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The Equestrian Mental Coach: How to let go of self-criticism and improve your mental game

Thursday, 15 April 2021
The Equestrian Mental Coach

Annette Paterakis With a background in the showjumping sport and 10 years of experience as a mental coach, Annette Paterakis is specialized in helping equestrians create a confident, consistent and powerful life in and outside the ring.


Annette Paterakis - The Equestrian Mental Coach

With a background in the showjumping sport and 10 years of experience as a mental coach, Annette is specialized in helping equestrians create a confident, consistent and powerful life in and outside the ring. 

“The athletes I work with have everything they need to succeed, I help them find the missing link to translate their potential into powerful results.”

Annette is the author of Keep Calm & Enjoy The Ride and will be releasing her second book later this year.

In the series 'The Equestrian Mental Coach', Annette will be sharing her knowledge with World of Showjumping's readers. 

For more information, please visit:



If there is one thing I’ve learned as an Equestrian Mental Coach for nearly 10 years, it’s that our thinking creates our reality. When our thinking is predominantly negative or critical, it translates to how we connect with the horse, the results in the show ring and our enjoyment throughout. This doesn’t mean we need to be positive all the time, it’s ok to be upset once in a while but we all know it doesn’t help to stay in that mood for too long. Let’s take a look at how we can turn those harsh thoughts into more helpful ones.

1. Stop judging 

Self-criticism in essence means you are judging yourself. This judgement doesn’t contribute to you becoming a better rider or more confident. It actually has the opposite effect, keeping you focused on the problem. To break this pattern, you want to become aware of the moments in the day or during a show when you are being particularly judgemental. Whether these judgements are towards yourself, your horse or other riders doesn’t matter as they all do one thing, they lead to disconnect. In order to thrive in the show ring, you need the opposite, which is to trust yourself and your horse. The first step in changing the habit of being self-critical is to become aware when these thoughts arise and acknowledge how they make you feel. You don’t need to push them away, just sit with it for a moment and then take a few deep breaths.

2. Stop identifying with your thoughts 

The second step is to realise that you are not your thoughts. They are not the truth, they are just a perception. In order to stop identifying with these unhelpful thoughts, you need to activate another (rational instead of emotional) part of your brain. No need to go back and forth in your mind whether it’s really true or not, just recognise it’s not helpful and step out of the negative cycle. A very effective way to do that is to verbalise them out loud. I do this twice a day (and whenever I need it) by saying out loud, “I have the thought that….”, and fill in the unhelpful thought. Or you could remind yourself that these thoughts are not helping you right now, they only make you feel small and stuck. Another way to remind yourself of this is by asking more helpful questions.

3. Ask better questions

Ever noticed how every question you ask yourself, your brain will answer? So, if you’d like more helpful thoughts, start asking more helpful questions. Instead of thinking in terms of what’s right or wrong, good or bad, what really matters is, that whatever you’re doing is working. Here are some helpful questions you can ask yourself when you notice you are being critical:

  • Is this way of thinking helping me right now?
  • What would be a more helpful thought or action right now?
  • What can I learn from this/ today?
  • What went well?
  • What could have been better?
  • How am I going to improve myself/ this skill?

4. Redefine failure

Over the past few years, I have interviewed many top riders in the show jumping sport. One thing they all have in common is the way they view failure. Instead of avoiding failure at all cost, they accept it as part of growth. These riders view their mistakes as feedback for what needs improving, they learn from it and move on. If you continuously go over your mistakes and watch the bad rounds more than your good ones, ask yourself- is this really helping me improve my riding? If the way you view your mistakes is helpful for you- great- keep it up. If your mistakes make you feel insecure, overthink or doubt yourself, then change your perception of failure into something more helpful. For example, “my performance in the ring reflects how effective my training has been.” Or like Daniel Deusser says; “Every failure is a lesson, if you are not willing to fail, you are not ready to succeed.”


No reproduction without written permission, copyright © Annette Paterakis 

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