byDenis Lynch| Mar 1, 2017
What separates the best in the world from the rest of the pack isn’t always a question of natural talent or horsepower. Sometimes, the making of an elite rider is as much about mental toughness as it is physicality, and one person who especially knows what it takes to perform and win under pressure is Irish show jumper, Denis Lynch.
In 2016 alone, Denis earned wins on multiple horses at the CSI5* level at shows including Zurich, Gothenburg, and Cannes. Here, he shares five tactics that help him keep his cool and ride his best on some of the biggest show jumping stages in the world.
1. Transform your nervous energy into focus and concentration.
During the course walk is a great example: don’t let too many people distract you. I tend to keep to myself during the course walk, which allows me to stay focused on the task at hand. Make sure you are organized and on time. Your horse is tacked up early, and your team, if you have one, understands what they need to do. The warm up can be very stressful, so it’s important to be as organized as possible during that process. If you feel yourself losing your concentration, that is when I use Step 2…
2. Focus on the things you can control—not the things you can’t.
You can control your warm up, your course walk, and your time management, but you can’t control your result. Some riders like to spend a long time warming up; others don’t need as long. I tend to take the approach that the sooner you are on your horse, the better. You can’t control other competitors or the weather conditions, so don’t focus on those things.
The focus of a rider is essential—do not allow yourself to get distracted. For example, you see a lot of the younger generation on their phones during competition. I don’t take my phone with me when I get on my horses. I give it to my groom or my wife and I take the time to focus on my horse and on visualizing how I want the class to go.
3. 80% calculation / 20% risk
Through the years, I’ve taken a lot of risks in jump-offs. You can’t run your horse against the clock every week. That is not a sustainable model. You need to assess what your horse is truly capable of and then assess its performance from there. This is what I mean when I say calculations.
Using All Star as an example, there are courses that suit him and jump-offs that suit him, but there are also courses and jump-offs that don’t. For the courses that don’t suit All Star, I have to accept that I might finish 5th or 6th and that we won’t win. If I tried to push him on that day, over a course that doesn’t suit him, that is something that I consider to be an unacceptable amount of risk for my horse.
4. Remember to breathe.
Use your breath to calm your nerves on the day. Not every fence goes your way during your warm up, so make sure to take a deep breath and to be calm about it. If you need to, take a deep breath and step back for a moment. The horse can feel if you are tense or calm, so if you don’t want to breathe for you, do it for your horse. Your horse will perform better with a calm jockey, so take the time to keep your breathing steady. You must take two or three points on a course to take a deep breath—that is essential! The calmer you are, the better. It’s easy to say, but it is absolutely worth working towards achieving a level of calm during competition.
5. Visualize, visualize, visualize.
Visualize how you want the course to go during the course walk. Walk a line and then visualize how you want to ride that line. Take the opportunity to talk yourself through each segment of the course. This is a great way to think about how you want your body to remain controlled on course. I am a big believer in body control while riding, so visualization can allow the rider to really focus on how they want their body to remain before, during, or after a certain fence.
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