The road to excellence is a long one and requires patience, grit, and deliberate practice. That is, at least, if you listen to the top minds in the field of expertise performance. According to Anders Ericsson, a researcher in the psychology of expertise and human performance, specific or deliberate practice is one of, if not the most important factor in one’s ability to reach the top in any given field.

Want to know how you can be better at it? Here are seven, specific tips for applying Ericsson’s research to your own skills in the saddle.

1. Get specific feedback.

The key to improvement is to know what exactly you need to improve in order to reach your goals. Therefore, getting specific feedback is crucial to keep making progress and avoid hitting a plateau. One easy way to include feedback in your training is to have someone video your riding at home and at shows. You can then evaluate whether what you were feeling at the time corresponds with what you can actually see on the video. It’s also a great way for you to become more aware of your body posture and other small details that you wish to improve upon. An experienced trainer can also give you invaluable feedback.

2. Find a good coach.

Finding a good trainer is key, as he or she will be able to provide detailed information on how to improve your skills. Keep in mind that not every rider is a great teacher. It’s important for a trainer to not just know what it’s like to sit on a horse, but also, how to effectively bring across what they’ve experienced in their teachings. Also, having a role model that has already achieved what you want to do can be extremely motivating.

3. Work on your focus.

Another very important element to deliberate practice is paying conscious attention to what you are doing. After riding for many years, it becomes easy to get on the horse and proceed on automatic pilot, but this mindset is not ideal for improvement. Instead, prepare yourself and think about what you are going to work on that day, or with that specific horse, and really try to focus on those things during your training. When you notice you are distracted by other thoughts, recognize it, and then direct your attention back to the task at hand.

4. Make the time to have time alone.

An important element to focusing intensely on the process is having time alone to practice. When you are always surrounded by other people, you can easily get distracted, which makes practicing your skills that much harder. Furthermore, practicing new skills requires you to train outside your comfort zone, so making mistakes is inevitable. Being conscious about who is watching could be slowing down your process.

5. Get out of your comfort zone.

Practicing things you can already do well or riding on auto-pilot won’t help you to improve much. Therefore, in order to improve, you should practice things you can’t yet do, or are not yet proficient in. Challenge yourself to try more difficult turns, higher jumps, or more technical courses to help push your brain and body to this new level.

6. Take it one step at a time.

Picking one thing you want to improve upon and making a plan as to how to get there can be far more effective and actually save you time in learning new skills. Trying to train complex skills all at once will only confuse you and derail your focus. So be clear about what you want to work on and practice only that until you’ve mastered it. Then, celebrate your progress and pick your next skill to work on.

7. Try something new.

Even with feedback, guidance, and focus, you can still hit a plateau in your development, which can discourage you from training hard. If this is the case, try mixing up your training program or try something new altogether. Perhaps, for instance, training your physical strength in the gym could help you to improve much faster in the ring. Training your mental skills to improve your focus, confidence, and positive attitude can help you to crush your goals and stay more motivated along the way.

 

With a background in the show jumping sport, Annette Paterakis is a performance coach, specialized in mental coaching equestrians. She is passionate about working with riders to help them better understand the mind and to provide the framework for creating the right conditions to reach peak performance.

For more information on Paterakis, please visit her website at apperformancecoaching.com.

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