Lorna Cameron achieved one of the first degrees in Equine Studies in the UK, has an MSc in Equine Science and is currently completing a PhD at Portsmouth University. She is passionate about encouraging the equine industry to embrace current scientific research.
As part of my current PhD study, I was recently allowed the opportunity to present some of my initial results at the British Association of Sports and Exercise Science Conference 2014 held on 25th and 26th of November at the very impressive St. George’s Park, training venue of the English Football Association. It was very exciting to be able to present equestrian research at this prestigious conference to the great and good of the sports science world.

My PhD study titled “Investigating stress and coping in the female dressage rider” has been conducted over the past 18 months and has involved semi-structured interviews with a wide range of female dressage riders recruited via advertising at British Dressage competitions. These riders were grouped by an independent expert into three groups based on their competitive experience: Developing (n = 4), Performance (n = 4), Elite (n = 6).

Following content analysis 25 lower-order themes were generalised into nine higher-order themes: preparation, time management, performance, horse reaction, training, status, environment, physical threat and organisation. Some differences were apparent in the groups of rider skill level with organisational stressors identified in the elite group only. All levels reported using problem focussed, emotion focussed and avoidance coping strategies. The most commonly identified was a mixture of avoidance coping strategies, identified as complete concentration on the horse and its “way of going”. The individual influencing the riders’ ability to cope with stressors involved in competitive experiences was their coach.

Several stressors were common with non-equestrian sports, although “horse reaction” is a novel theme, a prominent stressor at all levels of rider. Organisational stressors were reported by riders at elite level where team selection becomes an expectation rather than an achievement. The most identified coping strategy, avoidance coping, was common to all levels; however, an increase in effectiveness at performance and elite level was apparent, suggesting a change in the effectiveness of coping strategies as rider skill increases. At this stage the relationship between rider skill and coping effectiveness is not clear and forms a basis for further study, as does the input of the coach identified by all as the individual responsible for improvement in their coping abilities in the competitive environment.

The next steps in the PhD project are to investigate the experience of equestrian coaches and to analyse how they view their input into the rider’s efficacy in utilising coping strategies in competitive dressage. To find out more about this and other ongoing equestrian research at Sparsholt College follow @ljcequine on Twitter.