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Without Phil's help I would never have become a professional footballer.



Phil Johnson

Sport Psychologist to:

Royal Navy Show Jumping & Eventing Team

Lecturer in Equestrian Psychology

In 2010 Phil completed an academic year working at Glyndwr University in Wales as Programme Leader for the degree in Equestrian Psychology. He contributed to the teaching in equine behaviour, welfare, learning and training as well as applied sport psychology for equestrians and rider's interaction with horses.

"There are few qualified sport psychologists working with equestrians in Britain so understanding equines more, only provides me with greater insight into understanding the horse and rider relationship, especially given that equestrianism is different to any other sport because of the partnership with horses."

"Many riders refer themselves with either show jumping issues or competition anxiety in dressage. These are resolvable, but often the cause lies not with equestrianism itself, but in how riders apply their thinking and the 'drivers' and 'beliefs' that operate, which are dysfunctional." Phil Johnson 2011

Consider if you have had a major fall from your horse in the last five years that caused physical injury, especially from rotational falls. You may well have recovered physically, but have recovered emotionally, psychologically? Read my contribution to managing emotional responses to falls ....featured in my contribution to a Horse and Hound article September 2nd 2010 or email for a copy.

"I hadn’t taken account of the ENVIRONMENT, I hadn’t sought knowledgeable help". (Lawrence)The Sport Psychologist helped me to:

1.     Plan my ride, stadium courses and jumps

2.     Deal with competition pressure

3.     Establish Sel-management (Lawrence)

Mind: Body: Belief: & Horses!

   The relationship between horse and rider is crucial for effective and successful performance to take place. Thus the care and training of the horse or horses is an extra dimension other athletes do not encounter. The equipment and preparation for riders are specialist in needs and demands. With this consideration Psychologists can help with the variety of moods and behavioural issues that riders encounter that can and do affect the relationship with the horse and the control the rider has over him or herself.

As I see them, these are the main psychological challenges for riders:

•      Performance feedback and education of the competitive rider

•      The complex interplay between rider and horse

•      The role and influence of the trainer or coach

•      The training of the horse under the framework of the 3 R’s

Relationship Rapport & Respect (RRR)

What do you as riders need from your trainers in terms of feedback?

     Is there a favoured approach?

     How are problems between horse and rider resolved?

     How often are training sessions filmed and performance analysed?

Sport Psychologists get involved in a whole host of mental processes and resultant behaviours: However, there seems to be severalr components that feed into CONFIDENCE, which are considered to be the primary characteristics of performance.

The five 'C's of Confidence  

Confidence• Communication

Concentration•       Commitment•     Control

All these elements are integrated into both the development of confidence and the concept of momentum. (Harwood 2006)

For example what is your routine in the THREE days before a major competition?                                                

How much of this is mental preparation?

•      For your horse? !

•      For you the rider? !•    

  Do you have a set routine and if so how effective is it?

•      Does it support you goals (which we assume you have set!!).

•      What happens if this routine is upset in any way?

•      Is there a plan B ?

•      How do you react to changes and disruption and indeed how does your horse react to change and change in you??

•      How do you prepare the week before competition?

•      What do you do on the day of a competition?

There are many additional responsibilities placed upon the competitive rider, not just the act of competition itself….

I had a PLAN…………it didn’t work……..I didn’t have a PLAN B

I hadn’t taken account of the ENVIRONMENT, I hadn’t sought knowledgeable help

Sport Psychology helped me to:

1.     Plan my ride, stadium courses and jumps

2.     Dealing competition pressure

3.     Self management

The management of anxiety and arousal, information overload are suitable areas for psychological intervention with such methods as

Arousal: Activation   level to create intense alertness.

Anxiety: Apprehension & tension

Relaxation techniques

•      Neuro-linguistic programming methods (NLP) such as anchoring

Breathing control

•      Humour,

Coach and team support

  What psychologists refer to as Rational Analysis some would call it common sense! Belief and misplaced or inaccurate belief can play a significant role in the underperformance of an athlete. A belief that something will happen that causes a change in behaviour that may produce acute or chronic anxiety may statistically be so unlikely that it is considered an irrational thought, but nevertheless interferes with normal functioning. Belief affects confidence

Whilst I’m going to win having never been in the top 25 is optimistic, I’ll knock the 8th fence down may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy! This Self-talk is another area of mental skills training. This would be an example of how the rider might transmit anxiety to the horse. Is this familiar?

To counteract don’t words, choose "do" words. If you want relaxation, think "loose," "fluid" or "supple." You can also develop short, directive phrases: "soft hands," "feeling body," "eyes forward," "receive in relaxation." As an exercise, think of all the times you tell yourself not to do something. Write all the statements out so you can see them clearly. Now take each one and turn the statement into "do" language. Make sure it is clear and concise before taking the next step of consciously applying the statements next time that situation presents itself. If you persist, you will notice a difference in your tension levels and attitude. (A Clay)

Finding your own best words is a trial and error process. Often you must see them in action to assess their impact on your personal psyche. Canadian rider Joanne Uhrig relies on two key words that hold a lot of meaning for her: "ride" and "soften." She uses them when she feels her horse becoming powerful and herself losing the connection. They may seem like everyday words to others, but they are large and powerful to her mind. The words are like directions in capital letters. (April Clay Psychologist)

The use of imagery has grown considerably and having studied this for 5 years I am of the view that it can and does assist athletes (riders) in any number of ways using the techniques.

Mental Skills Training (MST) These are the fundamentals of sport psychology which have developed over the last 25 years or so. Whilst Goal Setting has strong evidence that it contributes importantly to future performance, there are a number of developments in sport psychology which can be applied to those that assist athletes; coaches, managers, sport science staff, especially physiotherapists who are often told secrets and concerns whilst their clients are relaxed are perhaps vulnerable. If the performance of this group of people improves, then so too does the quality of their own performance in training and teaching athletes within their domain.Research has recorded that the difference between gold and silver is 0.05 of a second. This is reflected in many sports and in sprinting of course is even less. The main issue is that to achieve at the highest levels, athletes need that extra edge over their competitors.

Sport psychologists are primed to be able to assist in this process.

Ask yourself the question? How much do I want to win?

my primary goal has been to stimulate your awareness of:

•      what you think,

•      the way you think it and

•      the way it influences your actions.