Anna Ross on why riders must learn to survive failure in order to succeed

Anna Ross riding Newton Domino
“Risk-taking is a part of the sport,” says Anna Ross, who encourages riders to “go for it” rather than fearing failure.

WINTER is a time for education as well as celebration. Webinars have become commonplace throughout this season, providing thought-provoking entertainment on cold evenings. Many are devoted to sports psychology and are both helpful and relatable.

There is plenty of angst on social media as people are encouraged to share their feelings more than they used to be. Thankfully, there are excellent resources to go to, such as the Riders Minds charity, which offers a 24-hour telephone helpline to those suffering over and above the normal stress of a competitive lifestyle.

It’s no wonder really that dressage riders experience challenges with mindset – straight 10s resulting in 100% have been awarded in gymnastics, but never yet in dressage.

Bearing that in mind, it’s ironic that the fear of failure appears to hold far more riders back than their desire to win.

The trick is to make peace with the fact that if you are lucky enough to have a long career, you could strive all your life and never feel “good enough”, and that would be a shame because there are much cheaper ways to make yourself miserable than competing in dressage.

On reflection, I’ve never met anyone over the age of 25 who thinks they are “good enough”, including Olympic gold medallists. Generally, the more bluster and bravado, the more rubbish people are talking.

Conversely, there is nothing more boring than driving back from a show with someone who has gone into an emotional decline based on their horse riding results. Let’s face it, if firefighters and paediatricians fail at work then it’s a problem. Dressage riders can get over it by having a drink and moaning to their friends.

But how do we achieve the zen-like attitude required to come out of the other side of this sport with a balanced mind? As a fully signed up gold member of The Real World, I have a passionate hatred for the cheesy inspirational quotes that pop up on social media.

If a smarty pants sport psychologist tried to “bring me inspiration” on a show day they’d probably end up wearing my coffee. If I wasn’t already motivated, it’s unlikely I’d have bothered taking five years to train my horse to grand prix and driven it bleary-eyed to a competition that is probably five hours away (I live in Devon).

I propose a “Fabulous Failing” winter workshop series. Perhaps it could be sponsored by a gin company? Subject matters could include:

  • Dancing when everyone is watching
  • Surviving sub-60 scores
  • What to write when you rode like a wet weekend: a social media guide
  • Draw reins are not the answer: practical advice for controlling children under seven while attending a dressage show
  • Handling helpful hints (or how not to punch your parents)
  • Describe your ride in emojis (for when you are crying too much to talk on the phone)
  • Avoiding being authentic: how not to kick off before you’ve reached the truck and shut the door

Risk-taking is a part of the sport. Riders feeling mentally robust enough to ride for high points brings excitement to the competition. If the result is a foregone conclusion, it becomes dull, however spectacular the winner.

So, this winter my advice is to “go for it” a little more than you dare. If you fail, spring will still come, the world will keep turning and
you might just surprise yourself.

If you know you can survive your ride going wrong, you’ll have a lot more fun trying to make it go right.

● How do you maintain a positive mindset while competing? Tell us at hhletters@futurenet.com

  • This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 25 November

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