Our athletes train all year round to keep themselves, and their horses, in shape to compete at the biggest shows but as well as being physically fit; the athletes need to be mentally ready when riding in a competition environment.
Leonie Lightfoot is the sport psychologist for the equestrian World Class Programme and has been working with the Programme since 2016 after previously working with England Athletics. The support that she can provide to athletes’ is very diverse and can be accessed at any time.
“There is a wide range of things athletes could talk to me about,” says Leonie, “it might be confidence, it might be nerves or that in seeking continual improvement they are looking for processes / routines to get the best out of every training session. For some athletes it's equally helpful to have someone there as a bit of a sounding board as well.”
Equestrian sport differs from some other sports as many athletes run their own yards and businesses. A typical day for them can be quite long as many of them wake up early to start training their horses before doing some coaching or mentoring, and so managing their day-to-day life presents its own challenge.
“If you are elite in another sport then you probably get up, go training then you come home and part of your day is recovery - then you go back to training again. For a lot of our riders they will train and then they'll ride other horses and then they'll teach so their days are very busy. It’s sometimes about helping them understand that taking a rest and having recovery time is as important as teaching that one extra client.
“There are riders on the Programme who are relatively young and have to become skilled in lots of different areas and that is so impressive. The support I can provide to athletes will hopefully help them be not only more effective as a rider but also as a coach, an employer, co-owner, sponsor, role model and the many other roles they need to take on in order to compete in this sport.”
Like in any sport, athletes are unique and have individual routines they like to follow before a competition; “There are those riders that like to be by themselves and go and be in their lorry to focus, whereas there are other riders that need a distraction and for them, maybe going out into a busier area may help them until the point where they need to go and start with their own preparation. Part of the work that I do is helping athletes to get an understanding of what it is that works best for them.”
If you feel you need support, then please always make sure that you consult with a professional.