That Winning Feeling bookAs the New Year starts, you may start thinking about your horse-related goals for 2013.  Maybe you want to move up a level in showing.  Or maybe you’ve got a great idea for a horse product, but you’re not sure about how to get started developing it.  Or maybe you are planning on setting the same goals for 2013 that you set for 2012. You want to move forward, but you feel “stuck.”  You don’t have to go it alone.  Consider enlisting the services of a personal coach.

One way to have the benefit of a personal coach without much of an expense is to use a book.  There are several professional books out there that give lots of help with goal setting and moving up the ladder.  These can certainly be applied to horse people as well.  But, luckily, there are several excellent coaches who already understand the horse business and can offer sound advice.

I remember several years ago when I was competing along with my friends at our barn.  I wanted to be part of the group, but I HATED competing.  I was always so nervous, usually ending up snapping at my husband who had only come because I asked him to for “support.”  I was miserable before, during and after each show, vowing to never go through it again.

But I decided to try one more time and set my goal to ride dressage Training Level 4 for the first time at the dressage show at the end of the season.  I had just finished a lesson with my trainer and remember sitting in my horse’s stall crying and feeling totally inadequate.  The start of the same stressful pre-show cycle I always had.

But I had recently purchased a book called, “That Winning Feeling” by Jane Savoie, herself a noted dressage rider.  I thought there may be something in there that could help me better train for my upcoming show.  Imagine my surprise when I found that the book had nothing to do with training my horse and EVERYTHING to do with training my mind!  For years I had told myself I would have a bad ride – and then I did.  At each show, I worried that my horse wouldn’t pick up the correct lead at the canter – and he didn’t.  All these “conversations” I was having with myself turned out to be self-fulfilling prophecies.  But with Jane’s book, I learned techniques to not only stop the negative thoughts, but to use visualization to turn them into positive thoughts.

For the next week, I worked as hard (if not harder) on these positive techniques as I did getting my horse ready for the show.  And I’ll be the first to admit that these techniques aren’t always easy.  I spent so many years with my negative thoughts that it was hard to turn them around.  Jane offers a technique where you visualize your dressage ride (or hunter round or any event) and you do everything perfectly.  It appears in your mind a bit like a movie – and you’re the star!  Whenever you get to a point in your imaginary performance where you have doubts and the doubts turn into errors, you simply hit “rewind”  in your mental movie and go back and imagine it again, this time feel confident and doing it perfectly.  I must have rewound my left lead canter depart a million times.  Since it was always such an issue, I couldn’t imagine me EVER getting the correct lead so I couldn’t properly imagine it in my movie.  So I enlisted the aid of my trainer who took my horse movement (perfectly, of course) through my “bogey” several times so I could etch it correctly in my mind.  Eventually, at least in my imagination, I was riding a flawless dressage test.

On the day of the show, I found myself relaxed and in a positive frame of mind.  No yelling at my husband.  No outbursts of tears during my warm-up.  I was calm and confident.  I started the test and suddenly I had a strange feeling – I was having FUN during my test!  Everything went smoothly – even the left lead canter depart!  I remember going down the centerline towards X and wishing I could do it all over again!  

Did I win first place?  No, but I won a personal victory in that I rode every movement correctly and enjoyed the whole show experience.

If books aren’t your thing, consider working with a live personal coach to help you develop on the inside.  Personal coaching is done on a one-on-one basis.  While listening and strategizing are part of the personal coaching experience, the most important part of the process is developing an action plan.  Even if it is only one small step, your personal coach will challenge you to take some action to help you meet your goal.  And your coach will hold you accountable for the action you agree to take. Remember that the goal of the personal coach is to support you and help you succeed.  As Tom Landry, the legendary football coach said, “A coach is someone who makes you do what you don’t want to do so you can be who you want to be.”

Coaching sessions usually lasts 45-60 minutes and most personal coaches follow-up and are available if you have a question, problem or just want to celebrate a victory!  Personal coaching is often done by telephone.  It can also be done in person or even via email.  The cost for coaching varies, but typically costs no more than a private riding lesson.  Many offer a complimentary “get-to-know-you” session.

Whether you use books or people, a good coach is always there for you to help you get where you want to go.

By Kelly O'Neill, equestrian and barn owner/manager.


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