EQUUS - - Biology -

Peo­ple func­tion best when they have a sense of per­sonal con­trol over their lives, even if that sense is partly il­lu­sion. Add half a ton of po­ten­tial equine panic to the mix, and the need for con­trol be­comes even more im­por­tant. The first step to build­ing con­trol of per­for­mance is to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for it. Be­gin by con­sid­er­ing the fac­tors to which you at­tribute suc­cess and fail­ure.

Sup­pose you win a jumper class. Why did you win? Was it be­cause your com­peti­tors were slow on the fi­nal gal­lop? Be­cause their horses slipped ex­it­ing the dou­ble com­bi­na­tion? Be­cause your horse’s sire passed along the abil­ity to jump prac­ti­cally any­thing in front of him re­gard­less of the ap­proach? These are ex­ter­nal fac­tors over which you have no con­trol. Pon­der­ing them---even if they played a role---is a good way to dis­hearten your­self.

In­stead, fo­cus on fac­tors that you can con­trol. You won be­cause you prac­tice tight turns and sling­shot im­pul­sion. Be­cause you keep your horse fit with daily ex­er­cise, top vet­eri­nary care and good nutri­tion. Be­cause you cre­ate per­for­mance strate­gies based on your strengths. Be­cause you face your weak­nesses and im­ple­ment long-term so­lu­tions to over­come them.

Con­trol­ling at­tri­bu­tion that ex­plains fail­ure is equally im­por­tant. Imag­ine you fin­ished the class with the slow­est time and the largest num­ber of jump­ing faults. Why were you slow and sloppy? The rider who re­lies on ex­ter­nal at­tri­bu­tion will point to im­per­fect weather, poor foot­ing, a flawed in­struc­tor, a slug­gish horse. Some peo­ple go so far as to claim they are jinxed, as if bad things hap­pen only to them. Those who be­lieve that these fac­tors thwart their per­for­mance have sur­ren­dered their con­trol.

The rider who uses in­ter­nal at­tri­bu­tion seeks very dif­fer­ent rea­sons for fail­ure. Maybe he didn’t pre­pare well, blew off his gym pro­gram, par­tied too hard the night be­fore the class, or al­lowed nerves to get the best of him. These in­ter­nal fac­tors can be changed. Ex­ter­nal fac­tors de­pend too much on oth­ers---we end up wish­ing that strong com­peti­tors might move away, the per­fect trainer will take us on as a client, the show fairy might touch us with her magic wand. But while we’re wait­ing for those pipe dreams to come true, we’re not de­vel­op­ing skills or im­prov­ing the horse. To raise in­ner mo­ti­va­tion, the best ath­letes re­train their at­tri­bu­tions, fo­cus­ing on those

they can

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