Animals & Wildlife Magazine

BBC Article on Building an Olympic Champion - Riders Too!

By Kc2610 @kc2610
I just found this article on the BBC website called "How to Build an Olympic Champion: Come Second". It is basically about how athletes respond to failure, the response being what makes the difference between a champion and just a competitor. It is based on other Olympic sports like athletics and gymnastics, but I could draw a lot of parallels with Equestrian.

When I read that what Matthew Pinsent said about sport being "full of opportunities to learn, but really useful ones can be painful", I thought he could not be more right. The past couple of weeks are a perfect example of that. I went through a lot of physical and emotional pain to get Seb and my standard of riding up to the mark (let's call it the "German mark"... in other words an extremely high level). It was certainly a "really useful" lesson, in fact it was the most important lesson I have learnt in my entire riding career and one that I know is embedded in my riding now. And guess what? It was also the most painful too.

BBC Article on Building an Olympic Champion - riders too!

Usain Bolt - the ultimate champion

We all know that people say you have to be "mentally tough" or "thick-skinned" if you want to succeed, especially in riding where horses can really break your heart. But the question of whether you are born with that trait or it is learnt has always been something I have wondered. I could relate to Victoria Pendleton when she said "over the years I have had to learn to become a lot tougher, a lot harder and lot more assertive, verging on aggressive … those aren't natural characteristics for me". Those certainly aren't natural characteristics for me either, in fact I'm far to nice and I wish I could just say a straight "no" for once (I'm working on it, don't worry). But I have realize recently that if I'm going to get a horse to the best it can be, I need to be tough. Not tough ON or WITH the horse, but tough in my own mindset that when I ride, I have to be able to say "no, it can be better" and not settle for only what the horse offers me. Because more often than not, what the horse offers you is never everything they've got, and not enough to move the horse forward in its training.
To learn this toughness was extremely difficult for me. I always want to be tough but fair and improve the horse positively, and never aggressive so the horse turns his mind against me. The tricky thing is that every horse has a different threshold of how much pressure it can take. It is the rider's responsibility to gauge what the horse's threshold is and know how far to push it.
The idea that a high self-esteem and an identity not defined by results is important to know as well. If you let your results define who you are, you will never improve because you've failed in yourself when you lose. It is impossible to be resilient in this state. You must keep your own confidence and positive outlook and see losing or not coming first not as a failure, but an opportunity to learn. Your personal identity defines how you respond to this opportunity and the way in which you will learn from it.
I think it is so important to look at riders as equal to all other athletes, as our mindset and psychology towards competing and achieveing is exactly the same. When I think about the fast approaching Olympics in London, I think of all the competitors that have been through the exact same struggles and pain, but are all just in different masks. For me to know how to get to that level, I have to know that I will have to go through them too, and just because it is my horse that is getting marked doesn't mean I am exempt from those struggles.

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