December 2020 - Got Game?
Written by by Scott Lico
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 03:28
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training

It starts with having a game plan.

by Scott Lico

“Proper planning prevents poor performance.”

I heard this quote years ago and never forgot it. I think this holds true for everything in life. From dieting to starting a business, if something is not properly thought out and planned, the likelihood of success is much smaller.

This certainly holds true for the competitive show jumper. Listen to someone such as McLain Ward speak about his horses’ program, and you will see not only does he have a plan for tomorrow, he has a plan for the next two years!

 


I’d like to be a bit more specific and talk about having a game plan. A game plan that will give you the best chance possible to have a successful performance at your next competition.

To start, you need a clear idea of what your goals are for you and your horse at the show. Is it to win a championship or a classic, or perhaps move up a division? Maybe it’s just to ride as confidently and accurately as you know you’re capable of. Whatever it may be, you need to have some idea of what you are looking to achieve. This will determine the strategy for the week.

For example, my aim with my current horse is to take the first day or two as training days, and then look to be competitive in the Grand Prix that weekend. I use training rounds to develop confidence in the horse with the jumps and atmosphere they will be facing. I plan to really use the ring and give my horse plenty of time on the approaches to the fences. Of course, I will usually end up with some time faults, but for me, the first goal is that my horse is confident in her new environment. Not to be competitive. Your goals may be different than mine. Regardless, having a clear idea of what you are looking to achieve is crucial.

Establishing the right frame of mind going into the competition begins the night before your class. First, I like to spend time reading, preferably something that will get me focused, such as a book on riding or sports psychology.

A great book that I recommend every rider read is The Golfer’s Mind by Dr. Bob Rotella. Dr. Rotella works with McLain Ward and pretty much everything in his book can be applied to the rider’s mind. After reading, you should spend some time watching videos of yourself riding well. These videos will bring back positive memories in the saddle and give you confidence in the capabilities of yourself and your horse.

This serves to help with the positive thinking every rider should be striving to have. I believe many riders make the error of only working on their physical riding skills while neglecting their mental skills. Spend some time working on your thinking game and I promise you your riding will improve.

Photo: Kim F Miller

Eat!

This may sound silly, but on the morning of your competition, make sure you eat! Many of my students over the years have struggled to feed their mind and body the nutrients they need to put on a good performance. I am convinced this is due to nerves. I know when I get nervous, I tend to lose my appetite but I always make sure to start the day with something nutritious to get me going. I like a protein shake and some orange juice along with a multivitamin and mineral. Find something that works for you. You wouldn’t not feed your horse, would you?!

Make sure to arrive at the show nice and early. This will prevent you from feeling rushed.  Just like rushing your horse, rushing yourself is the kiss of death. Following your arrival, and after checking in on your horse and possibly giving them a light flat session or lunge, a good game plan always includes a thorough course walk.

When walking a course, pay special attention to details: the locations of the start and finish timers, distances between fences, turns, time allowed, spooky fences, scope tests and jump-offs. During this time, I also make a plan of what jumps or turns I will tour in the arena with my horse when we enter the ring. The strategy for your course will ultimately be determined by you and your trainer, tailored to fit both horse and rider’s strengths and preferences for the day. Take the time to go over this plan in your head; memorize it and visualize riding it. It must be clear in your mind.

Embrace The Nerves

Now that you have your plan for riding the course, it’s time to mount up. You may be quite nervous and that’s okay. Try to relax by taking deep breaths and reviewing your plan. Aim to be loose, free and confident.

Remember that every top athlete gets nervous and learns to welcome it. Accept the butterflies, and you will actually ride better! I personally used to struggle with being intimidated by other competitors in my class as I moved up the ranks. Top riders I looked up to, or even were taught by, would be in the same division and, at first, I wouldn’t think I had a chance. But I learned to cherish these competitors. Having them is good for my riding, and if I believe in myself, I can beat them!

When on course, be sure to stay in the present with your mind sharply focused on the jump or turn ahead of you. A lot of riders let their minds wander or become even blank during their round. As you can imagine, that will hinder you from riding to the best of your ability. Also, have a trusting and decisive attitude with how you approach your course and fences. Believe fully in your horse, yourself, and your plan.

Following your round, spend time reviewing your ride in your head or with your trainer. I usually walk for around 10 minutes after exiting the ring to cool down my horse, providing me with the perfect opportunity to do so. I will also spend some time watching video footage and critiquing myself when I have free time that day. Hopefully, everything went perfectly but if you happen to have made a mistake, allow yourself to spend 10 to 15 minutes thinking about it. Your best teacher is, of course, your last mistake. After you figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, accept it and then forget about it! As hard as it may be not to, do not sit around and dwell on it. A rider needs to be able to forget the bad rides and remember the good ones.

Improving one’s chances of a successful performance starts with having a solid game plan. A plan that you are confident in and that will ultimately bring out you and your horses’ true capability. Whether it’s for your class tomorrow, a weekly training program, or the year ahead, put the time and energy into creating a plan that will help you succeed at whatever goals you may have.

Author Scott Lico is a USHJA Certified trainer and Grand Prix rider based at Hacienda Del Valle in the Los Angeles area’s Sylmar. For more information, visit www.scottlicostables.com.