Book Reviews

Ride BIG: A Review

Ride BIG, by John Haime, Trafalgar Square, 2021

Reviewer: Nikki Goldup

I was asked to review this book at a time when I had a breakthrough with how I approached training and competing my two horses. It was quite a revelation for me – at last I could ride dressage tests and be ‘in the zone’. Not have a strop getting ready, enjoy my horses and really appreciate every moment of owning them… and all this at a time when the world seemed to be falling apart with Covid stress and anxiety. What struck me though is I didn’t really know how I had managed to get to this state of ‘confidence’ and what worried me was sustaining it. 

When I was given the opportunity to review this new book I immediately jumped at the chance. Maybe the author, John Haime, could explain what ‘magic’ I’d created and give me deeper insight into how I could continue this winning formula and how to swerve those self-doubtful ‘when are the wheels gonna fall off’ moments.

What is ‘Ride BIG’ all about? 

Firstly, I enjoyed the way that ‘Ride BIG’ is written. Its structure and the way in which the content is broken down into digestible chunks is perfect for busy people. Think of it as a book where you can read a chapter a night. Mull it over and put some of John’s thoughts into practice the next day. There are simple yes / no answer quizzes along the way to help you start thinking about your behaviours, emotions and responses. These are all backed up with clear diagrams that summarise the key concepts. From a practical perspective the book is one neat package, not verbosely detailed in terms of sports psychology, performance and neuroscience to make it heavy going. There’s enough information to make you start to think holistically about how you operate a as horse owner, in training, at the stables and in competition. John backs up his ‘Ride BIG’ process with examples based on well known rider’s experiences, and as well all know it’s not just us mere mortals that get dragged down by self-doubt and anxiety. 

How does it ‘work’?

What this book enables you to do is to unpick how you train, prepare and think about your riding, right from the day-to-day stuff to the moment you enter the ring. I appreciated the way John describes and breaks down some very common feelings and emotions and allows the reader to reflect upon these through their own lens. It’s this thinking, acknowledgement, questioning and moving forwards that leads to long term growth and a positive journey. In chapters such as ‘Pressure Builds Strength’ John acknowledges the fact that pressure can be embraced by some or be fearful to others. He looks at what pressure is, where it comes from and how the very top riders handle their pressure, using quotes from Beezie Madden, Michael Jung and others as examples of pressure in practice. He then breaks down the kinds of questions you might ask yourself to begin to create a feeling of ‘good pressure’ where you ride ‘Inside to Out’, not ‘Outside to In’, where you are controlling the moment, not the moment controlling you. 

This is a very brief synopsis of an important chapter, and the book is full of them. I’ve read many books on rider confidence, sports psychology and managing your mind but found the practical application of what they described tricky. By this I mean we all need simple, go-to exercises or aide memoirs when those seeds of self-doubt hit, or we get that pang of ‘not good enough’ before a jump off. If these ‘go-to’ exercises aren’t that easy to re-call and commit to then it’s hard to make tracks and deal with those feelings practically. When reading ‘Ride BIG’ I had more than my fair share of ‘light bulb moments’. John’s style of writing is very calm and straightforward, so you are left with a sense of, ‘ahhh yes that makes sense, yes, I do that, and I have never thought why… but I now I know I can try this to improve things’

The interesting thing is the author, John Haime, hails from a professional golfing background, moving onto corporate training but also supporting performers, business people, and athletes to build their mental and emotional muscle. Along the way, he has supported many equestrians and it goes without saying that he has a very deep understanding of how we tick. This broad background I think is what makes this book so special. I can see what I learnt I can apply to all areas of my life, including work and home. In this sense the learning you can gain is invaluable and I think those who coach would also find the content useful for their riders. In sum, ‘Ride BIG’ was a fantastic read, and I would recommend it to riders wanting to ‘up their game’ and make sure they tick all the boxes when training and competing their horses. 

Back to my introduction… I was on a winning streak, no nerves at major championships and regionals, training was going so well, I had serious focus and was cool as a cucumber… Until a few weeks ago, a 3-day international. The first two days, bossing it… then the third day… it was hot, the warmup felt cramped, I was trying too hard to please an unfamiliar team coach. I let the ‘Outside’ effect my ‘Inside’ and I got stressed and angry, rode an average test (I rode Small and fidgety) and lost out on a top 5 placing. So, I came home and read some more chapters of ‘Ride BIG’, reflected on things, realised what I could have done to bring myself back to that ‘Inside to Outside’ state. It would be easy to kick myself and get stressed, but I won’t, we’ve got a national champs coming up and I have time to address things and get them right. That’s the beauty of this book, it’s one to keep dipping into, to digest and reflect upon, to share and use when you can’t work out what’s going on. A sense of calm and perspective when you need it and a practical word in your ear when its required. Essential reading and one to put on the wish list!