For some time I have been frustrated by the feeling that my brain is not my best friend in the ring. The times when I walk the course and really think I have bitten off more than I can chew seem to bring out the best in me, whereas classes that I think I should be able to win definitely do not. I know that, on the whole, I am a good competitor and also have a psychology degree so I know that the brain can be programmed to maximise performance. But obviously I am not able to arrive at the best tactics by myself.
I was lucky enough to meet Charlie Unwin, www.performancelegacy.com, when he Bed & Breakfasted with us before doing a clinic locally, but it still took me two years to get myself organised to see him professionally. Having represented Great Britain in Modern Pentathlon and currently working with not only equestrian athletes, but most notably Lizzie Yarnold our current skeleton bob gold medalist, Charlie has an excellent understanding of the pressures of trying to eliminate external stresses to achieve ones best performance in competition. Charlie uses the strategy of comparing your competition area to a bubble, and therefore you decide what you take into the bubble with you. In my case when the chips are really down, I just take idea of keep the horse in a forward rhythm and on a good distance to maximize our chances of getting round; but when I want to win there is regular committee meeting of thoughts in my bubble and as a result my focus is all over the place.
The opportunity to talk and get my thoughts in order led to me realising that I haven't got much of a plan. My underlying plan has always been to buy nice young horses and produce them in a way that makes them easy for others to take on and that hasn't changed. However, when I first started training with Shane my plan for myself was to be able to ride a double clear at 1.20 level. Happily for me that plan is behind me, but Charlie highlighted the fact that I was lacking a current plan. After my first session with Charlie I was able to have a good think by myself, a long chat with Mark and a chat with Shane to decide what the current plan might be. Shane put his finger on it: "How about trying to win some classes?".
I know that both Emma and I are well able to win classes at 1.30 and 1.35 and our recent results have been consistent - so now to how do I put the plan in action? The second session with Charlie made me work harder to think about key factors in riding a clear round. Generally I lack a bit of self-discipline in the ring so now I am going to focus on riding forward, especially on the corners, and making really good turns, no taking the inside leg off, no letting her fall in, making her jump exactly where I planned. I also have a journal to keep from training sessions and competitions so I can record my thoughts on coming out of the ring and hopefully we can establish some patterns and move forward to more consistent performance.
The day to day pressures of life do make it difficult to be single minded in competition, but I am convinced that some brain training can enable us all to be more focussed when it matters. After all we are only in the ring for two minutes, we can go back to planning dinner, diaries, children etc. as soon as we come out.
Charlie is giving some evening talks titled "Competing at your best in 2015". The dates are as follows:
11 Feb Cheshire, Reaseheath
12 Feb Yorkshire, Breckenbrough
16 Feb Somerset, Millfield School
17 Feb Sussex, Turners Hill
18 Feb Bucks, Addington Manor
19 Feb Gloucs, Unicorn Trust
24 Mar Hampshire, Sparsholt
25 Mar Leics, Brooksby Hall
30 Mar Suffolk, Stoke by Nayland
It is well worth attending your nearest talk, or contacting Charlie through his website. He is approachable and helpful and just a little bit of help may make all the difference you need.