How to improve your dressage competition mindset

Australian representation Grand Prix rider Brett Parbery gives advice on getting in the right mindset for competing in dressage.

I’m often asked by riders how they can improve their competition mindset.

I think this is a great question because our minds have such power over us and our mindset can really make or break not only our performance, but our perspective of our performance and how we cope when things don’t go to plan.

When we’re talking about mindset, often the issues of nerves comes up.

Riders get nervous about things they can’t control.

A good example of something you can’t control is the outcome of a competition.

The biggest enemy of competing well is expectation. Your horse is going well at home, so you expect a certain outcome and you’re disappointed when that doesn’t come to fruition.

You have to try to re-frame how you’re thinking about competition. Expecting a certain outcome is setting yourself up for failure by focusing on something you can’t control.

Rather than focusing on outcome, try to think about the process itself. Think about the movements you’re riding, the set-ups, the corners, riding each step.

Riders often fall into the trap of thinking about their friends watching. This is a total waste of your energy. That energy could be going into riding a better test! You can’t control what the spectators are doing, saying, or thinking, so put it out of your mind.

All you can do is plan and ride well. In advance, walk yourself through each step of the test, focusing on really riding and replicating the good feeling you get at home.

Sometimes, things don’t go well. It happens to all of us, it’s part of riding, and part of any sport.

Never be surprised!

I try to not let myself get down, and you know what, I try not to let myself get too high either! Both of these are unsustainable.

If things haven’t worked out for you in a test, take a deep breath, do what you need to do to get your head together, and work out what went wrong.

Was there something you could have done differently? Perhaps in the process or in the warmup?

I know it’s difficult, but you’re not doing yourself any favours being too emotional. Be intelligent and think through the process.

Learn from it and put a plan in place to improve.