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Mental Barriers Eventing

01-05-2015 14-33-35Something which has got me thinking lately is the comfort, stretch and panic zone and especially how this relates to horse riding.

My comfort zone is 1m, I am very comfortable at this height, and I rarely see a duff stride and I can pretty much ride anything round this height because I feel confident in my abilities to do so. My stretch zone is 1.10m. At this height, I am not so confident but I can cope and I have moments where it’s not very comfortable for me as I have not got the same level of confidence in my abilities. For me 1.20m is my panic zone. I have to be super confident in the horse and have built up to jumping this level at home but it stresses me out considerably and is something I would have to think long and hard about before I entered a competition at this height.

Anytime you are stretched, emotionally, intellectually or physically, a certain amount of discomfort will arrive. This discomfort always presents itself just before progress.

It is only natural to stay within your comfort zone, we are fearful about the unknown and out of habit; we do things which are safe.

Progress comes from being at the end of your comfort zone. Taking small uncomfortable steps will help push your comfort zone and the more boundaries you push the more your confidence will grow. The key is to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

In particular, I think riding is a sport where we constantly have to test ourselves in the mental game and one thing that is important to realise is that each individual sets themselves these zones.

The reality is that these zones only exist in our own minds and that they are an artificial barrier that I think too many amateurs set themselves and it ends up limiting them. The thing I find quite at odds with this is that in their careers these amateurs do not have the same mental barriers and often come from very successful business backgrounds.

If we choose never to stretch ourselves, we never truly find out what we are capable of. Stretching yourself in your riding does not need to be extreme; it’s about little tiny baby steps into those feelings of discomfort.

The thing is if we can break free of this mental barrier that we impose on ourselves then it makes you more resilient, increases self-confidence and it’s a challenge. If your dream is moving up the levels eventing, then don’t restrict yourself into thinking you cannot do it. The right preparation, coaching and support team will help you make those baby steps so that you can push more and more into your stretch zone and look back and think that would have been my panic zone just a few weeks/months/years ago.

As a rider, I try and push myself all the time. I hit bumps along the way and the biggest enemy I fight on this journey is my own mind. But the sense of achievement is great when you move a horse up a level and it goes well. Same for when you are stepping into that void between your comfort zone and stretch zone and it goes well. Keep challenging yourself and don’t limit where you can end up.


‘If you remain in your comfort zone you will not go any further.’ Catherine Pulsifer

About the author


An amateur rider who produces all her own horses. I have competed at novice level and sadly never got further due to bad luck with horses but I am still ambitious to achieve a lot more. I have a riding qualification in UKCC2 and a diploma in NLP. Sports science and particularly the mental game fascinates me. For a day job I work for a large multinational brand.