talking mindset with charlotte dujardin cbe

Charlotte Dujardin CBE is a elite British dressage rider, triple Olympic Gold Medalist at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics Games, European Champion, World Champion and holds all three World Records in the sport of Dressage. In her recent autobiography, The Girl on The Dancing Horse, she talks candidly about the up and downs of her extraordinary journey, including her challenges with retaining a strong mindset and how she has overcome periods where she lacked in confidence. We are humbled that she has sat down to discuss this part of her journey with us..

 
 Image Rose Lewis of Daydream Equine Art

Image Rose Lewis of Daydream Equine Art

THE INTERVIEW

As a rider, when did you start to become aware of the importance of mindset?

I think when I was young, the importance of mindset and controlling nerves came to me when I was a show pony rider, although I probably didn't know the importance of working on yourself internally at that point, being so young. 

Do you believe your mind plays a role in athletic success?

Of course. The phrase 'mind over matter' is really apparent when you are an athlete and it is so important to invest the time in yourself and how to free your mind of worries or negativity so you can perform at your best in the arena.

Have you had moments in your career where your nerves have taken over your performance?

Yes, just before I was about to enter the arena at the Rio Olympics; nerves overcame me like never before. I panicked a little and said to Carl 'I can't ride' It was a fear I hadn't experienced up until that point.

If so, how did you manage that?

I know this may sound crazy, but Blueberry just lifted himself as we went around the outside of the arena and took me forwards. It was a feeling like he was saying 'Come on mum, we can do this' It was like he took hold of my hand and reminded me of my motto, that it's just another arena. I'll never forget that feeling.

You hold every world record in the sport and are one of the most famous riders in the world; how much of your success to you attribute to skill and how much to mindset?

I think working with qualified practitioners who specialise in this space is really important as an aspiring or professional athlete. As a rider, we always face challenges with ourselves and with our horses and equestrian sport really do give us ups and downs, so it's important to be mentally prepared for them and have the tools to be able to deal with them. 

How do you set goals for yourself and manage those goals?

I set goals both with the training of the horses and with myself personally. I make sure I eat well and have a committed fitness programme consisting of the gym and yoga. I think I manage my goals by making sure I have a routine and that I also allow some time for myself so everything balances out. This keeps me enjoying what I do.

You spoke candidly recently to a tabloid paper about your journey with mindset and mental health; how challenging was it to open up on this to your fans?

I know that being in the spotlight somewhat means that I have a responsibility to those who support me, especially the younger and up and coming generation. It was important for me to be honest as I was in my book. Most of all, I want the honesty to inspire people, so that they know that so much comes before the podiums and every journey has its up and downs. It's important that the conversation is open about what we go through and those around riders listen, so that people feel they can talk about their challenges and are supported.

When did you engage a sports psychologist?

Quite early on in my adult career. It's not only fascinating from an education perspective but the techniques that you learn from those qualified in this space, really do help with your mindset and how you approach training and competing. It's so so valuable, for me personally. 

How important do you feel it is, to be open minded when it comes to your training day to day.

As a rider, you always have to open yourself to learning and know that the learning never stops. There are so many aspects of horse management and training and so many incredible people to learn from, that its important to immerse yourself in as much as you can.

What techniques do you employ when facing performance feedback positive and negative? 

I'm very honest with myself. The minute I make mistakes, I acknowledge them straight away. The training of horses is a permanent journey, so mistakes are just a part of the process and actually help you to progress. There have been many moments in my tests of 'pat the horse and slap the rider' but I try and not be too hard on myself. If I am, then I would stop enjoying the sport and it's really important that I enjoy what I do otherwise I wouldn't do it.

What is your daily routine?

It can vary if it's a show day or we are abroad, but generally I wake up fairly early and am the yard for 7.30am / 8.00am to begin riding. There are a lot of horses to ride at the moment so riding doesn't stop until about 12.30am. It can then be media interviews or sponsor shoots, before I head off to teach my clients for the afternoon. I then tend to head to the gym about 5.30pm and return home to have dinner with Dean. I go to bed fairly early, about 9.30 / 10.00pm before it all starts again the next day. On some Sundays, I'll catch up with friends or take the dogs for long country walks which I love.

Some argue that those who wish to change their mindset should consume only positive media; how do you feel social media has changed the mindset and performance of athletes?

I think social media has its positives and its negatives. There have been amazing examples of when the equestrian community has come together on social media such as when fundraising, and to congratulate fellow riders when they have good results. As with all public forums though, there is also a lot of negativity which is often more of a reflection on those being negative then the individual they are being negative about. I tend to not read the negative stuff and then it doesn't control me or take over my thinking.  

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Who are your role models?

A lot of people have inspired me throughout my career but naturally I have to say Carl (Hester) as he has given me so much and inspires me everyday. 

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What vital lessons have you learned from them?

Carl has taught me so much about my riding and training horses. I think the greatest thing I have learned from him is that there is never a quick fix with horses; you have to do things correctly and at the correct pace. The horses wellbeing and building the right partnership is more important than rushing to be on the podiums.