On the night of December 5, 2020, Sebastian Petroll saw 18 months’ worth of work with 3-year-old mare Dunit The Walla Way, owned by Ellen Lloyd Cummins, come to fruition. The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Professional and his gritty mare won the NRHA Futurity Level 3 and Level 2 open titles and pocketed nearly $60,000 for their efforts.
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Looking back on that night, Petroll said four key factors played a role in his pathway to success and steadied his mental game. Read on, and decide how you can apply his advice to sharpen your mental edge as you work toward your riding goals.
Mindset Key #1: Set a Big Goal, But Be Adaptable
It all begins with putting yourself out there and mapping your path. Whether it’s a major win like Petroll’s or going on your first camping trip with your horse, the first steps are setting your intention and determining how to get there. More often than not, you might have to change your goal or the way you had planned to get there.
“Horses can change, new opportunities may come along or go away; being adaptable helps you refocus and stay nimble,” the trainer advised. Make plans, but be ready to adjust.
Mindset Key #2: Embrace Mistakes
“It’s human nature to want everything to go well,” Petroll sympathized. “But that’s not how you or your horses get better.”
While you prepare your horse at home, welcome his weaknesses instead of avoiding them.
“Your horse tells you where your problem areas are every single ride,” Petroll said. “Dig deep when they present themselves. Examine them from all angles at home so you can solve them—or know how to handle them—if they present in the arena at a show or out riding with friends.”
For example, instead of avoiding that your horse doesn’t stand tied at the trailer at a trail head, work on it at home so you’re confident he can handle the situation—or you can get him into a better headspace to manage it—when you’re away from home. Or if your reiner tends to lean in a rundown, embrace the chance to address it at home instead of pretending it’ll all be OK at the show—because it likely won’t.
“I try not to shy away from problems,” Petroll continued. “When it comes to the wire, those are the things that will fall apart. Bring them out more and fix them or find a way to address them. Embracing these opportunities builds your confidence, as well as your horse’s.”
Mindset Key #3: Be Decisive
The last year has brought a lot of uncertainty in our lives, but in times like these, it’s even more important to make definite decisions.
“The weeks leading up to the NRHA Futurity were a rollercoaster ride that was rather stressful,” Petroll shared. “The pressure and expectation are high every year going to NRHA’s biggest event, but not knowing if the event was going to be canceled at the last minute wasn’t easy to deal with.
“Once we got there I decided to prep and show as if everything was ‘normal,’ he continued.
That decision paid off for Petroll.
“We have to make dozens of decisions every day when we work with our horses,” he said. “We ask ourselves what we need more or less of, if our horses are trying or understanding. To accomplish your goals, you must confidently make decisions and not second-guess yourself all the time. Most times it’s better to correct a wrong decision than never making one.”
Mindset Key #4: An Attitude of Gratitude
After a major win or achieving a longstanding goal, a younger or less experienced rider might be eager to move right into the next show season or tackle the next goal. A more seasoned horseman chooses a different path.
“We set all these deadlines for ourselves, but through my years of training horses, I now try to think about it and enjoy it more,” Petroll said. “I try to let moments really sink in and not take anything for granted. I still watch video clips from those runs at the 2020 NRHA Futurity—I slow down and actually enjoy what happened, what my horse and I accomplished.”
Petroll asserts that this mindset allows him to reflect on his efforts without letting a major achievement go to his head or change his thinking.
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“With more experience comes the realization that big achievements don’t come along every day,” he said. “You’ll have hard times when the wins or big milestones won’t keep coming. Having gratitude when they do helps build your confidence. When you say to yourself, ‘I just did really good!’ and enjoy that moment, you can look back on it during hard times when things seem like they’re falling apart and know that you can put them back together.”
Sebastian Petroll, a lifelong horseman, grew up in Germany where he earned a business degree before moving to the U.S. to train reining horses. He and his wife, Melanie, also a professional trainer, and their children call Whitesboro, Texas, home. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” Petroll said. “It’s easy for me to develop an individual concept for each horse and rider.” Learn more about their program at petrollreining.com.