Mood and Psychological Skills of Elite and Sub-Elite Equestrian Athletes

Article excerpt

It is generally accepted that a competitive mindset is advantageous to successfully compete in sports (Gould & Udry, 1994; Morgan, 1984; Orlick & Partington, 1988). Particular areas of investigation have ranged from extensive work in mood states (Morgan, 1980, 1984; Morgan, O'Connor, Ellickson & Bradley, 1988; Morgan & Pollock, 1977) to more recent attention toward psychological skills relevant to competition (Mahoney, 1989; Meyers, Sterling, Bourgeois, Treadwell & LeUnes, 1994; Pursley, Arredondo, Barzdukas & Troup, 1990). While a review of these findings are beyond the scope of this paper, most of these studies have incorporated various psychometric inventories in an attempt to differentiate between successful and unsuccessful competitors, to distinguish between skill position, event, or gender, to ascertain the effects of training, or to develop a model of the psychological profile deemed necessary for optimal performance. The majority of work, however, has focused on traditional sports.

Unlike most traditional sports, where both mental and physical abilities are dependent solely upon human decision and response, equestrian sports are dependent to a large degree on human:equine interaction and mutual collaboration to successfully complete a sport task. At the elite level, dressage, show jumping, and three-day eventing comprise the Olympic events, originally adopted from the rigorous demands of military cavalry training. Precision, stamina, versatility, and obedience were required to overcome often insurmountable odds in battle. Equestrian sports were initiated in Stockholm in 1912, with the present competitive format established at the Paris Olympics in 1924 (Littauer, 1962). Competition was limited, however, to commissioned officers up until 1956, with females allowed to compete in 1964. Interestingly, over 80% of equestrian competitors today are female, with a substantial number competing into advanced age (Bixby-Hammett, 1987; Meyers, Ward & Skelly, 1997b); Nelson, Rivara, Condie & Smith, 1994).

Limited research efforts on equestrian sports have primarily concentrated on program interventions (Neumann, Gordon & Gorely, 1995). No published research has been directed toward defining the competitive mindset of the equestrian at any level of competition. Exploring the unique nature of equestrian sports may elicit a distinct mood state response, or reveal a level of psychological skills not reported in traditional athletics. Efforts would also add to the limited body of knowledge presently available on both elite and female sports. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to quantify mood and psychological skills of elite and sub-elite equestrian athletes.


Subjects and Procedures

Following written informed consent and clearance from the university human subjects committee, 54 equestrian men and women (mean age 33.6 [+ or -] 11.9 yrs; age range 15-64 yrs) were randomly contacted in person and agreed to participate in this study. Elite athletes were considered United States Equestrian Team (USET) members that had officially qualified to compete at the Olympic Trials. Sub-elite status was given to equestrians that competed but did not qualify for postseason selection in their respective event.

A battery of psychometric inventories were subsequently administered to each subject during the Olympic Trials in Gladstone, NJ, or during various equestrian competitions throughout the country. Each battery consisted of the Profile of Mood States (POMS; McNair, Lorr & Droppleman, 1971), and the Psychological Skills Inventory for Sport (PSIS; Mahoney, Gabriel & Perkins, 1987).


Profile of Mood States. The POMS is a 65-item inventory which assesses six dimensions of mood state: tension-anxiety (TEN), depression-dejection (DEP), anger-hostility (ANG), vigor-activity (VIG), fatigue-inertia (FAT), confusion-bewilderment (CON), and a composite score, i. …