Charlotte Ricca-Smith: Mind Over Matter

Since Charlotte’s rather unplanned dismount at Rackham Horse Trials she has had to overcome several mental hurdles to get to her next event, but she made it and has written her latest blog to tell us how she did it….


Mind Over Matter

The mind is a curious thing. It can send you from hero to zero, and back again in a heartbeat. The mind can block true potential, but it can also be the catalyst for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. This is particularly true for horse riders. So much of what we do with our four-legged friends is about our mental attitude, whether it’s being brave enough to gallop out on a ride, or tackling our first competition. If the mind isn’t willing the body can’t be able. When nerves do get the better of us, they are compounded by the fact that our horses pick up on every emotion. If a golfer has a bad day, his club won’t jump out of his hands and leg it across the course. But when we are tense or worried it can turn our horses from Jekyll into Hyde.


Big. Fat. Zero

Often the answer to ‘losing our nerve’ is to give up. The mind is so clever at tricking us into thinking that we’re not good enough, so why even bother? And it’s much easier to say ‘I can’t’ instead of ‘I will’. Especially after something has gone wrong – like a fall. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling these past few months. While recovering from a broken collarbone and cracked rib my mind has been playing games with me. What was a middle-aged mum doing, thinking she could be an eventer? I was nothing, I was a big fat zero.

So when the doctor declared me physically fit to compete – I wasn’t sure I was mentally ready. I’d planned on stepping down a level and doing the BE80 at Munstead, a course I knew well and was confident over. But the closer it got, the more I doubted my ability. I looked at other people competing and couldn’t visualise myself doing the same. It wasn’t just nerves, it was also the thought of returning to my former manic life where I had to fit in training and competing with family, work and a hundred other things. Surely it was just best to keep things simple. A happy hacker… It had a certain, appealing sound.


Back in Action

And then something happened, just a small thing, but it was enough to get me back in the saddle. I was practicing a dressage test with Pepa, when I found myself sneaking looks at the jumps in the next field. My heart started beating faster, but this time I was excited – instead of just nervous. Surely a cross pole would be ok? A cross pole became an upright, which became a spread. Pepa, as always, was amazing. She was keen, she was bold and she clearly wasn’t suffering from any nerves. Her enthusiasm was infectious and we finished with a small course and a big smile on my face. We were back in action!

A follow up lesson with my yard manager and fellow eventer Jake Tarrant sealed the deal. As he reminded me, I don’t have to be brave, I just have to be determined. I could do this. WE could do this. Worse-case scenario I would trot around the cross-country (although I kind of knew I never would).

Make or Break

The big day dawned and I was determined to enjoy it. No pressure, just fun – this was to be a gentle reintroduction to eventing. I walked the course with Jake, which was a big help. He reminded me to find a rhythm and relax, and planted the word ‘stay’ in my mind, which I was to chant as a mantra, in time with the canter, on approach to each fence. Stay with the canter, stay with my horse and don’t forget to smile!

Dressage wasn’t our best – I was tense and forgot to smile (the mind won over matter in this phase), but we got a respectable 34.8. On to the jumping – Pepa was super keen in the warm up, and I was super nervous, which meant she took a pull, I took a pull, she took a pull… You get the drift. So instead of flowing into the jump we bounced around on the spot before firing at it in the last few strides. Not ideal and at one point I pulled her out in front of the jump, something I’ve never done with her before.

This was make or break – would my mind mess it up, or could I conquer my nerves and let it flow… (There’s a song in there, somewhere). I decided to consult the resident BE trainer, who is on hand at every BE80 event, for advice and she soon had me relaxing my hands and my mind – and Pepa did the same. Into the arena. And breathe…

There was one dodgy moment at number two when we got into a tug of war again, but other than that I managed to stay (relatively) relaxed and we were clear. Woohoo!

We Could be Heroes

Two phases down and one to go… Gulp. Could I put my fall at Rackham behind me and kick on with confidence? Remember, you don’t have to be brave, you just have to be determined. Once again Pepa’s confidence was catching and with fences one and two behind us I found myself urging her forward into a gallop – my mind already on the clock.

I remembered to chant ‘stay’, I remembered to be determined and I even remembered to smile when Pepa took a flyer at fence 10. We crossed the finish line clear and within the time allowed. So much for trotting. I was elated. I was relieved. We had put the demons behind us – and we’d had FUN.

The surge of affection I felt for Pepa at that moment is hard to explain. But I’m sure you all know exactly how that feels. When just a few weeks earlier I had questioned my relationship with riding, I now felt utterly and completely in love. Like falling for a boyfriend you’ve not seen for years, I was smitten. All over again.

The icing on the cake was we came fourth, which is our highest placing at a BE event. I was a hero, actually Pepa was a hero. I was just along for the ride.


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