The Breeder’s Cup was held last week and it caused me to reflect on some of my experiences counseling jockeys and others who compete in sports which involve horses. Over the years, I have counseled a number of jockeys, cowboys and equestrian riders. Some of these people compete at a very high level.
Because I am an animal lover and someone who is curious about the relationships between animals and people, these patients and these sports have been quite fascinating for me. Jockeys are extraordinary athletes. They are strong, courageous and very skilled. The successful ones are paid well, like other athletes. They work very hard and they put in very long days. Many of them work twelve hours a day, six or seven days a week. These remarkable athletes present an interesting set of psychological, emotional and interpersonal issues when they have called me for counseling.
The issues that they have raised in their conversations with me.
Making the weight can be a source of significant stress. Some of the jockeys resort to vomiting to control their body weight. This bulimic like behavior can cause physical as well as psychological stress.
Interpersonal conflicts with other riders, owners and trainers can be quite stressful for some jockeys.
Losing confidence after a fall or an accident or an injury can shake a rider’s belief in himself.
These kinds of stressors can severely impact a jockey’s confidence and it can make it harder for them to get into the zone when they are aboard a horse.
Most jockeys will also tell you that there is a special relationship and a distinct way that they and the horse communicate with one another. If the jockey is tense, unfocused and loaded with self-doubt, the horse will feel it. This self-doubt will be communicated through the hands of the rider to the horse. This is a dynamic relationship, so the rider will impact the horse and a then uneasy horse will impact the rider. This is not a good situation for someone who earns his or her living by communicating effectively with horses.
I believe that many jockeys probably face the kinds of issues I have outlined above. Counseling can help professional riders to manage these kinds of concerns. As I do with other athletes, I help the jockeys to change behaviors and attitudes in a manner which will allow them and their horses to perform to their fullest potential. The right kind of coaching and mental toughness training can help jockeys to manage stress more effectively and perform better on the track.
By: Jay Granat