The Rundown: Game Fame

From Peyton Manning to the Seattle Seahawks’ defense, a look at the sports psychology behind Super Bowl XLVIII will benefit horse-show competitors.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

One of my favorite examples of mental toughness is Keith Vogel. Albeit his first finals appearance at an AQHA world show, Keith faced down some of the industry's leading competitors en route to the 2013 senior working cow horse world championship. (Journal photo)

It was obvious that after his first play, with the snap sailing over his right shoulder and into the Denver Broncos’ backfield, Peyton Manning was rattled. Through the next three quarters of Super Bowl XLVIII, the National Football League’s five-time most valuable player led a frustrating charge of failed third-down conversions, interceptions and incomplete passes.

On the other hand, the Seattle Seahawks – especially the ’Hawks defense – looked as calm, cool, collected and, well, electric, as you would hope the 2014 football world champions could look. 

This isn’t an article about football, but I am taking a page out of its playbook. A lot of horse-show competitors should look past the heart-warming Budweiser commercials, starring the iconic and lovable Clydesdales, and study the sports psychology triumphs and defeats gleaned from Super Bowl XLVIII. 

I’ll admit it – I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Seahawks fan. My family has called Seattle and western Washington home for as long as they’ve been Americans. But I don’t feel prejudiced in saying the Seahawks mentally beat the Broncos, and they did it within the first 12 seconds of the game. 

Watching the February 2 football game, what kept sprinting through my mind was the wisdom of former United States Equestrian Team coach Daniel Stewart. I had the luck of hearing Daniel speak at the 2010 Bank of America Youth Excellence Seminar.

“There are good physical riders, and there are good mental riders,” Daniel said. “But great riders are created when the two are brought together.”

A rider can labor day and night to become the best competitor out there. But if that rider can’t handle the pressure of high-level competition or recover from a misstep in the show pen, then proving that he or she is the best is futile.

Peyton Manning, it seemed, was consumed by his own missteps during Super Bowl XLVIII. What lost him the game right from the start, in my opinion, was his inability to push the negativity and failures out, and hold at the forefront of his mind his own physical prowess and the connection that he and the Denver offense made legendary throughout the season. 

Great mental athletes keep their heads packed with a positive stream of thoughts at all times, Daniel Stewart said. They push out all negativity, focusing on their strengths and abilities. They paint good tidings of success across every facet of their thought process. 

Training a mind to stay positive can be just as tough as acclimating to no-stirrup work or developing timing when breaking out of the roping box. Here are three of Daniel’s tips for developing a positive mental state:

  • Keep positive comments running in your head. By developing positive comments in your mind, you can create positive emotions. 
  • There are more words with positive connotations that start with the letter “C” than any other letter in the alphabet. When you’re riding, especially when you’re warming up for competition, repeat a mantra of “C” words. For instance, try, “I’m calm, cool, collected and competitive.” 
  • Try singing to yourself. It’s hard to be anything but upbeat if you’re singing, especially if it’s your particular flavor of pump-up song.

“We’re here in the pursuit of excellence, not perfection,” Daniel Stewart said. 

That sentiment proved true for the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl win. The boys in blue and green were far from perfect on Sunday, but excellent they were. The Seattle offense and defense gave up countless yards in penalties, but at no point during that game in MetLife Stadium did the Seattleites’ gaze on the Lombardi trophy falter. 

Driving to AQHA Headquarters on Monday morning, I felt as if anything in life was possible. If the Seahawks could face down the betting lines coming out of Las Vegas that had them favored to lose, if their intensity could crack the No. 1 offense with the league’s best quarterback, what does that say for the power of mental toughness?  

Apply those stats to your own horse-show career: Against all the hype, odds and talk, a rookie can ride into the ring against the reigning AQHA world champion and lay down the ride of his or her life. That rookie can kick his or her moniker to the curb with that ride. 

What separates the good from the great is mental toughness, and putting on your game face.

A former AQHA world champion and three-time collegiate national champion, Tara Matsler is Internet editor for AQHA Publications. Enjoy more horse-showing quips, quotes and anecdotes from Tara by visiting The Rundown archives at