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How Winners Push Themselves Beyond Their Comfort Zone – with Ryan Cottingim & Lauren Crivelli

Ryan Cottingim and Lauren Crivelli offer tips on how winners get out of their comfort zone and push themselves to the head of the class.

Are you struggling to reach the next level or stuck in a rut? Competitors often struggle to push themselves and might be content just staying in their comfort zone.

Taking the steps to attend a bigger show, try out a new class, or earn that +3 in the arena can be scary, but incredibly rewarding.

We talked to leading professional trainer Ryan Cottingim and non-pro exhibitor Lauren Crivelli, who shared pointers to help you push yourself to new levels.


Back to the Basics
Before being able to push hard in the pen, one must master the basics. Cottingim explained that perfecting the fundamentals is a huge component of his training program for himself and his clients. If one wants to perform in the arena, they need to be so confident in the basics that it comes easily to them.

Cottingim emphasized how he wants to be “so fundamentally sound” that when he gets in the show pen, it’s muscle memory. Take Trail, for example; he “sets up individual pieces and individual pole work” and masters those maneuvers. This increases confidence, so when he or his clients step foot in the show pen, this fundamental base carries through. Acquiring the basics is necessary before you can push yourself to the next level.

Adjust to Your Horse’s Mindset
Understanding how your horse works is essential to performing at the highest level. Pushing the envelope is difficult if you are not mentally connected to your horse. Crivelli explained, “The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome with all my horses is meeting them where they are mentally.”

Understanding how their brains work allows you to know when it’s time to push beyond your personal and horse limits. She continued that some horses are “lazy, some are hot, and it’s being able to adjust my mindset to theirs that ultimately determines whether we will succeed together.”


Cottingim reflected on a horse from the beginning of his career who “was a bit of a challenge” but put him on the map. He explained that MWS Sevens Are Hot, owned by the Maggert family, was a talented horse who taught him many life lessons. The mare wasn’t a particularly difficult horse, but it taught Cottingim what it takes to help a horse excel at the highest level.

When to “Go for It”
Once you master the basics and understand where your horse is, it’s time to push the threshold. Actually, taking that next step might be the hardest part of the process because it is nerve-wracking and requires trust.

Cottingim explained that he sometimes has difficulties pushing it in the show pen because he is so focused on the basics. But, at the end of the day, he understands that “there needs to be theatrics, there needs to be a presentation, there needs to be an eye appeal” to win at the top level. He can let go of those worries about the fundamentals because he practices them so much at home and has confidence in himself and his horse.

Practicing how hard you can push yourself at home is another way to excel in the show pen.


Crivelli explained that she increases speed and assertiveness in practice “because it allows her to call on it in the show pen.” Her reactions are subconscious when she shows, which is huge because “in the show pen, things are happening so quickly.” Having the confidence to know you can push is a huge asset while competing.

Setting New Goals – Staying at the Top
Once you reach a big goal, it’s easy to get comfortable. Finding new ways to continue to challenge yourself is vital to improving. Crivelli explained that after a big win, she sets new goals for herself that are different from the wins she just accomplished. She added, “With horses, there is hardly a perfect run, so pick something that can be improved upon…and set your sights on that new journey.”

Staying at the top once you reach your goals is even harder than the climb to get there. Cottingim’s perspective on this is “that is ultimately the toughest piece – the retention of remaining at the highest level.” Studying professional athletes and businessmen has shown him that the fight to stay at the top is the most difficult and important once you reach the upper end.

Thinking Outside the Box
Reaching that new level might require some creative thinking. Crivelli explained that for her, this means finding ways to pump herself up before she shows. She listens to music that helps her feel assertive, improving her riding performance.

Cottingim told a story about a youth client he had who struggled to perform at bigger shows. He took her to Congress and knew he had to find a way to help her feel confident. The girl’s horse’s mane was sticking straight in the air, so he cut it into spikes, similar to the look of a dinosaur.

When the girl arrived at the Congress, she was shocked to see her horse’s mane. Cottingim told her he loved the haircut, which was super cool, so she would feel confident when she rode around at the show. As she warmed up, many trainers and other youth riders told her how awesome her horse’s haircut was. Even though they roached the mane before she competed, this boosted her confidence, and she won the 13 & Under Trail that year.

Stepping outside your comfort zone can be daunting, but keeping your goals in sight and focusing on the steps needed to achieve them will make the journey rewarding.

About the Author: Kendall Lance is a third year at the University of California, Davis, studying Communications and Professional Writing. Along with her studies, she serves as the Horsemanship captain of UC Davis’ Division One Equestrian team and Communications Director of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Before entering college, she showed the all-around at AQHA and APHA competitions.
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