August 9, 2013
By Christine HamiltonThe American Quarter Horse Journal
Winning the mental game is 80 percent of having the best ride of your life. (Journal photo by Ashley Hamling)
In the middle of the hunt seat equitation prelims, 138 entries in all, I found Don and Karen Mundy of Cedar Hill, Tennessee, relaxing at their stalls, waiting on Karen’s youth trainees to gather for dinner plans.
I stopped to chat, and Karen asked me about my mare, "Pixie," and I told her about the one little open show we managed to get to this summer. I told her I’d had fun, but if I thought about how we did as compared to everyone else there, well, we were terrible. But if I thought about how we did as compared to how we were together last fall, we were great!
“(Riding is) 80 percent a mental game,” Karen said. And she pointed to the Gateway of Champions leading into the Jim Norick Arena where hunt seat equitation riders were still filing in and out. “All those kids want to make the finals,” and how they are thinking will affect their performances.
Karen’s AQHA showing accomplishments included winning the all-around amateur title at the AQHA World Championship Show a record eight times (on five different horses) before she became a professional in 2010.
But she remembered coming to the AQHA World Championship Show as an amateur, leading the nation, having won at the All American Quarter Horse Congress, and thinking “I’m going to win the world!”
And then she didn’t make the finals. Why? She came to believe that her thinking was wrong.
“I finally realized that I needed to just go in and have the ride of my life,” she said. “Have the best ride of my life.”
That mindset took the pressure off, because it set a goal of doing her best, to ride as good as she could at that point, and not think about anything or anyone else. To have the best ride of your life – that’s an achievable goal.
Back in the press room, I took a poll of the Journal folks: How do you beat the mental game when you’re riding?
Alicia Harris, our summer Journal publications intern, said once, when her mare was stressing out and Alicia couldn’t help her relax, her dressage coach told her to sing her favorite song: “Find the rhythm you like, find the song you like and just go.” She belted out her favorite song in the warm-up pen, and they both were able to relax.
Journal Editor Larri Jo Starkey said: “Think on the positive, not the negative – instead of thinking, ‘Don’t drink a Coke,’ think, ‘Drink water.’ ”
And Jody Reynolds, AQHA director of online/interactive communications, said her husband, Nate, talks about sports psychology all the time as a golfer. His advice is “Don’t think of the bunker, or that’s where you’ll go.”
For me, I have to remember that the goal can’t just be about winning. If it is, then Pixie and I should just quit. As should all those 137 hunt seat equitation entries who won’t go home with a gold trophy. For me, it’s about becoming a better rider and horseman with that little bay mare. I want to be better today than I was yesterday.
My summer show was a chance to set a goal and see how we were doing. We tried introductory dressage and horsemanship for the first time. Next year, I’ll go back and aim to do better: to have the best ride of my life.
I like best what AQHYA Region 2 Director Ashley Hamling told me (she’s been helping the Journal staff at the Ford Youth World): “I just like to be working as a team with my best friend.”