Improve your cross-country confifidence
Want to event with nerves of steel? Confidence coach Helen Rennie shows you how
WITH THE EVENTING season in full swing, it’s to feel inspired and want to channel your in inner Fox-Pitt over a cross-country course but we all know that’s easier said than done. Cross-county, while an exciting buzz, can be a challenge for some. Not only are there solid jumps, but also open spaces, water complexes (if only arm bands were acceptable) and people watching, all while you’re trying to focus on where you’re going without using a sat nav. “There’s quite a lot going on with cross-country,” says Helen. “It’s a completely different environment to an arena and it can be easy for riders to start worrying about all the new things they might encounter. “Whether it’s a particular fence or running out of steam half way round, there’s lots of concerns that riders all share. Even pro riders sometimes see something they’re worried about – they’re just good at hiding it!” Whether you’re looking to event or just want to have the confidence tot take your horse around a set ofo cross-country jumps, Helen n hash got the tips to help you succeed. Over the page, discover five confidence conundrums that Helen has tackled and you’ll soon be flying over those rustic fencesfence without a second thought.
1 Losingg focusf half way round?
Cross-country courses are intense and, while you may think that the biggest test is to your horse’s stamina, it can also really challenge your brain’s ability to think. “Most people don’t realise that eventing is like running a marathon for your brain,”brain says Helen. “The fififirst thing you need to do is make sure you’re fuelling it properly.” If you’re feeling nervous before going cross-country, it can be tempting to skip breakfast but, as Helen explains, this could do you more harm in the long run. “Your brain will burn through energy like a mobile phone that doesn’t have enough battery,” she says. “You need enough protein and glucose to keep your brain properly fuelled the entire time, otherwise you’ll find that you struggle to think clearly.”
What’s your attention span?
Once you’ve scoffed down a hearty breakfast, the next thing you need to consider is how long you can maintain your focus. Human brains naturally switch off after a period of intense concentration (this can be after about 20 minutes), so remember to take breaks – even when you’re riding. Once your horse has warmed up, take a few minutes to walk him round on a long rein and then give yourself the opportunity to switch off and take in your surroundings before you start focusing on your riding again. It can also be a really good idea to time yourself at home and see how long you can concentrate on a particular task or piece of work before having to take a break. You should stop the timer when you notice yourself being distracted and your attention wandering. Once you know how long your attention span actually is, you can then practise trying to improve this and you can also schedule when you know you need a mental break.
Human brains naturally switch off after a period of intense concentration, so remember to take breaks – even when you’re riding
2 Do you worry about stops?
No one wants to go flying through their horse’s ears after he makes an emergency stop, but focusing on him stopping isn’t going to help your nerves. As Helen explains, if you find that you regularly worry about this, it could be you’re too focused on the competition results (i.e. something you can’t control) and not on what your horse is doing. “People who worry about stops at a competition are often fearful of losing the lead,” she says. “But you don’t really have any control over this. It’s also important to remember that there are occasions when your horse just won’t understand the question. There’s not a lot you can do at the time but it’s something you can incorporate into your training back home.” The best thing to do is to concentrate on what you can control, which is your approach to a fence. Make sure you get a good enough line and canter to give your horse the best chance of clearing the jump.
3 IS YOUR HORSE GOING GREEN INTO THE FENCE?
Does your horse gawp at some cross-country jumps like they’re an alien being even though you’ve practised the same thing countless times at home? Before you put a call into the vet about your horse’s short-term memory loss, take a step back. “When I met a rider who had this problem, we managed to identify a pattern,” says Helen. “We discovered that there was always a jump that the rider didn’t like directly after the one her horse was going green at. “Instead of thinking about the jump in front of her, the rider was thinking about what was coming up afterwards. This made her horse think that she was worried about the fence coming up and, as a result, he backed off from it, even though it was something relatively straightforward.” The key to overcoming this problem is to focus on the task in hand. If you’re thinking too far ahead and worrying about it, your horse will sense your tension and think there’s something he needs to be scared of coming up.
4 Fearful of a fence?
Walking the course can be both a help and a hindrance. On the one hand, it gives you an opportunity to plan your route and how you’ll approach each fence/question. On the other, it also lets you see what fences are going to be thrown at you come competition day – and they might not all be straightforward. It’s on these course walks that riders can become too focused on the scary fences and not about the others. “In this situation, you need to change your thinking,” says Helen. “If there’s only one jump you don’t like, it means that you’ve still got 20 or so other jumps that you find straightforward. “Another good tip is to change the way you think about these fences. Rather than labelling them as ‘scary’ or ‘demon fences’, think instead of them as a challenge or a test. It’ll make them seem less daunting and encourage you to tackle them head on.”
5 WORRIED ABOUT TRICKY COMBINATIONS?
As much preparation as you do at home, you’re often likely to come across something when you’re out and about that might test you. The great thing about cross-country (especially competitions) is that there’s always someone you can chat to for advice and you can always watch how other riders tackle the same question. If you’re out training, go with a confident friend who can guide you through with their horse. Another tip is to try and visualise how you’d ride it. Helen explains: “Once you’ve seen a combination you’re unsure of, take a moment to sit quietly and imagine you’re on your horse. Visualise how it’d be if you took the jump on a set number of strides and then play around until you find the perfect approach. “You can practise this at home – just be sure not to do it while driving or riding as you need to concentrate on what you’re doing!” Helen also advises visualising one jump at a time rather than the whole course, otherwise it might overload your brain.
Helen Rennie, of Rezone Coaching, offers one-to-ones all over the country to help riders tackle their confidence issues. Visit www.rezonecoaching.co.uk for details.
When you’re riding a cross-country course, concentrate on what you can control, which is your approach to the fence
Certain types of fences can be a worry but you can change the way you think about them Visualising your approach can help when it comes to riding a challenging combination