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Practice ugly

is a call for action that can help riders avoid a fatal trap in the competitive environment. When you show, you need to show you and your horse’s strengths and compensate for you and your horse’s weaknesses.  To be able to do that, you need to reveal weaknesses and work on them during the practice period

Practice ugly

One of the unique characteristics of equestrian sports is that the practice period at competitions is open to the public.  In most sports, athletes practice occurs outside of the public eye.  At a horse show, competing riders often practice in the same place at the same time and anyone is free to walk into the arena to watch riders preparing for competition.  

There are no secrets.

Think about it and I bet you will recall other riders or people in the stands watching you practice.  Usually one or two of these people who catch your attention and you feel as if these they are judging you. So what do you do?  Without even being aware of it, you tell yourself “Look good!” so as to show them that you are a good rider with a good horse – and worthy of respect.   

“Look good!” is a trap!!

And it can be fatal, because trying to impress others during practice takes attention away from revealing and working on weaknesses. When you try to impress spectators, you avoid doing things that are liable to make you look bad.  But those weak points always come back to you in greater intensity at money time, and often have a serious negative impact on the horses’ performance - and you won’t be ready for them.

What affects your performance is not the objective fact of someone watching, but the way that watching affects your mindset - that is, how you think and feel at that moment.

“Practice ugly!” is a call to action aimed at your thinking and feeling.  It means telling yourself to practice without worrying about how it looks so as to properly prepare yourself for competition.

practice ugly
Practice ugly equestrian
practice ugly equestrian

The difference between the good to the great 

​Over time, I came to understand that high-level riders do not care who is watching them or how they look during practice time. They are perfectly comfortable practicing ugly because they know that the only place in which they are really judged is in the show pen. They know that, during practice, they have to focus on their horses’ weaknesses as well as their own – so as to know exactly what to do to make up for them during the competition.   


That’s the formula for success:

  • When you show, show all your horse’s strengths and hide your horse’s weaknesses; and,

  • When you practice, expose your horse’s weaknesses and trust the strengths to take care of themselves.

So when you practice at a competition, remember this call for action:  “Practice Ugly!”

Mental athletic

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Special thanks to the awsome 
photographers Lee Wagensberg and Noam Shoshany

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