Dr. Carrie Wicks founded The (W)inner’s Circle for Equestrians, a membership-based program that supports riders to develop a mental practice for peak performance. She regularly consults with riders and trainers. She is also a parenting guru who guides teens and parents through challenges while deepening their bonds and navigating adolescence. Dr. Carrie was a top Junior/Amateur competitor, a young professional rider, and mother of an elite gymnast and an equestrian. She has worn all the hats! Her doctoral dissertation, “Adolescent Equestrienne Athletes’ Experiences of Mindfulness in Competition” is in the Library of Congress and is currently being revised as a book for the public. If you would like to ask a question for this column or ask about a complimentary Performance Strategy session, please contact Carrie at [email protected]
Q: What do I do when I have tons of down time after the course walk or between rounds at big events like medal finals? I get so tired just hanging around and don’t know what to do!
A: This is an important aspect of single-focus events as they require a different approach to developing the desired heightened focus at the appropriate time from typical show days. On a typical horse show day I encourage athletes to have awareness of their attention in terms of a spiral. It starts when you wake up and engage in a short, simple mindfulness practice to engage the mind-body connection and start the day with intention. The center point of the spiral is the goal for each time you enter the show ring. The outer edges of the spiral are the goal for rest and transportation times. Being aware of where you are on the spiral throughout the day helps you to be purposeful about how you are spending your energy and where you are allowing your thoughts to travel.
On a single event day, if you have an early lesson and then walk the course first thing in the morning but don’t actually compete until afternoon, consider the spiral with two parts. Get focused, physically warmed up, and mentally sharp for the lesson and the walk. Your goal for this part should be to aim for a sensation of heightened, task-oriented focus without the intensity needed for a winning round. Be sure to eat regular meals and keep hydrated so as to keep mind and body balanced with calories to burn at game time. Watch no more than ten rounds in the beginning and then take yourself for a walk, purposely disconnecting from the show ring. Take some time to visualize the course and your intended plan in your mind’s eye periodically. But allow your mind to focus on other things too so it doesn’t become dull. Avoid the horse show stupor that results from watching horses going around for too long. Stay off your phone and social media as these are mental energy drains and have the potential of triggering negative self-talk. Be careful not to socialize much as this too burns a lot of energy. Reading a book, studying, and writing are excellent ways to keep the mind engaged without emptying the focus tank. Check back in with the ring and watch no more than ten more rounds a couple of times intermittently. Take time to stretch your body out as well as rest with feet higher that your heart so as to restore energy. While resting or stretching, visualize your intended round from your perspective as the rider, from your horse’s perspective, and from the judge’s perspective.
When it is time to get dressed to ride, do some breathing exercises to center and channel your mounting adrenaline. At this point you are on one of the inner circles of the spiral. Notice your heightened focus and how it is challenging to think about anything else. If your heart races a bit too fast for your comfort, inhale slowly through your nose for up to six counts and exhale slowly through your mouth for as long as it takes to completely empty your lungs. Repeat three times. Be sure to get one last glimpse of the course before you warm up so as to be sure it is sharp in your mind. Aim for connected, energetic, and bold in your warm up, not perfect. Hear your trainer’s instruction and make minute adjustments as a result. Notice your attention sharpening. As you approach the back gate, recognize your heart rate as a signal to tighten your mind-body connection. Focus on your breath in the back gate area. Review the plan once more. Trust that your analytic mind will tell you what to do when. Enter the ring with awareness that you are now at the center of the spiral. The next one to two minutes are all about the connection between mind-body-horse. Be present for each moment as it comes. Stay sharp and calm. Be clear with the cues you give your horse. Enjoy the ride – as you have arrived!
This column was published in the October/November 2014 issue of Horse & Style Magazine! Go here to read the entire issue online.