When Matt (not his real name, I’m protecting his identity) was in his early twenties, the world was his oyster, he was eventing for Great Britain, riding fabulous horses, winning British and European accolades as well as achieving top 10 placings in world championships. Having found his niche, his confidence soared, he was self-assured and willing to take the personal, professional and riding risks necessary to be the best. He was the epitome of equestrian success.
Fast forward 10 years and we find Matt as owner of a successful equestrian business, training, schooling and competing event horses for several owners; but lacking the edge that those at the top demonstrate on a weekly basis. His riding career was in the doldrums, so much so that he was considering entering a non-horsey business and riding simply for pleasure. Although he could still memorise a dressage test within seconds, jump effortlessly over 1.6m tracks, he had lost his nerve: part of him believed he was ‘past it’, the successes were in the past, part of him knew that lesser riders were winning the 1- and 3-day events he entered. He knew that he could coax more from his horses at home and the downward spiral centred around competition days. Clearly, he was embarrassed by his current form.
Matt knew that the problem was in his mind. Furthermore, it was compounded each time he went out and the nerves ensured split-second mistakes that cost good placings. He would become intensely angry with himself and take it out on those around him, snapping at the slightest thing. As his problem grew, he began to suffer extreme nerves each Monday before the weekend’s eventing. The days leading up to Saturday brought an accrual of debilitating nerves. Packing up the lorry on Friday evening was a nightmare for him and the grooms. Whilst he stormed around the yard, he would imagine that a key piece of tack would be left behind. When the grooms tried in vain to calm him down, they received short-shrift. The yard would be tense throughout the eventing calendar.
In an attempt to alleviate the stress, Matt sought help from a sports psychologist, who used an anchoring technique, getting Matt to visualise a winning time from the past and tapping himself between the eyes. Unfortunately, this had limited success, having to tap yourself between the eyes whilst driving to the competition or whilst riding weren’t convenient options. Matt gave up on this technique and tried to ‘face his fear’.
As a new NLP practitioner and friend of Matt’s, I agreed to try to help him. After I looked over my notes excitedly, deciding which techniques would give the best and biggest shift in mindset, I set off to chat with Matt. Using the hierarchy of ideas*, it became apparent that he had no fear of size or of technicality of the jumps, the event or the crowds. In fact, although he didn’t particularly like to acknowledge to the owners that he hadn’t won, it didn’t faze him to talk to them about the horse’s (lack of) performance. His anxiety revolved around not having the wins he knew he should have. After a little reframing*, (e.g., why if he was such a terrible rider did people pay him to ride for them, year after year?) he was able to see that consciously he knew that he had the ability, yet unconsciously, he was holding onto fear, anger, disappointment and guilt to name but a few. We used the Fast Phobia Method* to bring his fear down from a rank of 9/10 to 0/10.
Lastly, on our first session, we tried a Parts Integration* to remove the remaining conflicts. I’m convinced that this caused a huge shift. On reflection, I decided that Matt was an ideal candidate for Time Line Therapy™ *for our next session. I wasn’t sure how this would go; initially we stumbled over the definition of a timeline and trying to visualise it. However, I have to say that this was the pressure valve and we removed so many of Matt’s negative emotions and we were both rather overwhelmed! (As a more experienced Coach Practitioner, nowadays I’d probably have started with Time Line Therapy™ and covered the other techniques in the second session, but everyone’s always on a learning curve!)
The next day was the first 1-day event of the season. I went along for support, on hand if we needed an NLP ‘top-up’. The grooms took me to one side and remarked on how relaxed he was, even when they took a wrong turn on their journey, he calmly said it didn’t matter, they’d find the right road eventually. Dressage went without any hitches, both mares performing well. Next was the show-jumping. One of the mares was up for sale, but had never had a clear round in show-jumping or cross country in 2 years of eventing. With this weighing on his mind, we did a quick ‘Swish Pattern’ technique prior to him mounting. As we approached the collecting ring, several big names, including international Olympians were standing watching the competitors and their horses. This was not a time to mess up! Matt easily cleared the practice up-right, but clattered through the oxer. This was the usual trigger for the whole round to go awry. Not this time! He cantered back over it beautifully. As he entered the ring, all of us were willing him on over every jump. But he didn’t need us. He cleared every jump gracefully and elegantly in a calm, professional rhythm.
Had it been a fluke? Not likely! Matt repeated the round on his second mare. This time clear! Only two of the competitors had clear rounds that day.
A second Swish Pattern* was in order for the cross-country, but was probably not necessary. Another pair of xc clear rounds brought well-deserved results to an amazing day. I’m not sure who was more overjoyed, me or Matt. Having an open mind, being willing to accept responsibility and truly wanting to change had enabled him to bring about a most dramatic transformation in himself and helped him to re-examine his plans to retire!
He’s now competing successfully and, in his words, ‘intelligently’ again. This encouraged me no end to become a full-time NLP Master Coach and to begin to prepare for my Trainer’s Training. The fact that I can work with equestrians and be around horses, whilst using some of the world’s most powerful psychological techniques means more to me than I can express in words; I feel blessed.
*These are quick and effective interventions that we learn about on our (Equestrian) NLP Coach Practitioner trainings. And, although we use anchoring, unlike the sports psychologist Matt used, we don’t anchor by tapping. You can find out more about NLP and equestrian success by visiting https://www.traceycolenlp.com/equestrian-nlp-practitioner/ or our online Associate of Equestrian NLP https://www.traceycolenlp.com/associate-equestrian-nlp/