Last month, 18-year-old Katherine Stauss cruised to a prestigious win in Saturday night’s $50,000 Open Jumper Stake at the Devon Horse Show aboard her mount of three years, the 12-year-old Dutch gelding, All In. This month, she’s been busy campaigning her string in a host of five-star classes at Spruce Meadows. But even if your own plans don’t include a trip around the 1.50-meter tracks in Calgary, many of us share one key habit with Katherine that can influence our performance in the ring at any level: overthinking our ride.

“I definitely have a tendency to overanalyze everything when it comes to riding. Especially if I go late in the class and I’m watching, I start overthinking and overcomplicating things,” Katherine says. “I tend to do it while showing, in lessons, and in all aspects of my life. For instance, if I’m trying to correct a bad habit in training, I tend to over-correct it and go in the complete opposite direction. Also, if my trainer tells me to ride a lot in a specific way, I tend to overdo it and take it to the extreme.”

While Katherine admits she’s still a work in progress when it comes to controlling her tendency to overthink, in recent years, she’s learned some key skills to help her focus on what’s really important in the ring. Here are five of them:

1. The Devil Is in Too Many Details

“One thing that I’ve worked on is my preparation for a class. I feel like when I used to walk a course, or go over it in my head before competing, I’d go into really great detail. And while detail is important and can be instrumental for success, I would always take it too far and start over-complicating things in a way that hurt my result.

“Before, I’d watch as many riders as I could and then go over the course 100 times in the schooling ring before getting on my horse. Now, I try to watch a few riders go to get a sense of how the lines ride and what the time allowed is, but really no more than that.”

2. Minimize Your Pre-Ride Tasks

“Sometimes when I’m in the ring, instead of going over the course in great detail as I’m picking up my canter to go to the first jump, I’ll just repeat a couple of things in my head that I’m working on for the specific horse that I’m riding. For instance, reminding myself that the horse drifts in a specific direction, or of something I’m working on with my position, etc., just so that it’s fresh in my head as I’m doing the course and to prevent myself from overcomplicating things further.”

No matter how much thinking you’ve done and how detailed your plan is, you can’t always stick to it, exactly.

3. Make Like a Boy Scout: Be Prepared

“One way to prevent myself from falling into the habit of overthinking is to be really organized and not feeling rushed or flustered before a class. That involves getting to the ring early (or on time) and feeling prepared. I like to know that my horse was flatted early in the morning, my boots are clean, and I have all the equipment I need handy; that I know my course, I know the time allowed… When all those things are taken care of, I feel calm and I don’t need to overthink things in order to have them go my way.”

4. Think in the Positive

“Something I’ve been talking to my trainers about lately is being positive when I’m going over the course. For example, one of my tendencies is to get kind of backwards [in the ring], so when I’m going over my course out loud, instead of telling myself, ‘Don’t ride backward to the first jump,’ my trainers urge me to say, ‘I should ride forward to the first jump.’ In other words, I think in terms of what I should do, not what I shouldn’t do. I kind of thought that was weird when they first suggested it, but it’s actually been super helpful.”

5. Just Ride!

“In horseback riding, more than other sports, there are so many unforeseen things that can happen when you’re on course. While it’s important to have a plan that’s really well thought out and organized, at the end of the day, you’re going to have to react quickly to unforeseeable circumstances. No matter how much thinking you’ve done and how detailed your plan is, you can’t always stick to it, exactly, so it’s important to be able to rely on your ability to just ride and react to things in the moment.”

-Photography and reporting by Tori Repole.