We’ve all been there – everything in training has gone to plan, but it all falls apart when you get to a competition. Maybe you’ve forgotten your dressage test, mucked up the striding in your showjumping round or let nerves get the better of you out on the cross-country course. So, what can you do to make sure it all comes together on the day?
Athletes from all sorts of sporting disciplines use visualisation as one of their mental techniques in both training and at competitions, helping them to create a competitive edge. However, it’s not just professional athletes who can benefit – anyone who wants to improve their performance can use visualisation to help. All it involves is practising your test or round in your mind before going out and doing it for real.
When you first try visualisation, keep it simple. Find a quiet place where you can relax and won’t be interrupted. Perhaps close your eyes and try to breathe deeply and rhythmically, in through your nose and out through your mouth. You want to be in a relaxed state so you truly focus on what you want to visualise.
As a first attempt, try to visualise yourself in a very familiar situation that you carry out every day, such as turning your horse out. Start with putting on his headcollar in the stable, all the way to seeing him walk off into the field. Imagine every single step you go through to make what you see in your head as realistic as possible.
Once you’ve done that, start to add other senses to what you’re seeing. This could include the sounds of patting your horse or his shoes clip-clopping on the yard, the smell of his stable or scent of blossom on the trees, or the feel of the sun warming the back of your neck. Each time you run through your visualisation, try to make it more vivid and colourful.
In your arsenal
Anyone can use visualisation as a mental technique and it’s a skill that can really boost your performance. Used positively, it’s a useful way to reduce negative thoughts and build self-confidence, helping you achieve your desired goals and success.
Help boost your performance by having a go at some more of Sally’s visualisation techniques, pick up the August issue of Horse&Rider, on sale 28 June.