I have often wondered what is going through a top rider’s head when they head out of the start box in pole position, or how they maintain complete focus in the dressage arena as they reach the end of their test at a championship to maximize points. While eventing is undoubtedly a physical sport, it is even more a mental game. You can have all of the physical and athletic qualities as a horse and rider pair, but if your mind is not in it, you cannot succeed. So what do top riders think as they are walking courses, warming up, and on course at a competition? How do they handle mental blocks, pressure, and fear?
Ride iQ’s newest podcast series, “Equestrian Mastermind,” gives us some answers to these questions. Tamie Smith, Will Faudree, Jon Holling, and Sinead Halpin Maynard joined sports psychology coach Natalie Hummel for four sessions to speak about the mental side of the sport.
The first two episodes focus on “Visualizing Greatness” and “Relationship with Fear.” In the first episode, Natalie prompts the group to talk about the visions they have for their career and what might stand in the way of their success. They discuss various topics related to inner and outer goals and the steps they must take to achieve those goals, including:
• What would they want out of the sport if fear wasn’t a factor?
• What challenges do professionals face in their personal and professional lives?
• What are the next steps to get past any roadblocks and closer to a goal?
The first episode also includes a visualization exercise that gives clarity to what type of support each athlete needs. In an amazing twist, that visualization exercise actually comes to life about a month later in competition for one of the riders—but you’ll have to listen to figure out which one, and what big event they are referencing. In the second episode, the riders discuss various topics related to their relationship with fear and learning to embrace it. One of my favorite moments from this episode was when the riders were talking about what they fear when they are competing. Will Faudree stated eloquently that he does not fear failure; rather, he actually thinks that he fears success. This insight was perplexing. Isn’t success the point? Why would someone fear success? But the idea made sense: with success comes expectation, and thus more pressure. I understood exactly what he meant.
The final two episodes are titled “Window of Capacity” and “Mastermind Finale.” There is a section in the third episode when Tamie frankly and transparently explains what it was like to have two rails down at Aachen in 2021, and what she did to change her plan and strategy so that when she warmed up at the Kentucky Three-Day Event this spring, holding the lead, she could jump a clear round. Her analysis of the mistakes she made was incredibly humble. In the finale episode, the riders reflect on their experience of doing these sessions together. Each rider receives feedback from all of the other riders in the group, as well as Natalie.
A number of times as I listened to these podcasts, I stopped and thought, “wow.” Hearing how top riders struggle with their emotions is grounding. Hearing how open the riders were with each other (and with the public, knowing that these episodes would be available to everyone) was unbelievable. Listening to them process questions, feelings, and challenges made me realize something: they are just like us. These riders are just people. They are business owners, they are parents, they are partners. They are struggling, they are learning, they are winning, and sometimes they are losing. While their goals happen to be things like winning five-stars (a goal Tamie achieved between episodes 2 and 3 of these podcast recordings, which was an incredible touch), in the end they are only human. They talk about how they don’t feel good enough, how they need to adjust their systems to do better, and how financial constraints are impacting their ability to perform. They admit that they can lose their cool in certain situations. The people we look up to also have challenges, doubts, and mishaps. The Equestrian Mastermind podcast humanizes them.
You can listen to the Equestrian Mastermind podcast for free here or on Ride iQ’s subscription-based app, which also provides hundreds of audio lessons from top coaches to its members. Thank you to Tamie, Will, Sinead, and Jon for their candor and thoughtfulness throughout the Mastermind sessions. It is a privilege to learn from the best in every aspect of this sport.