Bouncing Back: 4 Simple Techniques for Rebounding After a Bad Round in Competition

You’re at a show. Your partner is taking care of the dog and kids at home. You rearranged work deadlines and left the laundry in the dryer. You’re finally at the show and are looking forward to 5 different classes. You’re excited! The first day was fine. But that next run was just terrible. You weren’t focused. Your horse was distracted, too. And it was just a whole bundle of not good.

Now you’re feeling disillusioned. You feel deflated, let down, angry. You feel shame and guilt creeping in. You experience a profound sense of disappointment. Why couldn’t you have ridden better? Why did you fail under pressure? You have another run this afternoon, but you aren’t sure if you can pull it together and do better? What do you do in situations like this? How do you turn around your mental state fast when you are down in the dumps and feeling like crap?

In today’s newsletter, I’m going to address four simple, effective techniques you can use to turn yourself around faster than your horse can spin. It is so helpful to have these in your back pocket ahead of time so that when you feel crushed like a bug under your boot you don’t have to think about what you are going to do- you just do it!

  1. Phone a Friend

This first one is a simple one. When you don’t feel good, have a friend who can help you out. After a poor run, you’re probably busy ruminating on allllllll the things you did wrong and how you are irredeemably terrible at riding. Overspins, missed leads, riding like a sack of potatoes? Definitely doomed forever. And if you are feeling particularly bad, you may be thinking about how it’s not just you. Your horse is pretty much worthless, too!

Whoa, there, Nelly! Let’s stop all that right now! Whether it’s someone with you at the show, or a friend you phone or FaceTime, it’s so valuable to have someone who can interrupt those negative thought patterns and call you out when you start being unfair to yourself and your horse.

Now, not everyone will be able to do this. Some people don’t have a resilient mindset, or are too caught up in their own negativity to help interrupt yours. So don’t call just anybody. But take a moment and see if you can think of anybody you could call upon to help you out after a run that leaves you feeling worthless. Someone who will challenge you to think of one positive thing about that run. Maybe it’s just that you stayed on. Or maybe it was just that your horse was well groomed. But there was something, some little thing that was not totally terrible.

Your friend can help point out somewhere where you did better than last time. And stop you when you are chugging along on the train of mean, terrible self-flagellating thoughts. This doesn’t mean blowing smoke up your backside. But there is a world of difference between acknowledging you had a death grip on your horse’s face, and saying you are a terrible rider with no hope for improvement and should just sell your horse. It is important to challenge yourself and your thoughts if they don’t serve you. So call in the cavalry to help battle your own erroneous thoughts.

  1. Physically Move Your Body

This one is great because after a run you’ll already be moving. You’ll hop off your horse and walk him back to your stall or trailer to untack. After you care for your horse, keep walking! Walk all around the showgrounds and just let the walking take care of your big feelings. When we have big emotional feelings, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that we have to process our feelings only in our heads. We think we have to talk it out, or journal, or something like that. But when we have feelings in our heads and hearts, we also feel them in our physical bodies! Our heart rate will change, our breathing will change. We’ll feel tension or constriction in our muscles if we’re upset or scared or angry, or if we’re feeling relaxed and happy we’ll notice a loosening of our muscles.

So use that to your advantage! Move your body and process those emotions through your body! Our minds and bodies are not totally separate systems. Embrace their interconnectedness. When you’re feeling way up at level 10 of emotional distress, start power-walking around and see how you feel after 15-20 minutes of brisk walking. Go ahead and swing your arms all around. Bend over. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle and just Move. Your. Body. It’s amazing the mental relief we feel from physical movement.

  1. Laughter

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Well, it’s true. Also, “There’s a thin line between laughing and crying.” Laughter is a physical and emotional release for all the pent up feelings you’ve got after you compete. So let ‘em out! If you need to cry, no shame from us. But if you’re feeling more anger or frustration than sadness, and you’re not interested in crying- give laughter a go.

Abe is particularly talented at making me laugh, and the relief I feel when let out genuine laughter from another one of his ridiculous jokes is palpable. Or, cue up some funny videos! We’re not looking to get lost on YouTube for 3 hours, but some shorts from a favorite comedian, or silly cat videos can help open the floodgates on your emotions and laughter is a really great, healthy way to physically release those feelings. You can look for a way to laugh on your own or pair this with the “phone a friend” strategy and connect with someone who makes you laugh.

  1. Box Breathing

You didn’t think we could close this out without mentioning Box Breathing, did you?? Conscious breathing techniques are some of my favorite ways to get physically present in our bodies, and help center and ground us and shift our emotional state.

The great thing about box breathing is it is so quick and simple. And when I’m not feeling great, the last thing I want to do is take productive action to make myself feel better. That’s not helpful and pretty silly, really, but it’s also super normal. Humans can be pretty weird, huh. We feel like a cow patty, and instead of going on a walk which we know will help us feel better, we say to ourselves, “Let’s sit here and ruminate on all the bad things.” Oh, foolish mortals.

Enter: Box Breathing. And actually, let me backup a minute. Enter: the power of tiny habits. If you want more reading on this there’s two great books on this called… Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg. And Atomic Habits, by James Clear (shocking titles, right?!) The main point from them is that change is hard. And one of the best ways to help ourselves actually change and make habits that stick is to make a habit we’re trying to implement as tiny as possible. So microscopic the habits are... Atomic.

So at a horse show, when you’re feeling like you want to scream, or perhaps just curl up into a fetal position with chocolate and cry, you probably aren’t going to do some long, complicated routine. Not gonna happen. But! Just mayyyyybe you could do one breath. You’re already breathing so just one breath where you focus on it is exactly the kind of tiny habit and tiny behavior you might be willing to try.

One “box” of box breathing is 16 seconds. You could probably do one box right? And if you did an entire “round” of 4 boxes, that’s only one minute. That’s eminently doable. One minute of breathing, and then back to the pit of despair if you so desire.

But I bet if you did one round of box breathing, you’d start to feel better and start to shift your emotional state to a more empowered one. And by making the “entry fee” for box breathing so low, (only a few seconds), we helped ourselves get over our own inertia and give it a try.

(If you’re wondering what the heck Box Breathing is and why it’s so powerful, check out THIS newsletter. The 411 is that “Box breathing” refers to the fact that a box has four sides. Imagine the sides of a box while you slowly count to four for a total of four times (4x4). Four counts of breathing in, four counts of holding your breath, four counts of exhaling and four more counts of holding after your exhale.)

What do you do when you bomb a run? Write back and share- I read every reply. Until next time.

Happy Trails,


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