For horses, physical relaxation leads to mental relaxation. To find rest in its mind, the horse will first have to feel rest in his body. With us humans, it seems to be the exact opposite: if we are not relaxed in our mind we immediately feel this in our body.
How do you experience mental pressure in the sport?
Olivier: “The sport can be very busy sometimes; it goes on for week after week. If you have a little break in between, you can recharge yourself mentally and physically for the next competition.
“Sometimes these competitions will follow each other so quickly, you do not really get a chance for this. There are important championships you really want to work towards and time pressure can make that very difficult nowadays. I sometimes miss being able to really take the time to prepare for these important championships.”
Nicola: “If you are doing something you really love, it is easy to keep going. I have always loved equestrian and being able to make my career out of this is always easier than doing something your heart is not in.
“Mental coaching and media training have also helped me a lot in the mental department.”
What keeps you calm during a competition?
Olivier and Nicola: “We always try to do everything on time. Walk the course on time, warm up your horse on time, so there is never any rush. We think that is very important.”
Do you have mental support on your team?
Olivier: “We visit our personal trainer every week to make sure we keep in shape physically and in the past we have had mental coaching as well. Not so much anymore, but I still really believe in it. You are under a lot of pressure to perform.
“Personally, I think the mental aspect is even more important in this than the physical.”
Nicola: “The mental coaching and media training I had as a younger rider have helped me a lot to keep that mental cool. I really try to simplify everything as much as I can.”
What is the most important thing you have gained out of your mental coaching?
Olivier: “The breathwork and focus exercises they taught me. In the course, you have to be alert the whole time. You have to keep thinking and stay sharp for the next jump. “If you are experiencing stress you will notice your capacity for thinking decreases.”
Nicola: “I have learnt to work with my breathing. It will slow your heart rate and calm you down. These are the kind of little tips that can go a long way in those critical moments.”
Imagine, the day before a big Grand Prix, it all comes apart in the qualifying class. Your horse refuses and lands in the middle of a jump. How do you process this mentally so you will be able to make it to the start of the Grand Prix in the best shape possible?
Olivier: “I think I am able to handle a setback like this quite well and keep my calm. I would want to see exactly what went wrong and adapt accordingly, but I would not let it get me down all day.”
Nicola: “To be honest, there is not a lot you can do about it anymore at the show. I would try to prepare as best I can, so my horse can be calm and full of confidence.
“I would certainly not change too much, stick to the things that worked before. That way it will still be familiar to the horse.”
How much do you think it influences your horse if you yourself are not in a good place mentally?
Olivier and Nicola: “An awful lot. We think it is very important to control this in yourself, this will only benefit your horse and eventually your performances. Horses can sense this perfectly.”
How do you unwind?
Olivier: “Going to a nice restaurant with good food, I can really enjoy that.”
Nicola: “After a successful day with the horses, I like to go to the restaurant with the other riders and celebrate the day.
“I think it is fantastic to be able to share opinions with other riders that way. And if we have had a busy weekend, I will take it a little easier on Monday, maybe play a round of golf with my brother. That brings me a lot of joy as well.”