help you guide the subconscious mind into visualizing the way things need to be, not the incorrect way you have been doing it in the past. You have to create a new way of doing things to implement a change. Rewire. Reprogram.

You are what you think. This means that in order to change, you have to change the way you think. Every thought creates a physical reaction. Your imagination is more powerful than knowledge.

The schooling ring is a source of many equestrians’ anxiety. I hypnotize riders to be the queen of the schooling ring. When you are in the schooling area, pretend you are as comfortable and happy as you are on the trail. When you are on the trail, practice you are in the schooling area. It works!

You can always use the theatre of your mind; it’s you imagination. You can re-anchor a response, such as when I suggested you think of a trail ride as the schooling area and the schooling area as a trail ride. That’s also reframing the image.

Laura King asked the members of the audience to shut their eyes to practice visualization techniques at the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic.
Laura King asked the members of the audience to shut their eyes to practice visualization techniques at the Robert Dover Horsemastership Clinic. You can use this same technique to practice your perfect ride. 

Evaluate what the sources of your doubts are, know who the sources of your doubts are and what they are so they don’t take control of your mind.

The Top Ten Mistakes riders make are: imagine failure, riding nervously, stressing about what others think of your riding, making unreasonable demands on yourself, worrying about things you cannot control, lack of focus, making technical errors, thinking you are competing over your head, negative self-talk and allowing past mistakes to consume your thoughts.

Create a show plan to include your desired outcomes. Ask your trainer to teach you how to accomplish them. Discuss what you need to do to go forward. Put it in your calendar so your brain has a roadmap.

Establish a pre-ride routine. Know the test or the course. Visualize doing it. Watch a video of someone doing it. Practice the test and breathe while practicing. Practice it wearing your show clothes. Listen to MP3s from me to help you.logo-trans

On the show day, avoid negative people. Breathe. Sit in the saddle and get comfortable in the correct position. Breathe.

For homework, I want you to learn how to release your challenges. Imagine writing them on a piece of paper, shrinking the paper and blowing it away. Pick a role model who successfully deals with challenges. Script the change. What words, thoughts and beliefs will help you change?

To learn more about my MP3s to help you obtain your peak performance, go to