Equestrian mental skills coach Jane Pike is based in Dunedin and is well known to many horse people through her business, Confident Rider. She also is a regular columnist and contributor to NZ Horse & Pony magazine. But it was two of the Australian reining team who have grabbed her to utilise her expertise in mental skills training to help them prepare for their World Equestrian Games competitions.
Jane has been working with Warwick and Robyn Schiller for some time, and was delighted to get the invitation to come to WEG with them. She flew to California before undertaking an epic 50-hour road trip to North Carolina, which she describes as great fun. “We did relatively long days but stopped in Arizona for the night at Flagstaff, and then stopped in Amarillo in Texas, then Missouri, and then three nights at Dan James’ place in Kentucky. We let the horses have some down time and then we came over here on Friday morning.”
This is Jane’s first trip to the States. “We met some nice people at the stops, and I got to see America through the side of the car window. We had many road trip theme songs along the way and my vocal cords were well used!”
The only downside was the truck stop food, which after five days started to get a bit “grim.”
Jane is lapping up the atmosphere at the Games, enjoying watching the dressage and eventing riders in the practice arenas as well as learning a lot about Western riding, something she admits to knowing little about. But she isn’t here to teach the technicalities and finer points of reining; her role is coaching Warwick and Robyn Schiller on the mental skills side of things, the sports psychology coaching. “We have been working together for a while now, and they invited me over to support the team. I’m officially Robyn’s groom as well. It is a new world for me, I haven’t done any Western events, I am like the little English rider in amongst the crew.”
The Australian reining team of Dan James, Warwick and Robyn, plus Shauna and Martin Larcombe, are all US-based. Jane thinks they have a chance of being in the medals, although it is the US team who are favourites to take out the gold. The reining competition starts on Wednesday, and continues on Thursday and Saturday. Jane hadn’t comprehended how big the Western world was here. “It’s huge!” Predictions are that reining will draw the biggest crowds at the Games.
Already Jane is buzzing about her experiences. “It is amazing to be behind the scenes and part of it, plus the build-up is so cool. You can whinge about the things that could be better but at the same time you just have to remember where you are and what you are part of. It is so very exciting.” The team has developed a “no-complaining rule” and use a code word if anyone starts to get off track.
Jane shared some tips with us for being mentally prepared at a big event like WEG:
- In the same way as you aim to become physically fit, the mental fitness side of things is also very progressive process. It is not something you do the night before. It is a habit that is cultivated over a period of time. These guys have had the chance to practise those skills at a lot of different competitions prior to this so it is like a habit for them.
- I think that keeping your focus very positive is really, really important, not only conversationally, but out there in amongst it.
- Riders need to ask themselves what is their intention for being here, what is it they are going to focus on? The biggest part of the preparation is to create a mental framework for yourself that allows you to block out the distraction.
- In the warm-up, when you are riding in the main arena as a practice, and you are in that big space, you can imagine what it is going to be like when the stands are filled and everyone is there. How are you going to manage this? What is your focus going to be? How are you going to develop a little routine to keep you within the same framework and that same space as you are in the warm up arena and prior?
- Self talk is a huge part of it. You can psych yourself out really easily by engaging in a conversation with yourself that spirals out of control. It is being really strict on what you entertain in your own head.
- You have to cultivate a sense of worthiness and belief that you are completing deserving of being here. You are as much a part of the international competition as anyone else. You need to ride in like you own it.
- Cultivating the tribe you have around you at these places is also really important. You don’t want people walking around with their eyes on stalks, oohing and aahing. Everyone needs to be focused.
- You have to train like you are at the Olympics and when you are at the Olympics, you have to ride like you are at home.
We will watch with interest how the reining competition goes for the Australians, and hope to be able to go and watch some of the action, if time allows between covering the dressage, endurance and eventing in the first week. While Jane is working for the Australians, she will also be cheering for our Kiwi riders. Just as well we don’t have a reining team involved!
Jane is planning to head to Nashville for a couple of days afterward the competition finishes, and then making her way back to California with the horses. She is scheduled to do a clinic with Warwick and Robyn in California, and then will fly home with a busy schedule in front of her, including being at Equidays.