Daniel Neilson

Daniel Neilson

The Junior European Championships show jumping champion say "I've realised that things can always get better if you just take it one step at a time".

Raise Your Game: How did you first get involved in show jumping?

Daniel Neilsen: I first got involved when my mum got me a little Shetland pony. It went from there to a bigger pony. I soon realised that I was only really interested in jumping things on the horse. My dad was always heavily into sport - all sports involving a ball. He played football to a semi-professional standard.

RYG: Were you good at any other sports?

DN: I was quite lucky in that I seemed to pick up sports really fast. I played tennis to quite a good level. I played table tennis. I played football to a county level. I did high jump for the county and I boxed at county level. If I set my mind to a sport and enjoyed it, I was away.

RYG: Did you learn any skills from those sports that have helped you in show jumping?

DN: Boxing was a great benefit to me. You have to spend a lot of time training and concentrating on your diet and the things you eat. Everything I learnt from boxing, other than actually getting in the ring to fight, set me up for taking part in other sports.

Boxing gives you a lot of discipline. It makes you a much more rounded sportsman. When I went into show jumping the things I had learnt from boxing made a big difference. Even things like making sure I drink water at a certain time before competing - all the little details, made a massive difference to my performance on the horse.

Profile

Name:
Daniel Neilsen

Born:
1 March 1990

From:
Cleveland

Sport:
Show jumping

Achievements:

  • Team bronze - Youth Olympics, Australia (2009)
  • Team gold - Junior European Championships, Czech Republic (2008)
  • Individual silver - Junior European Championships, France (2007)
  • Team bronze - Junior European Championships, France (2007)
  • Individual gold - Junior European Championships, Switzerland (2006)
  • Team gold - Junior European Championships, Switzerland (2006)

RYG: What skills do you need to be a good show jumper?

DN: You need a lot of patience because you're dealing with animals. You can be the best rider in the world, but you can't always go in the ring and win because you are dealing with animals and they have a mind of their own. If they don't want to do what you ask them to, then they don't do it. You also need a lot of dedication. It's a full-time sport. You need to be with the animals all the time to try and make a bond and a connection with them.

RYG: Is it important to deal with your nerves before you compete so that you don't transmit them to the horse?

DN: People often say that a horse can feel what you're feeling through the reins. Nerves have a big effect. I'm lucky that I'm quite relaxed. One of my best features as a sportsman is how relaxed and calm I am. I don't tend to get nervous about competing.

On team events I'm usually the last to go because the guys feel that I can hold my nerve best under pressure. If you're nervous, the horses tend to worry a little bit. You can see it in their eyes some times. It can definitely affect your performance.

RYG: What techniques do you use to stay relaxed?

DN: I used to use music before I boxed and that still works for me with show jumping. Half an hour before a fight I used to have my ear phones in and I'd listen to music. I enjoyed getting myself in the zone. I also made sure I stopped thinking and worrying about things until the fight had finished. Music helps me to zone in on what I need to do and to concentrate on the job in hand.

RYG: What motivates you to be the best that you can be?

DN: I love the sport that I do because I love the animals. I get pleasure in raising a young horse and seeing him go further and doing all the things that I hoped he would when he was younger.

I get a big adrenaline rush from competition. You're competing for big prizes against some of the best competitors in the world. That's what keeps me coming back to the sport.

RYG: How important is goal setting if you want to be successful?

DN: It's important, but as you're dealing with animals you can get too carried away with goals that you set. At the start of the year I always like to set a few goals with specific horses, as to what level I'd like to see them jumping at the end of the year.

Horse of the Year is quite a big show and it's always nice to qualify for that. At the start of the year I say to myself 'Right, one of my main goals for this year is to try and qualify for that show.' Being 19 the U21 European Championships are a big thing for me as well.

RYG: What are your ambitions for 2012?

DN: 2012 is the big goal. I've been recognised in my sport as a potential 2012 athlete. I've also been followed by the BBC as a potential 2012 athlete for show jumping. A lot of things can change. It can be quite a frustrating sport in the sense that you can be perfectly prepared, but then, come the time to perform, you might not have the horse under you to be able to compete.

RYG: What have been the highlights of your sporting career so far?

DN: When I was 16 I won individual goals and team goals at the Junior European Championships. That was a massive achievement and a great memory for me. The following year I got individual silver at the U18's in Europe. To go from competing on ponies at U16 level to working with horses at U18 level was a really big thing for me.

I played football for the fun of it. To be able to play at a county level was a big thing for me. One of my best memories is scoring a penalty in a cup final we had, which added to the win. That was a big deal, even though it was on a smaller scale to what I'm doing now with the horses.

Boxing has always lived with me. I still train a little bit even though I don't fight any more. I go to the gym regularly and go for runs and things. It all works towards helping me stay fit and strong for what I'm doing now.

RYG: Like all sportsmen you must have had some disappointments along the way - how do you move on from those?

DN: Between the ages of 17 and 18 I went through a phase of putting a lot of pressure on myself. When things went wrong I took it really hard. So much so that I thought that I wouldn't be able to come back from some of the disappointments I'd had. I'm 19 now and still quite young in the sport, but I've realised that things can always get better if you just take it one step at a time.

RYG: What advice would you give to young people looking to get involved in show jumping?

DN: I'm not from a wealthy family. I was unknown when I started. My mum and dad put a lot of time and effort into what we were doing. I owe a lot to them. If you're talented at a sport you shouldn't give it up. You should keep going. If you're motivated and dedicated, and you have things in mind that you want to achieve then you will achieve them.


If you've got the right mental skills you can apply them to any challenge that you meet.

Dave Collins

Former UK Athletics performance director

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