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For the Love of Horses

A few years ago, I read an interview with a well-known horseman who said that every rider has a horse that changed his life. Let me tell you about mine:

"Lily" was a little bay mare. Her official name is "My Kora Gun". I started riding her when she was five years old. She was a very talented mare, but she had a reputation for being “pissy” - that is, anxious and high strung. She performed maneuvers very strongly, but she could react unexpectedly at any moment. She was not very pleasant to ride or show, so it was easy to lose patience and get angry with her.

When I began to ride Lily, I found that she could only display her natural abilities when she felt quiet and relaxed during the ride. As I got to know her, I wondered what it would be like if she felt that way all the time.

I looked closely at how my riding was affecting her behavior. I soon discovered that it was not only my physical actions that influenced her performance, but also my mindset – how I was thinking and feeling at any given moment. It was very easy for me to get aggravated with her; however, I decided to control my internal reactions and not to lose patience when she acted out. At those moments, the way to improve her performance was to take pressure off, rather than put more on her. That required me to gain greater control over my own mindset than over Lily.

From day-to-day, I started to see the change in her – and in me. Our special connection started at that point. I discovered the most amazing horse I have ever met and she became the most trustful and committed show horse I have ever ridden.

That little mare changed my whole perspective about riding and training. She taught me how to look deeper in myself and make small physical and mental changes to improve my riding and competitive performance. The better I became, the higher we scored. We achieved great success together in the show-pen. And, for the first time, I really understood the power of personal growth and improvement as key to peak performance in competitive life.

Words cannot define the impact Lily had on me. She helped me find the passion to think outside the box and develop the field of mental training for equestrian riders. I often wonder what it meant to Lily? She could not tell it to me directly, but I have the strong feeling that she underwent a transformation that greatly improved her quality of life. When I first met her, every observer could tell that she hated going out to work each day. Then I learned how to ride her in a way that was right for her and maximized her abilities. I taught her owner, a young girl, how to do the same. As a result, Lily and her owner developed a special bond. She seemed to go out gladly every day and they continued showing until Lily was 13 years old.

Becoming your team leader

Peak Performance Mindset is all about taking responsibility for achieving our goals and making our dreams come true. Riders have a tendency to believe success as dependent upon having a good horse. This type of thinking, however, actually puts the horse in the lead. Top riders regard themselves as leaders. Riding is a team sport; however, there is no equality between the team members. You are the one who wants to be a champion. Horses are simply responding to your demands.

Great leaders are rarely people who intimidate and punish their followers into obedience. Rather, they lead by gaining the trust of their team. They take care of their teammates and create conditions that enable them to do their jobs in the best way possible.

It is not enough to expect your horse to perform at its peak; you must help your horse maximize its ability. Your horse must be 100% willing to be guided by your demanding or request, not by force, but by trust. You must shield your horse from the competitive pressure, so that it feels comfortable in every environment.

Your mindset is the key to peak performance for both you and your horse in the competitive field. In order to gain your horse’s trust, you need to be calm and consistent. And to be calm and consistent, you need to be in control. However, being in control of your horse means first being in control of yourself – both your actions and your mind. This is real mental toughness.

As a leader, you know your goals and have a game plan for achieving them.

You prepare and show your horses just as you planned. You communicate precisely with your teammate and listen carefully to its response. You handle the pressure and feel confident and stable so that your teammate can do its best without interference. Success is in your hands and your horse is part of this journey. That’s what makes competition? so much fun.

Gilead “Gil” Friedman of Mental Athletics specializes in the mental game that accompanies competition.

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