Columnists, Dressage, Eventing, Hunter Jumper, Rider Health & Performance

In Your Right Mind: Taking My Own Advice

Dear Dr. Bonomi,

I enjoy reading your articles and learning about all of your advice and strategies to improve performance. I also appreciate that you are a competitive rider yourself. I’m an amateur jumper rider—not particularly young—and I’m curious: do you use your own tips? If so, which ones do you find are most useful? Before my rides, I get overwhelmed with things to do and think about, so adding more mental and emotional preparation seems like a lot of work. I’m intrigued, though, so I’d love to hear about your personal experience.


P.S., Los Angeles, CA


Dear P,

Thanks so much for your question. The short answer is yes! I use everything I teach, and, in fact, I try out new strategies on myself before I put them into my practice toolbox.

You are right, being deliberate about mental and emotional preparation is a commitment, but it doesn’t have to be burdensome. I try to help people streamline their pre-ride prep so that it feels very do-able and even fun. And, when riders see results, they feel motivated to keep it up.

If you are feeling overwhelmed before your rides, then it’s time to simplify your routine. Ask yourself a few questions: Are you giving yourself enough time and space to get ready to ride? How can you reduce your prep so that it feels do-able? Can you chunk activities together? What really feels useful to keep in the routine?

As for me, the essential elements of my preparation routine are:

Darby Bonomi, PhD, practices what she preaches! PC: Cathrin Cammett

Sufficient Time & Mental Space to Get Ready

  • There is a lot packed into this one. I create a mental boundary around my riding so that it’s fully my own—not time dedicated to anything or anyone else. This is true both at home and shows. In addition, I hate to be rushed, so I learn my course, clean my boots, and get dressed earlier than most. In doing those tasks, I am also claiming the space around my ride and focusing my energy to perform.

Physical Preparedness

  • I make sure I’ve eaten a high protein snack about 30-45 minutes before I ride, and I am careful to stay ahead of my hydration, especially in the summer months when it’s really hot. Being “not particularly young” myself, I also take time to stretch and warm up my muscles before each ride.

Emotional Preparedness

  • I always give myself a few minutes of quiet mediation before I get on. During this time, I clear my mind of my mental chatter, become present, remind myself of my game plan, and raise my energy to performance level. Mindful breathing comes into play during this part of my prep, and I continue that breathing once I get in the saddle.

The goal of my preparation is to feel really ready and game. If I am still feeling nervous, rather than excited and ready, I focus on my breath, connect in with my gratitude for my horse and for the fact that I get to compete, and remind myself to go ride my horse like I know how.

As I said above, if you’re overwhelmed with pre-ride tasks, I’d clean out that mental skills tool box, and see what really feels right. I know it’s tempting to add every new tip or strategy you read about, but be careful not to overload yourself. Try out new preparation routines at home and then get let go of stale practices that don’t serve you well any more. Riding more confidently and competently starts with claiming ownership not just of your ride, but your pre-ride preparation too.

Featured photo: Captured Moment Photography

Darby Bonomi, PhD
Darby Bonomi, PhD. PC: Holly Cassner

Author Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist. She works with equestrians of all disciplines, and other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the saddle. For more information or to contact Dr. Bonomi, click here.

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