Ask Abigail: How Do I Get Back in the Game?

Abigail Lufkin is a former CCI4* eventer who is now a sports psychology consultant and clinical social worker based in the Los Angeles area. She was a member of the 1999 Pan Am Team and was shortlisted for the 1992, 2000 and 2004 Olympics. We’re pleased to bring you a series of articles from Abigail about adapting your mental game to promote success in eventing. Have a question or topic for Abigail? Please submit it to [email protected] with subject “Ask Abigail” and be sure to check out her site at

Abigail Lufkin and Jacob Two Two at Rolex 1999. Photo by Matt Simpson.

Today’s question comes from Ellen:

Hi Abigail!

I am a former eventer getting back into (or trying to) the game. Like most adults, I am chronically short on time and money. I have two young horses I would like to one day to just do a beginner novice or novice event with if I could just find a way to get the time and lessons. In our area, we are fortunate enough to have a plethora of highly qualified national and international-level trainers.When possible, I try to do a lesson with one of them. What are your suggestions to help me move forward? I usually feel stuck, as I don’t get enough saddle time to really progress.

Sincerely, Ellen


Dear Ellen,

There are many folks out there who can relate to your problem. I would break it down into two parts: what can I do physically and what can I do mentally to achieve my goal of completing an event. For the former, you need to build more consistency into your program for both you and your horses. To this end, I would suggest finding a trainer at a lower price point so that you can take lessons more often.

This means that s/he likely won’t have experience with riding or training at the upper levels, but you don’t need that. At least to start, you need someone who has enough experience to coach through training level and with whom you feel a connection to learn. Particularly when you are beginning (or beginning again), I recommend riding with one person. Taking a lesson here and there from different people usually results in confusion and frustration.

I would also suggest talking to this trainer or to friends in an effort  to find someone, perhaps a kid at the barn who is looking to ride more horses, who could ride your horses a few days a week when you aren’t able to. I have seen these situations be very helpful to the horse’s owner; she gets her horse exercised for free and to the rider, he gains an additional horse to practice on. This will mean that the times you are able to ride your horses, they will be fitter and stronger, and you will both advance more quickly because of this.

On a psychological level, I would suggest watching some footage of good training and preliminary-level riders as much as you can. Watching these over and over will help to get the concepts in your mind of what you are trying to achieve. Similarly, I would encourage you before you go to sleep at night to vividly imagine (utilizing as many of your senses as possible), whatever skill you have been working on with your riding.

Our brains are unable to distinguish between events that actually occur and those that are vividly imagined. This means that even though you didn’t get to ride today, you can still develop skills and muscle memories as if you had ridden. Last and perhaps most important, enjoy the time when you do get to ride. We can spend so much time worrying that we are not doing enough that even when we are riding, we spend the time regretting the fact that we can’t do it more, essentially wasting the time that we DO have.

So when you are at the barn, when you are riding, consciously and actively let those critical worry thoughts move through and continually bring your mind back to the present moment and to the experience you are having in it. Not only will your ride be far more fun, but it will also be more productive. Good luck!

Abigail Lufkin L.C.S.W
Individual and Couple Psychotherapy
Sport Psychology Consultant

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