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The Secret Competition

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Learn to keep the silent pressures of the show environment from impacting your performance.

Courtesy of the NRHA Reiner Magazine - April 2021

Article by Gilead Friedman Mental Athletics with Alexis Bennctt

mental athletics

Have you ever used a magnetic board? If so, you know as you move magnets closer together and farther apart from one another, they react — either repelling or attracting magnets of similar or opposing charges. While you can’t see the force between two or more magnets, you know it’s there and has influence.

You can watch it happen. This is similar to the setting at a show, where the competitive field acts as your magnetic board. The invisible pressures, which may be other people, events, outside stressors or dilemmas that you experience at an event, are like the charged magnets on a magnetic board. These pressures can influence you, causing you to act differently and potentially impacting your performance. Like with the magnets, you can’t see the force between yourself and these outside influencers, which can make anticipating and managing your reactions a challenge. These invisible forces are the secret competition. Here, I’ll share strategies and techniques to help you begin to recognize and manage the secret competition at a show, so you can begin to develop a stronger performance mindset.

Under Pressure

Due to its inherent competitive nature, a show can create nervousness, excitement, anxiety or other emotions. You can easily get derailed from your game if you combine these emotional challenges with other pressures — such as a lack of sleep; an inconsistent schedule; other riders, trainers and spectators; event or horse difficulties; interpersonal relationship challenges; and/or self-esteem trouble.

These factors aren’t good or bad; they’re simply a reality of the situation and act as pressure points that can cause you to react. Everyone experiences them, yet they’re rarely talked about.

That’s why they’re the secret competition. If you think of these pressure points as magnets, bumping into you and attempting to exert their force over you, you can choose to react positively or negatively. A negative reaction usually repels you from your game plan at a show, whereas a positive reaction brings you closer to your goal and keeps you on target. This doesn’t mean that the secret competition is to blame if something doesn’t go your way at the show. You control your reaction to them, and as a result, their influence over you. While this realization can be frustrating, it’s also very powerful to understand that you control your game — and to a certain extent, the outcome of your performance — regardless of the environment. Thinking about the influence the competitive field can have on your mindset, as well as your reaction to that mindset, helps you understand how you might get derailed. The mental ladder is a tool that describes how your perceptions of situations can cause you to lose focus, act differently and step out of your game. Perception is the first step of the ladder. This is what you first see or hear.

At this step, your perception — your negative self-talk, comparing yourself to another rider in your class or listening to a comment by a spectator — is likely one of your pressure points. You often quickly step up the ladder to the next rung after this.

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 first hand knowledge of performance psychology to help riders step up their mental strength in a competitive environment. Learn more at

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