10 Psychological Mistakes Every Show Jumper Makes

By Jim Hickey | Sports Psychology

Confident, Consistent, Clears

Join International sports psychologist for show jumpers Jim Hickey on a journey to exceed your expectations in the ring.

Jul 24
Show Jumping Sports Psychologist Jim Hickey

10 Psychological Mistakes Every Show Jumper Makes

Many show jumpers’ experience nerves before a show. This potent mixture of excitement and nervousness is, oftentimes, beneficial and leads to better performance. It can heighten focus and prepare the mind to deal with any difficulties that may crop up. While nerves are a natural part of many show jumper’s pre-show routine, for some people they can morph into performance anxiety. The thought of performing becomes fraught with dread, which can hinder your ability to show what you can do. Whether you have too little, or too much, anxiety it can keep you from your peak performance.

Learning to identify, and reduce, performance anxiety is key to consistent performances.

One method that can help you sort through self-defeating emotions and thoughts is mental preparation. Just like warming up your body, or preparing your horse, you must also prepare your mind.

Let’s explore 10 of the psychological errors that plague show jumpers before competitions.

Error #1: High expectations paired with inflexibility

While high expectations are vital to being successful as a show jumper, when they are strict you have no room to reach for success. These high expectations have such demanding criteria, you are setting yourself up for failure.

To combat this, you should identify and practise reasonable achievements. These will introduce milestones that you can celebrate, rather than just focusing on the end result.

Some reasons unreasonably strict expectations can damage your performance are because they are results-focused, and based on a pass/fail, black-and-white system. Either you completely achieve this lofty goal or you completely fail. There's no room for small successes or small failures. Each of these failures is tied to your ability, so it fluctuates with each performance, and never grows strong.

Error #2: Performance-based confidence

In competitions, and other areas of your life, self-confidence is very important to perform at your best. If you have created a foundation of belief in yourself, you will greatly reduce, or even eliminate, destructive anxiety.

Cultivate self-confidence that comes from within, because if your self-worth hinges on your performance, it will be as variable as the performance, itself.

Before each performance, continue to look for ways to build on your strengths, rather than your weaknesses. As you grow more proactive about your confidence, you’ll take mistakes in stride. Why be reactive when you can be proactive?

Error #3: Trying to see the future

Obsessing over a future competition is detrimental to your future performance. As you over think the competition that hasn’t happened, you get more wound up.

This tension can transfer to your performance and hurt it. In individual sports, many times show jumper athletes will get stuck in the mindset that continuous training will ensure they do well. They may try to cram in new skills, but this doesn’t help you feel prepared. It makes you feel panicked. Studying, and practising techniques over a long period of time is the best way to mentally prepare yourself for competitions.

Error #4: Bringing personal issues to competitions

Whether issues with relatives, or bills, is a part of your personal life, it is best to leave these worries at home. Strengthening your mental preparedness involves keeping a firm barrier between your life and sport. By checking this wall before an event you’ll increase your focus and perform better. What are some other ways you can keep your daily life and sport apart?

Error #5: Getting lost in the audience’s expectations

As large events draw nearer, you’ll no doubt be aware of the building anticipation of fans and media, alike. These large-scale events will draw in crowds from all over, and their expectations can put a lot of pressure on you. As you prepare for these events, try to keep this hype in perspective.

Announcements are made months before the actual event to draw in a larger audience. That’s it. Rather than getting distracted by this suspense-filled balloon, stay focused on your ultimate goal so you will be prepared to compete.

Error #6: Approval-based worth

Lacking intrinsic self-worth can cause a lot of stress before competitions. To gain mental preparedness in this area, you must have, and know, your worth without external influences. For many show jumper athletes, worrying about the audience’s reaction to their performance is their main concern. Bad reviews can mean days of misery, while good reviews can send them into a state of bliss. Placing your worth in someone else’s control can only weaken you. An intense need for social approval will push your nerves to performance anxiety, and help you fail.

Error #7: Lacking a plan for success

It’s crucial to have strategies to maximise your abilities. When playing as a team, you can bounce ideas off other teammates, but as an individual you are responsible for creating the map to your success. This map should highlight both your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses. With these two areas thought out you can enter competitions with more confidence.

Error #8: Removing yourself from the competition

Have you found yourself thinking there’s no way you can beat your competitor? Some show jumpers are consumed with the perceived competence of their opponents. Rather than focusing on their own aptitude, they may begin to doubt themselves. This doubt, if not reversed, may turn into the belief that they aren’t good enough and don’t deserve to win. The quickest way to sabotage your confidence is to compare your abilities with someone who you consider to be better. When you fall for this trap, you won’t do your best because your mind will be filled with your competitor’s greatness.

Error #9: Valuing only the results

A common method to increase stress is to emphasise results over everything else. While the reasons for anxiety before performances can come from many sources and differ from show jumping athlete to show jumping athlete, the root cause may be… results. Or rather, their consequences.

An extreme example in teenage show-jumpers is often a show jumper appearing worried about their number of faults in the ring, while the true anxiety may be related to falling short of parental expectations.

Do you think a deeper fear, such as others negative gossip, is behind your performance anxiety? How can you learn to cope with this emotion before an event?

Error #10: Being motivated by fear of failure

Focusing on not losing or making mistakes can seem, on the surface, to be a good philosophy. To become the best you have to win, and not repeat your mistakes. But, valuing the consequences of failure more than the rewards of success can add to the tension, anxiety, and reduced trust that some show jumpers feel. It can lead to burnout as they push themselves past their limits. With some guidance, you can learn strategies to support your performance by building on needed skills and eliminating poor focus.

Mental preparedness is completely within your control. Own your mindset and never give it to someone else to control. Before entering a competition, remind yourself that there is nothing that can affect your mental game except for you. Even if the weather is less than ideal, or your opponent seems particularly skilled, you are responsible for the mindset you bring into every competition.


Six Objectives to Support Your Mental Preparation

In order to consistently perform you need to develop a consistent mindset. This is achieved through consistent mental preparation, which is used by the best show jumpers.

Before a competition, do a mental inventory by investigating these six objectives:

1. Do you feel prepared?

When you put in the needed time to learn your craft well, you can feel more confident using your craft. All of your training and study of your competition allows you to trust that your practise is sufficient and perform at your highest level.

2. Are you confident in your abilities?

Gaining confidence is the primary goal of mental preparation. It’s the foundation that all other objectives are built on, and so should not be mixed in with strict expectations. Confidence grows from many different seeds, including training, game plans, and an intrinsic belief in yourself. It takes many years to develop, but once developed it can be maintained using past successes and skill enhancement.

3. Is your mind focused?

After confidence, the ability to direct and sustain focus is needed the most. Before competing you must be able to build your mindset for success. This requires a great deal of focus, and helps reduce simple errors, maintain focus through the entire event, and decrease under performance in competition.

4. Are you ready for hardships?

Mentally preparing before competitions gives you time to brainstorm solutions to problems. What if your horse gets injured? How will you deal with poor weather conditions? By using forethought you can boost your confidence and composure.

5. Is your game plan strong?

While teams receive a game plan, as an individual show jumper you are responsible for your own plan. Your game plan should include methods that will raise the likelihood of your victory. It can outline strategies that worked in the past and your strengths. Next to your strengths, and the ways to enhance them, should be your opponent’s weaknesses.

​6. Have you accepted the role of a show jumper athlete?

To reach your full potential as a show jumper you must learn to ground yourself in competition. All of your daily challenges should disappear as you focus solely on the event in front of you. Your pre-show mental inventory will help move you from your personal life to your competitive life.

In summary, preparing your mind for optimal performance should occur during training and days before entering a competition. This success-focused mental plan will help you transform performance anxiety and jitters into a focused state which will increase your performance.

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About the Author

Jim Hickey is an author, business mentor and international peak performance for show jumpers.