Along for the ride: Tips for a successful event!

by Robyn Schiller

Robyn is the wife of horse (and people) trainer Warwick Schiller. She invites you to join her as she journeys through her life as trainer’s wife, mother, businesswoman and nationally competitive rider.

If you would have told me that Warwick & I would both mark our Personal Best scores in reining at the World Equestrian Games (WEG – the “biggest” show we’ve ever gone to), I would never believed it possible!  But we did and more!

I thought I would jot down the most significant things that WE DID AT THE GAMES, not leading up to the games because there was so much in the leadup (from the horse training to the mental preparation).  These things worked for us because we had done a lot of work prior to our arrival in Tryon.

Keep your expectations realistic! Our expectations were to do the best that we could with our horse on the day – truly!  We were showing horses that were kept at home, lived in a pasture together, weren’t clipped and we were showing against the best of the best.  We wanted to do well for the team, but never thought past that.  We figured we would show once – in the team event.  Neither of us thought we would do well enough to qualify for a second run, but we both did.  And after that run we were only ½ point and 1 point, respectively, off of making the individual finals – WAYYYYYY more than we could have dreamed! I think if we had gone in with the expectation to make the individual finals, things would not have gone as well.

We surrounded ourselves with awesome people.  Our dream team was assembled by a combination of us choosing some of the people around us, some of the people chose to come to the games and the remainder were teammates who had earned their place there.   I will mention the one that I got to choose, Jane Pike (Confident Rider).  You would be hard pressed to find a lovlier human being than Jane.  Add in the fact that she has some super mental/mindset skills to share and is also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, it was an easy choice to invite her along on this journey.  I actually popped the question to her last year while we were in New Zealand and I prefaced it with “If we are lucky enough to qualify for this amazing event…”  I couldn’t be happier with that decision and her acceptance to come.  I know she sacrificed a lot to be there with us and am so grateful for her presence before, during and after the WEG. Surrounding ourselves with people like Jane definitely boosted our game.

We adopted a no complaining/negativity rule complete with a “safeword” when we strayed.  The word doesn’t matter – and our chosen one was part of an inside joke (it was “water”). It was just a trigger to stop the path of our negative thinking.  In our group, if anyone strayed into negative territory, we just called out our safe word and it adjusted our thoughts.  Personally, there were a couple of times that I had to physically removed myself from negative conversations (when I was around other people, not our group).  You couldn’t get me out of there fast enough! I’m not saying that we were always 100% positive, that is unrealistic, however, I reckon we got into the 70-80% range.

Make sure you arrive at the event in the best physical and mental shape possible.   I’ve always done some sort of exercise but we started Crossfit about 6 weeks before we travelled to the games and it made me feel strong and good about myself (and a little sore!).  We also have been practicing Meditation for the last year or so through the help of Jane Pike who made us our own personalized audios.  We also practiced using Headspace and Muse.  Having a clear mind really helps reduce the anxiety and anticipation and gets you back into the moment. Both of us also went “on the wagon” for 3 months prior to the WEG.

Make sure your horse arrives at the event in the best physical and mental shape possible. I won’t share how much our vet/shoeing bills were, but we ensured we had given the horses the VERY best care and probably went a little overboard in the lead up.  They got shockwave, joint injections, Adequan, Legend, bodywork, the best shoeing around to match x-rays of their angles, etc.  We carefully monitored what work we did and when we did it.  Honestly, I didn’t stop my horse until the second day we were at the venue and I only stopped him about 3 times each day.  I think I only worked on the spin 3 of the 6 days we were there. I ensured that he was able to reset himself mentally if he got too “up”.  I did notice that after the first hard run, he changed from being a little forward but chilled to more anxious and less forward.  It was an interesting observation but obviously didn’t impact the semi-final performance!

Get enough sleep.  Luckily we did not have to, nor could we, ride during early AM or late PM hours.  The riding schedule was posted the day before so we were able to plan for bed times, etc.  It is unusual to not be tired at the horse shows and for someone who has a hard time napping, I needed to get my sleep during normal sleeping hours!

Eat as well as you can.  This was probably the biggest challenge.  We were in a catering situation that wasn’t real good until about 2 days before we competed.  I think the adrenaline from just being there helped and I never found myself being “Hangry”.  I did want a lot of veggies by the end of it though.

Listen to music that inspires you.  We had a 30-minute drive to and from the venue each day, so we filled the mornings with songs that we had chosen to inspire us.  My two songs were “Best Day of My Life” by the American Authors and one that I’ve been listening to before every horse show since I was 5 years old, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” by Willie Nelson.  Warwick’s choices were “Believer” by Imagine Dragons and “Legend” by The Score.

Make sure what you’ve left at home is in good hands.  Most people I know can’t just go away from home for weeks at a time with nothing to sustain at home.  For us, we still had 5 horses, 2 dogs, a cat and a flock of chickens to be loved while we were gone.  Luckily, we found Bekah Tate who not only took great care of everything and everyone at home, but we got frequent updates from her as well!

In the warmup: 

  • When I would think about what might go wrong, I stopped the thought and instead gave thanks and gratitude for what I’d already accomplished (just being there, being able to show, my horse was sound and happy and prepared are just a few of the things I thought about). This was upon Jane’s suggestion and it worked a treat!
  • I focused on my performance statement – reminders to Focus, Think Slow, Slow your hand down, SMILE!
  • On the gratitude type of vibe, I also kept repeating a couple things in my mind. I pretended that someone was interviewing me after and asking me how it went and my answers were:  We had the best run we’ve ever had and My horse was better than he’s ever been.
  • Employed 2 different breathing techniques that Jane showed us.

In the showpen:

  • Reminded myself of my performance statement (slow down).
  • Reminded myself to SMILE – I was showing at the frigging WEG!!!
  • Employed the breathing technique that didn’t require fingers on my nose.

While some of these things are specific to the actual showpen, I think you could use some of the advice for anything in life.  I’ve certainly used it in other areas, and knowing the combination made for such a successful event at the World Equestrian Games, I’ll be employing these tips on a regular basis!  I’ll also continue doing the other work on myself and my horses that are found in Warwick’s subscription library and on Confident Rider!

Thanks for reading.