You’re about to enter the ring and you feel like a bowl of jelly on a roller coaster. Shaking and tense your stiff position and tight hands and thighs make your horse tense and unfocused. Next thing you know, you’re picking up a canter when you’re supposed to be saluting the judge.
Almost all athletes are affected by some sort of pre-competition anxiety. It is an uphill battle to try and control those when you are specifically going in the ring to get judged.
With a few tips and tricks, finding your cool again will become a little bit easier.
Afterall, the jitters and stress can cause your body to become stiff and tight, which is detrimental to your riding. Ugh! A never-ending cycle!
First, determining the reason why and when your nerves are hitting you is an important step to overcoming them. Some people get nervous from the judges’ (or others’) harsh opinions about their riding. Other issues can be being nervous about bringing a green horse to a new, loud environment or fear of an accident happening.
Showing is still riding, just all dazzled up, so keep in mind that it is still supposed to be fun!
Here are a few points to remember and practice before heading into the ring:
Tip 1 - Focus only on yourself. Now, this is a little easier said than done, especially when you’re in the treacherous warm-up ring (navigating the warm-up ring should be a sport all on its own). Narrowing your focus solely to yourself and your horse simplifies all of the things rushing around in your brain. Forget that you didn’t bring an extra pair of riding gloves and spurs and stop thinking about what your trainer will say when you are late tacking up for your next class, and stop fidgeting with your hair net, it looks fine!
None of that matters when you are on your horse.
Tip 2 - If your nerves are coming from performing under pressure, try practicing as closely as possible to how it will be at the show. Don’t like crowds? Invite some family and/or friends over to watch your pre-show lesson. If it helps, school in your show coat, spit-shine those tall boots and throw a few braids in your horse’s mane just to make your vision closer to that of show day. Besides, you’ll look fab!
Make your lesson as close to a show quality round as possible. Getting “the shakes” before a class can sometimes be related to not being exposed to high-pressure instances, so try to do it more often and you’ll be more comfortable eventually.
Tip 3 - Visualization. Visualization. Visualization. This is perhaps one of the most commonly used methods for sports psychologists to get athletes mentally equipped for success. Picture yourself actually in the saddle, not watching from the ground, nailing your dressage test or riding a clean hunter course. Imagine the feeling you’d get after having a successful round.
Visualization is one of the best methods to adopt when approaching a competition and getting over personal mental obstacles. Picture yourself actually doing exactly what you train so hard to achieve!
Tip 4 -Timely organization can help with decreasing stress levels on show day as well. And we don’t mean organizing everything the night before the show. Take your time a week in advance to make an easy checklist to go through when assembling your trunk and trailer. This narrows your chances of forgetting anything and adding unnecessary stress to show day. Help yourself by doing things in advance, so no unnecessary rushing around is needed.
Remember to have fun and breathe! It will all be ok at the end of the day; shows are always a learning experience. This includes learning about yourself and overcoming mental obstacles! Enjoy this time with your horse.
A few links for more de-stressing ideas:
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