Sport Psychology Worksheet.

Understanding Fear

Fear is a natural response from our brain to help us survive and avoid danger or harm. It helps us stay safe by increasing our adrenaline and increasing our heart rate. Some people thrive on watching scary movies, crazy fun -park rides and others avoid it completely.

The first step is to understand what you are scared of , there are three main types of fear. A fear of failure , of pain and of being judged by others.

How we view an event or a perceived failure can either create more stress and doubt or we learn how to re-frame it in our minds as a learning experience. The same event can make you stronger, more resilient and braver to step outside your comfort zone each time. If your horse spooks and you fall off, if you see it as a failure, you will experience fear every-time you ride because you will constantly be worried the horse will spook.  The horse is a living animal that thinks for himself so we can’t rely on him not to spook but we can ride around aware that we need to keep our heels down to stay pegged onto the saddle and our head up to stay balanced. We also know from our experience that we need to keep the horse busy so he is occupied answering your requests instead of being bored and looking for things to spook at.

The fear of pain also needs to be analysed in your mind. There are so many times when the outcome might be pain but we are prepared to risk it as we know that there is also a wonderful, satisfying positive outcome. Mothers experience pain during birth but forget all about it and have another baby. Kids bite ice creams knowing your teeth will freeze but its worth the risk for the good feelings that come afterwards. We drive cars, aware that an accident would be painful but also knowing that the car takes us to enjoyable places, adventures. We need to accept that in everything we do in life- not just horses there will be risk but that the rewards are worth focussing on.

The fear of being judged or laughed at is very common. None of us want to look like an idiot and when you hear someone putting other people down for having a go, I want you to remember, that person is putting other people down to try and make themselves feel better. You have two choices, speak up and say “it’s great they are giving it a go, we all have to start somewhere” or to choose to hang out with friends who are caring and supportive, friends and family that encourage each other to try things and  you know they have your back.

Overcoming Fear

1- One thought in your mind so make it a positive action thought.

2-Practice Opposition thinking until it becomes your norm.

3-Visualise yourself daily riding with success.

4-Breathe properly to get oxygen to your vital organs.

5-Practice positive self -talk.

6-Immersion therapy

7-Re-define failure , change it to learning experiences.

8-Focus on yourself, no-one has more power to make you happy than YOU.

9-Train your mind to drop un-helpful thoughts into the bin and throw them away.

10- Self discipline is a muscle, the more you flex it , the stronger it becomes.

Opposition Thinking

“Once you condition your mind to translate every event into a positive, empowering one, you will banish worry forever.” Quote from Robin Sharma- The monk who sold his Ferrari.

This is an important life skill that you need to master. As the name suggests, you need to oppose the negative thought with a positive one. The first step is self-awareness of your thoughts which is easier said than done and takes practice.

When you find yourself thinking a negative thought, stop and acknowledge it. Then replace it with a positive thought, as a riding example .. “My legs always swing back!” This is cementing your belief that you are always going to have swinging legs. The more you say it, the deeper the neural pathways in your brain which will then end up as a self -filling prophecy.  Changing it to “I’m working on keeping my heels down”. It’s giving the brain something you want to happen.

Write down thoughts or comments you hear yourself say and then turn it into a positive, helpful comment.

Think of it as re-wiring the brain to see the positive in life

Framework for your Visualization

1.Get comfortable somewhere you won’t be disturbed

2.Relax your toes, legs, thighs right up your body to your eyelids 

3.Take slow deep breathes and say in your mind “5 I’m relaxing ,4 I’m relaxing” down to one “I’m relaxed and really comfortable”

4.Have a few lines in your own words that create a positive thought or feeling such as “I am riding confidently” “I am confidently jumping” etc something in your own words and something that resonates with you.

5. Other options are then to say “ I am leaving my fears or doubts behind me”


Then to visualize yourself riding, paying attention to how you feel, smells, the feelings you have when the horse is going well and you are riding beautifully.


Before you hop on at competitions, you see yourself riding your Dressage test movement by movement gracefully, accurately , X-country round or Show jumping round fence by fence confidently, foot perfect and riding your best. I suggest doing this several times so you build well- travelled neural pathways in your mind to make the brain feel like you’ve already ridden the round.

6. If you aren’t competing but struggle with confidence and doubt, there are a couple of beautiful pictures to think about. One is your lying under a large oak tree and the dappled light filters onto your skin and the leaves that fall from the tree are your doubts and they fall to the ground and get blown away to a stream and washed away. Another is you ride to the top of the hill with a backpack on loaded with all your fears and doubts, at the top of the hill you drop your pack off and watch it roll away down the hill and you feel light and positive, ready to ride confidently and positively.

7. Then you clear your mind and start counting “1 I feel positive” “2 I feel light” , energized, happy, anything that you want to take into your day, up to 10.

Goal setting

Everyone has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day. Writing down a thought cements it in your brain as an important one. Setting aside time to write your goals down is essential to your success. Once written down ,your mind then seeks out opportunities which is know as the “Law of Attraction”.

People with written down goals are 42% more likely to achieve them than people without written goals. Telling a friend increases this rate to 78%.

Your goals need to be attainable and believable to you.

Set personal consequences to keep you disciplined, also telling a family member helps keep you accountable too.  

Write dates alongside your goals as this helps prioritise them.

Write your short-term goals (this week)

Med-term goals ( this season)

Long-term goals ( this year or big picture goals)


Self-talk is defined as the verbalization or statements athletes repeat to themselves prior to or during skill execution (Begley, 2012).

Self-talk goes hand in hand with opposition thinking. Having a short “mantra or chant” helps keep away those negative thoughts that strip away your confidence and self-belief while riding.

The trick on the horse is to choose a mantra that will be helpful, I have heard riders saying “I am calm, I am calm” for me I don’t think this is specific enough. If you shut down and ride backwards when stressed, a better example would be to say “ I am riding forward, forward (in the same beat of the horses rhythm.)  If you lean forward and chase your horse to the jump when nervous you’d give yourself an instruction such as “ sit up, sit up” (always in time with the canter beat.)

Your self-talk before you ride can be less specific and more about a feeling you want to produce such as “ I am a brave, determined rider” “I am an elegant, organized Dressage rider”

Write down a couple of mantras that would be helpful to you while riding.

Immersion Therapy

Putting yourself in a pressure situation to learn to stay focused on the right things that bring success.

During your schooling sessions it’s important to learn a test and run through it, to set up a course and have to remember it, then jump it. To set up a jump off and practice making short turns and see how much you can safely ask from your horse.

Asking someone to video you always increases mental pressure to perform it better so is a great immersion therapy technique. At the beginning of the season it is important to get out to a smaller show before the first important one, it helps settle the horse and get your mind focused on riding every step, every movement or every jump rather than getting side-tracked with wanting to win and getting frustrated when the horse doesn’t go perfectly.

This worksheet is the intellectual property of Kirstin Kelly Equestrian, it is not to be reproduced or shared without prior permission of Kirstin Kelly.