Three Mental Strategies from Daniel Stewart

These three mental strategies will help you when a ride doesn’t go quite according to plan. From Pressure Proof Your Riding by Daniel Stewart.

1.Motivating Mottos Another way to create positive thoughts is to repeat positive phrases, and one sure way to repeat positive phrases is to repeat a positive motto. There are no rules when it comes to creating motivating mottos: They can be short sentences, song lyrics, catch phrases, or any other form of word play. It can be something well known like, “Just do it”; something private between you and your horse like “241” (the two of us working forone goal); a few lines from your favorite song like, “Be strong and push on,” or even a catchy quote like, “Just keep swimming,” from the film Finding Nemo.

If you can’t do everything, just do everything you can.

Once you create your motivating motto you need to get in the habit of using it. This can sometimes be difficult because pressure has a strange way of making riders forget important things. When you need it the most, is often when you seem to forget it the fastest. To avoid letting this happen create strategies like making your motto your computer password; repeating it every time you open a door; or writing it on a piece of paper and taping it to your tack trunk. The more you practice and see it, the more it’ll become a part of you. Here are a few good examples of mottos:

• When in front don’t let up and when behind don’t give up.

• If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.

• Go hard or go home.

• Keep calm and ride on.

• Push on, finish strong.

• Make the impossible possible.

• What doesn’t break me makes me stronger.

• If I believe it, I can achieve it.

• We’re better together.

• Turn stress to success.

• Do my best, forget the rest.

• Whatever it takes to get whatever I want.

Pressure Proof Plan Motivating Motto Write your motivating motto:

Write three situations where you may need to use it:




Write down three strategies to remember your motto:




2: Self-Image Statement It’s impossible for you to think positive things about your riding if you don’t think positive things about yourself. Developing a strong self-image statement (a self-talk phrase designed to remind you of your strengths) is, therefore, one of the first things you must do. It can help you direct your thoughts in a positive direction; maintain focus under pressure; avoid doubt and distractions; and remind you what you’re capable of.

Keep calm and ride on.

The idea behind the self-image statement is simple: Knowing what to think usually beats thinking whatever pops into your mind because pressure often has the bad habit of creating self-doubt.

There are two different kinds of self-image statements. The first is your performance statement, a phrase that reminds you of all the positive physical assets you have. The second is your personality statement, a similar phrase that reminds you of all your mental assets. When used correctly and frequently these positive statements can create a sort of personal reputation and you begin to believe what you say and hear about yourself. This is another example of the self-fulfilling prophecy, “Be careful what you wish for—you might just get it!”

Three Steps to a Positive Self-Image

1 Identify a strength (or strengths) that you have (or want to have).

2 Identify what your strengths could help you accomplish.

3 Combine them into a statement such as “My great dressage position will help me score well today.”

When creating a positive self-image statement, it’s always a good idea to create a performance and a personalitystatement for both schooling and showing. They should be voiced in the present tense and start with words like, “I have,” “I am,” or “My.” Better yet, start them with, “We have,” “We are,” or “Our,” thereby remembering the important role your horse plays in your riding success. Obviously, your statements should also be voiced in a positive way, so avoid using negative words like “can’t,” “don’t,” or “I think.” Here are a few good examples:

Performance Statements

Schooling—My balanced seat, stable leg, and supple hips make me a great student.

Showing—My ability to see distances and my balanced jumping position make me supremely competitive.

Dressage—My precise transitions, symmetrical position, and connection with my horse allow us to show our best.

Cross-Country—My balanced approaches, takeoffs, and landings, along with the quality of our canter, make us dominant competitors.

Personality Statements

Schooling—I’m a hard worker, good listener, and fast learner, which make me a great student.

Showing—I’m highly confident, committed, and motivated, which make me supremely competitive.

Dressage—I’m focused under pressure, optimistic, and patient, which allow me to be my best.

Cross-Country—I’m courageous, and believe in myself and my horse, which make me a dominant competitor.

People Pleasers These are riders who always try to do well for others—to impress them—or base their identity on outcomes that others admire. This almost always leads to pressure and the fear of failure. Instead of being a people pleaser, learn to develop a positive self-image so that you can please yourself.

Being prepared with a few pre-determined positive statements before you encounter stress is a great way to ensure you’ll be able to stay Pressure Proof. It’s best to repeat them out loud and use them whenever you begin to feel doubt, worry, or lose confidence. Another trick to strengthen them is to repeat the statement several times, each time emphasizing a different word in the sentence (start by emphasizing the first word and then repeat the sentence until each word—in order—has received the emphasis). If your sentence has 10 words, repeat it 10 times. You can even use your self-image statements—both performance and personality—as the thoughtreplacement that follows your thought stoppers.

Pressure Proof Plan Self-Image Statement

Write your performance statements:



Write your personality statements:



Write when you’ll use them:



3: Memory Motivation

One of the greatest things about riding is that it provides you with years of wonderful memories: times spent with your horse, family, trainers, and riding mates. Thanks to the unique relationship with the horse, your memories often become stronger than the memories of athletes participating in other sports. For instance, you never see a tennis player hugging his racquet, a hockey player taking his stick for a walk, or a skier kissing her skis. Riding is a truly special sport and as a result your memories become just as special. In addition to reminding you of all the amazing things you’ve experienced in the past, they can also help you create amazing ones in the future.

Positive memories pump you up. Negative memories put you down.

All riders have experienced memory motivation at some point in their life. For example, a nervous rider before a show regains her confidence after her coach reminds her how well she did at her last show (even though she was nervous back then, too). This helps her to remember how well she handled the pressure and gives her new confidence in her ability to do it again now. As a result, the memory motivates her to remember that she’s a capable, strong, and competent competitor. Her coach used memory motivation to remind her that a memory from her past can be used to motivate her in the present.

Memory Motivation vs. Detachment Memory motivation is often confused with detachment but there is one big difference. In detachment, you imagine a location that you can basically escape to so that you can avoid thinking of the challenge. But in memory motivation, you imagine a memory from your past that proves you can handle the challenge in the present, right where you are. For instance, you might imagine detaching to a quiet location—like your horse’s stall early in the morning—to calm yourself down before a big show. While this may work sometimes, it is—in a way—a form of the defense mechanism avoidance (when you can’t cope with the pressure where you are, you imagine being somewhere else, even if it’s only in your mind).

Make your memories motivational and inspirational.

Whatever emotion you need to create, memory motivation can help you achieve it by taking you there mentally. Instead of detaching and leaving a stressful situation emotionally, recall a positive and empowering memory from your past that reminds you you’re capable of handling it right here in the present. You allow the positive memory from your past to motivate you in the present.

Tip: Build Your Own Memory Motivation Let the following true stories help you. A rider reminds herself:

• To never give up by recalling the memory of her two-year-old daughter yelling, “Go, Mommy,” as she approached a challenging cross-country fence.

• To trust her horse by remembering a memory when she was afraid her horse would run away with her, but instead, she ended up scoring time faults because they went too slowly!

• How lucky she is by thinking of the time she received a nameplate for the horse she was about to receive as a surprise birthday present.

• How hard she’s willing to work by recalling the time she traded her pony for a day for an FEI dressage horse that piaffed and passaged without being asked.

• How meaningful her horse is to her by recalling the memory of lying on the ground in a pasture on a sunny day with him happily grazing beside her.

• What fun riding is by remembering playing cops and robbers with a friend and their horses.

• How exciting riding is by thinking of the time she galloped through a field not being able to feel her horse’s hooves touching the ground.

• How special the horse-and-rider relationship is by thinking of the way her horse snuggled up to her for warmth on a cold winter day.

• To enjoy herself by remembering the time she walked her horse in the ocean and surfed with him in the waves.

• To forgive by recalling the memory of when her horse spooked and bucked throughout a dressage test after which she laughed and said, “He’s a jerk, but he’s my jerk, and I love him!”


Your greatest memories might come from the most unusual times!

Memory motivation works best when you know what makes you nervous. Is it competing in front of a large crowd, being critiqued by a judge, or going last in a class? When you encounter the stressful situation, simply recall a positive memory from your past when you rode well in front of a large crowd; succeeded while being judged; or did great even though you went last in a class. When you’re nervous or tense but don’t really know why, simply recall a memory from your past when you felt confident. The only thing the memory needs to do is remind you that you already have the mental skills you’re looking for.

Exception to the Rule Memory motivation is one of only very few examples when you can think in the past focused mindset. In general, you should always keep your focus in the present moment and avoid thinking of the past. When the memory you’re recalling is a positive and motivating one, however, you can bend this rule a bit.

As you can see, none of these examples focus on winning, standings, or beating another rider. Instead, they simply remind us of our love of riding and horses. While your memories can certainly be about riding well and succeeding (a first victory gallop, for example) they really only need remind you of why you love doing what you do.

Negative Memory Motivation As positive as memory motivation is, it can be used in a negative way if you’re not careful (remember to use it for good, not evil). For example, a rider who’s not performing up to her potential because she’s thinking about a recent fall is using memory motivation, but she’s using it in a negative way—and it’s motivating her in a negative way. Instead of selecting a memory that lifts her up, the memory that’s stuck in her mind is pulling her down.

It’s not uncommon for negative memories to blind you to the many positive moments and successes that have occurred in your past. Ask any rider who’s focused on a negative memory to tell you a positive one and don’t be surprised if she can’t find one (the negative memory is blinding her to positive ones). The good news is that positive memory motivation is just as strong: If you’re constantly focusing on positive memories they’ll blind you to any negative ones.

Mental Focus Test Look around your room for 10 seconds and make a mental list of everything that’s blue: Look at the walls, pictures, furniture, and outside the windows. Close your eyes and think of your list for a few more seconds then quickly name five things that are yellow! If you’re like most people you’ll probably have a hard time thinking of five yellow things. You focused so hard on blue that you weren’t able to see yellow—or anything else for that matter. The same thing happens to you when you focus on a negative memory; you aren’t able to see anything else.

When done carefully there are a few positive ways to use negative memories. The first is when you recall something from your past you’d like to avoid in the future. For instance, a rider who used to smoke can recall how hard it was to ride without losing her breath and vow never to go back to her old bad habit again. Secondly, negative memories can sometimes be used as learning tools: A jumper who knocks down several fences in her first class (because she rushed them) can use that negative memory to remind herself to ride in a more relaxed and patient manner in her next class. Lastly, some negative memories can be used to help you avoid harm. For example, a rider who had a bad fall when her horse spooked at a tractor can keep herself safe in the future by recalling the negative memory and dismounting whenever a tractor passes by.

Success Soundtrack Imagining your positive memory motivation at the same time as listening to (or thinking of) your music motivation results in something called a success soundtrack: motivating images set to motivating music, much like a movie trailer.

In the end, however, the benefits of positive-memory motivation far outweigh those of negative-memory motivation so they should make up the vast majority of your memory motivation program.

Pressure Proof Plan Memory Motivation

Write down one pump-up motivating memory:

Write down one calm-down motivating memory:

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