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Thriving in the off-season 

  • Post category:Horse Channel
  • Reading time:6 mins read

To return stronger and better

Ryan Tehini

With the December holidays fast approaching, many riders will find themselves taking a break from competition (and possibly even training) for a longer period of time than they are used to. For many, this can cause anxiety due to feeling like you aren’t doing enough – particularly as riders are always busy and seldom experience a day off.

However, this off-time can be highly beneficial, not just as a result of the well-deserved break it allows for but also because it presents an opportunity to work on some of those skills that are perhaps neglected as a result of continuous training throughout the year. Riding is a multifaceted endeavour; it demands an immense amount from you – it is not just a physical undertaking. Training, however, tends to focus on very select aspects of the physical component of the ride, and the off-season provides a wonderful opportunity to work on the mental component in order to return a stronger, more well-rounded rider. This article aims to explore ways that riders can maximise their off-season to ensure that by the time they return to the arena, they see a marked improvement.

Reframe your mental picture of ‘training’ 

In order to have a successful off-season, it is imperative that you mentally distance yourself from the idea of training only being possible on your horse. It is this idea that often leads to the anxiety experienced when you are unable to train; your mind is craving the stimulation typically caused by training, but is not receiving it. It is therefore important to recognise that training can look very different depending on your needs or desired outcomes. Quite frankly, the off-season provides a remarkable opportunity to increase potential future performance and can be the foundation of personal growth within your sport.

A priority in the off-season is that you recognise the value of rest. Rest is a luxury that is often not afforded to riders in the throes of a season, and as such, it is vital to seize the opportunity when you get it – not just for your own sanity and well-being but to ensure that you are able to maximise improvements when you are back in the arena. In order to do this, you can consider rest in this period as a form of training. Remind yourself that through the season, you place an unfair demand on your body and mind, and to be able to do that again next season, you absolutely need to recuperate. This process takes time, but the absence of rest leads directly to burnout and injury, both of which are likely to put a halt to future seasons. As such, the first priority of your off-season should always be physical and mental rest.

Develop new skills

As a rider, your season training will always focus on specific aspects of your ride as you continue to hone your skills in this arena. While this is absolutely needed during the season, it can lead to some bias regarding your abilities, as it leaves little time for mental training or just generally picking up another hobby/skill.

While it may seem futile, adopting a new hobby or skill in the off-season provides the mental stimulation that your brain is craving while not compromising any of the rest you need. It provides an outlet to reduce the anxiety that you may be experiencing around not training while still ensuring that you experience the full benefits of the off-season. This does not need to be a physical activity to scratch the itch that you may be experiencing, but if you do elect to take up a new sport or use the time for strength training, be sure to afford yourself enough time to rest and recover.

Reflect and plan

In the haze of the season, one is seldom afforded the opportunity to genuinely reflect on past rides and plan for the upcoming ones. Set aside time to reflect on the lessons and challenges of the season, and take some time to pat yourself on the back for what you did right. This is more important than it sounds, as taking time to recognise the achievement of your goals has been shown to directly impact the likelihood of you achieving your next set of goals. It is not often realised how disheartening we can be for ourselves when we consistently jump from goal to goal without taking time to appreciate what we have achieved already and celebrate the wins.

Similarly, the off-season provides a chance to plan for the upcoming season, set the goals you would like to achieve and begin to decide on the steps needed to get to where you want to be. Planning allows you to be one step ahead of everyone else and ensures that you allow yourself enough time to achieve your goals as you have a clear vision from day one.

Sharpen your mental game

Mental training during the season can be rather difficult for several reasons. As such, the off-season provides a perfect platform to hone specific mental skills that can improve your ride and ensure that you return better than when you left.

These skills can vary, depending on precisely what it is that you need. However, I would recommend trying a few of the techniques that I have discussed in past HQ articles, including mindfulness and visualisation; the correct application of these techniques has proven incredibly beneficial in improving my athletes’ performance, regardless of the sport. These kinds of skills can truly take your ride to the next level, which is why I would recommend that you also make active attempts to read and learn during this time. Delve into the world of mental toughness, or nutrition, or focus – you never know which component is going to unlock that new level of performance. If you prefer a more direct and faster approach, the off-season is a great time to hire different professionals, as it is likely that the only one you are consulting in the on-season is your coach.

Take Home Message

The off-season provides a rich landscape that can be used to better your riding performance in the next season. To make the most of it, it is important to reframe what you consider to be ‘training’ in your mind, take the time to develop new skills that can improve your ride, use the time to sharpen your mental game, and most importantly – take the time to rest!