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Look Back to Look Forward

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Take time to slow down and process the show season as you prepare for a new year. Article by Gilead Friedman, with Alexis Bennett

Courtesy of the NRHA Reiner Magazine - December 2021

Mental Athletics

December is a great time to press pause, reflect on the previous season and plan for the next one. End-of-year shows are finished or quickly coming to a close, and the holidays often impose a slower pace on your riding schedule.

If you’re like many riders, you’ve been busily riding, prepping and showing since spring. You probably haven’t taken the time to process the journey.

Since you’re competing, it’s likely you are interested in and actively pursuing opportunities for improvement in your riding, preparation and mindset. That’s what we’ve been working on all year through this “Reiner Psych” series.

Before you anxiously set goals and put dates on the calendar for next year, spend some energy thinking about this last season. Then, use guiding questions and a holistic perspective to set your intentions for the new season.

The Year in the Rear View

A lot happens in your competitive journey each year between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31. By bookending your season in this way, you give yourself time to reflect, process and look forward to next year with renewed excitement.

In the same way that you’ve been training yourself to buffer your horse from external stressors all year long, it also disconnects your experience from one season to the next. You can move forward without baggage or pressures from the past. It’s a new year; it’s a chance for a fresh outlook!

While it’s nice to receive year-end awards or recognition for achievements from your coaches, peers and loved ones, the most important validation comes from yourself. The first step in processing your season is to take time to recognize your efforts and all the work you’ve put in.

Notice how far you’ve come. See the successes and improvements. Since it’s common to

think only about the previous event, make a concerted effort to look at the year as a whole.

Ask yourself what went well and what didn’t go as planned. Which events were your favorite and why? What made them memorable? Think about moments you enjoyed inside and outside of the arena.

This is also when you can recognize and show gratitude for the team that helps make your experiences possible — your horse, your family and friends, and your support staff, such as your coach, vet, farrier, trainers and assistants.

Reflect on the goals you set at this time last year, as well. What did you hope to achieve

this season? Did you meet those milestones? In which areas could you still improve?

Try not to be judgmental or too harsh in your self-assessment. Processing both successes and areas for improvement will help you later, as future goals are informed by previous data points. An honest assessment of where you’re at will give you a good idea of how to move forward.

Finally, give yourself and your horse some time to rest, enjoy a slower pace and recuperate from the physical and mental work you’ve put in this season. You want to feel excited and prepared for the goals ahead, not drained and burned out.

Set Your Sights

To achieve success with your riding, you need three peak performance aspects to come together. These are your horse’s ability, your technical riding ability and your mindset as a rider. As you assess your competitive journey, think specifically about these aspects and evaluate where you are in all three areas.

Are you really strong in one area? Is one of these aspects lacking? Make a goal specifically focused on each of these areas and commit to working on the aspect that’s lacking. Even if you’re strong in all areas, an honest assessment might point out that one is less strong than the others; focus there. Setting small improvement goals related to these individual performance aspects will support your big-picture goals. As you set larger goals and intentions for the season, really zoom out and try to objectively look at what you want. It’s not about what others around you want for or from you, or even what you think you should want for yourself.

Gilead “Gil” Friedman of Mental Athletics specializes in the mental

game that accompanies competition. The NRHA Professional, who

grew up riding performance horses, worked with NRHA Professionals Dan Huss and Bob LaPorta in the United States. Now based out of the KPH Performance Horses facility in Kfar Netter, Israel, he works in person and virtually with trainers, non pros and amateurs worldwide, sharing his fi rsthand knowledge of performance psychology to help riders step up their mental strength in a competitive environment. Learn more at

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