Rider Confidence: an amazingly easy mental rehearsal to find your own ‘Charlotte Mode’!
Horse rider confidence is a skill that needs to be worked on, rarely is it a natural ability and for some, it hinders progression, happiness and fulfilment. However, there’s good news as the mind-body connection enables riders to master their physiology and psychology.
In this article, Tracey Cole looks at what ‘physiology’ means in terms of the mind-body connection and how it plays a vital role in gaining confidence when riding by banishing anxiety.
The formula professional riders work to is – Training + mental preparation = success
What is ‘physiology’?
In our context, physiology refers to what we’re doing with our bodies! For example:
- Our gestures and body movements
- The location of our limbs and straightness of the spine, including the neck
- The degree of muscle tension, in our face and body
- Facial expressions
- Rate and depth of breathing
- Focus or defocus of the eyes
Why is physiology important?
It’s part and parcel of the mind-body connection. In fact, try this little experiment. We’re going to play with two physiologies. For each, think about how your physical body would be and take a little time to assess your inner feelings in that position. Take 1-2 minutes in each state.
Imagine yourself depressed, imagine how your body might slump, you may go into a foetal position, try it now. Your head may be tilted downward, your face may form a frown. How would you be breathing? Breathe that way now. Would your eyes be narrowly focused?
In this position, how do you feel?! Now, shake yourself loose and think about a happy version of you! How are you standing or sitting? What muscles in the face are tight or relaxed? Smile! Laugh! Think about your breathing rate and how deep you breathe. Any tension in your body? Look forward, look up and have a soft vision. How do you feel?!
What does it all mean?
Both states should have felt very different. You may also have realised that your physiology could go a long way to making you feel a certain way. The body assumed certain physiology and the mind joined in, hence the incredible power of the mind-body connection! The mind does not only control the body, but the body can control the mind too! Our frame of mind and our physiology are intertwined very closely and one affects the other at a very deep level.
The body assumed ascertain physiology and the mind joined in, hence the incredible power of the mind-body connection!
I hear of lots of dressage riders who say, “I’m Charlotte when I first ride down the centre line!” What perhaps they don’t realise is, that by altering their body, their riding position, looking up, smiling and being thoroughly in ‘Charlotte mode’, they influence and change their mind as a consequence.
When we choose our physiology, we can control our state on purpose.
Finding your state of elite performance
The state of elite performance is the state where everything is possible, it is a perfect peak state for riding and succeeding. It’s a mind-body connection that you create and nurture so that it becomes your very own ‘Charlotte mode’. So how do we get it?
- You now know the intricate connection between the mind and body. How would you like to feel when you ride? Confident, enthusiastic, happy, joyful, successful, determined, motivated, in harmony with your horse? What else? Sit in a riding position (off your horse) and we’ll begin our mental rehearsal.
- One by one, ask yourself, how would my body be if I were filled with incredible
- a feeling of being in harmony with my horse?
- Now, take your time and think fully about each question. Ask yourself, whilst still in your riding position, how straight would my spine be?
- How are you holding your head?
- What are you seeing? Are your eyes focused or defocused?
- Where are your arms and hands? How deeply are you sitting?
- What are you saying to yourself? Are you smiling?
- How would I be breathing? Deeply, quickly or slowly?
- Now choose just one state of mind that you wish to have. Is it confidence? Or something else? Still in your riding position, think back to a time, any time in your life (not necessarily to do with riding) when you felt that way very strongly. Go back to that specific time in your mind. See what you saw, hear what you heard and remain in your riding position as you amplify that intense feeling. As the intensity just begins to decline, relax and shake yourself loose.
You have now ‘anchored’ your body into your very own ‘Charlotte mode’. Do this several times a day over a few days. Remember to use your physiology, as well as your mind, this will turbo-boost the technique.
Once you have this down to a tee, you can start to go into this mode more and more easily and start to expand your experience to include a virtual ride. Remain inside your ‘Charlotte mode’ as you move your body as you would when riding; remember to continue to see, hear, feel and talk to yourself as you ride your perfect hack, schooling session, test, round or lesson. Spend time on thinking about your muscles, the rotation of your hip and/or ribcage, your breathing, spine alignment, head carriage, facial expression as you imagine riding to your very best.
When repeated in this way over and over, the power of your mental rehearsal becomes habit-forming, your mind and body work in synergy to recall your state of elite performance whenever you assume your riding position. Whilst visualisation is a great mind training method, mental rehearsal packs an even greater punch.
Mental rehearsal can be supported by many other mind techniques, some to be done whilst riding! (There are more tips and tricks in my book, ‘The Confident Rider Mindset: how to hack your mind for riding success’, available on Amazon.) All techniques rely on one golden rule: the unconscious mind does not know the difference between imagination and reality; imagine something good and the mind thinks it’s happening, you’re winning. Practise often and the mind thinks you’ve already won over and over, even before you do the ride in reality! And a new habit has already formed….
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