Health & Performance, Rider Health & Performance

In Your Right Mind: Creating Time & Space to Focus

Dear Dr. Bonomi,

I ride at a large show barn. At shows my barn-mates’ energy is on a whole different level than mine. I am generally pretty low key and prefer my alone time before I go in the ring, but many of my friends prefer to spend more time as a large group. How do I make sure I have my time to focus while still being a supportive member of the team?

L. C., Washington State


Dear L,

Thanks for this great question! Your conundrum is a common one, for teens and adults alike.

First of all, I think it’s terrific that you are aware of what kind of environment and preparation you need to set the stage for your optimal performance. I find that many people get drawn into a barn energy, as you say, and neglect to take their own preferences into account.

That being said, I bet some of your barn mates may feel the same way. Have you talked to your friends about this situation? If not, I’d start with your closest buddies and confide in them. Tell them that you are working on your mental prep for competition. Say you’re taking some time to clear your mind and get focused. Your close buddies will be supportive! And, if you set the example, they may join you—especially as they witness the elevated quality and consistency of your performance.

Creating Your Own Space

I suggest designating a specific time period for your preparation. It might be 30-45 minutes or so. Giving yourself a time frame will help you create a boundary around your preparation, and will allow you greater freedom to break away from the group. Then, do separate yourself physically. Find a quiet spot to get on your boots and coat, or go take a walk and sit quietly for a few minutes while you clear your mind and get focused. Sometimes I go to the bleachers at a faraway ring to get a little more space. If people try to engage you, be friendly but also tell them you’re getting prepared for your ride. Again, anyone who is a competitor will understand and should respect your process.

I love that you are aware of the energy around you. Usually at shows there is considerable nervous energy in the air, and it’s easy to take it on. Be deliberate about creating an energetic and emotional space that is your own. Occupy that space fully and visualize a boundary between your space and others’. Use breath work to clear out all the energy that is not yours. One method of clearing involves visualizing your energy as one color and everyone else’s as a different color. However you do it, the more you can deliberately choose to be in your space, not taking on anyone else’s energy, excitement, or anxiety, the better off you will be. Our optimal performance takes place when we occupy ourselves fully and show up powerfully in present time.

And please remember, there is no conflict between being supportive of others and supportive of yourself. Take care of yourself, encourage others to do the same, and your entire team will be uplifted.

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

Darby Bonomi, PhD is a Sport and Performance Psychologist based in San Francisco. She works with equestrians in all disciplines, as well as other athletes, to achieve optimal performance in and out of the competition. She can be reached at .

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