In every sport especially in front of an audience, requires a cool head and calm exterior to perform at your best in order to try and secure your winning rosette. With equestrian sport, factor in a horse in this equation and not only do you have your own nerves to deal with, many have to contain their horse’s excitable behaviour as they enter the show ring. Dealing with nerves can be every rider’s worry and this can be from anything in dealing with a youngster at its first show, being part of a team and the pressure to do well or simply getting around the arena in one piece without incident! Many top professional riders have problems with nerves, especially competing at international level. There are also riders that decide not to compete purely down to the anxiety of entering the show ring can bring.
Here we give you our top tips in dealing with these nerves and how to make competing an exciting and enjoyable experience for you and your horse:
Be Prepared Whether you have decided to do your first dressage class, clear round show jumping or delving into the world of showing, do your homework and be prepared. Spook training with your horse is invaluable. At home do some training with your horse to prepare him for sudden noises, show him colourful banners and work him in busy surroundings with cars or trailers moving around. If possible bring some friends along to shake bags, play music, open umbrellas while you practice your routine with your horse in a safe environment. Ask your friends to call out the dressage test or pretend to be the judge in the showing ring. The more preparation you can do in this way before any show is vital for being successful in the competition arena. Your horse will also learn to trust you and realise that it’s not all scary and can then deal with what is being asked of them. When leaving for the show, make sure everything you need is packed in advance and get your horse ready the night before. Stressing over a lost pair of boots or entry forms only adds to the nerves. Leave in plenty of time but not too early so you have hours to let any anxieties get the better of you. However, leaving late is always stressful too!
Start Small When competing in all sports particularly in equestrian, start in the novice classes and work your way up. There are many events designed for beginners that are very relaxed and informal which give you and your horse the confidence to progress. Even if you are jumping metre high fences at home, drop down to a smaller class just to give you the comfort knowing that you and your horse are more than able to cope with the fences. A growing trend in the last few years is video online competitions where you can film your dressage test, or showing class at home and send these to qualified judges for them to give you constructive advice. This is a great way to learn from competing online which can give you the tools to improve and be confident to enter the show ring for real with your horse.
Think Positive As they say, there is no such word as “can’t” and positive mental attitude is vital in performing in the arena. Focus on the moment and keep your concentration on just what is ahead of you. Stop thinking about the “what if’s” which creates over thinking and the feeling of impending doom as you enter the show ring. If you feel your thoughts are drifting negatively about the competition, sit calmly and visual yourself with your horse enjoying the class and taking positive and correct steps through what is being asked of you both. Positive thinking that you will enjoy competing with your horse will help ease any nerves you feel. Sometimes it is best to keep your goals at home as one of the biggest tension induced feelings will be that you didn’t win, that you didn’t jump the double oxer or you didn’t perform working trot to the best – the list is endless. Just focus one moment at a time and when all is going well, remember that feeling of positivity which helps with any future nerves.
Have Support Having a supportive network of friends and family can do wonders for nerves and anxiety when competing. Have positive people around you for reassurance and also for advice should your doubts about the competition ahead come creeping in. Have fun and laugh with your friends and family which is what competing and enjoying horses is all about! If possible never go alone to a competition especially when you are nervous. Having support is a calming influence on any doubts you have about entering the show ring.
Your Horse Has Nerves Too There are not many horses that arrive at the show ground without a few snorts and eyes out on stalks at the excitable surroundings. Horses feed off your nerves so always be calm and relaxed around them, especially in the saddle. Keep your body physically soft and relaxed, breathe deeply especially in rhythm with your horse’s strides. If those butterflies start to flutter in your stomach, again take deep breaths and just visualise calmness. Try and ignore anything excitable around you which will then feed through to your horse. Some horses relax on a loose rein but other feel anxious through loss of contact. Try both and some will be better once they have been asked to work by putting them into trot giving them something to focus on. If your horse does spook, again be as calm as you can by speaking to them in a positive manner and ask them to move forward. Be firm but give them reassurance. Most of all enjoy competing with your horse and do not let nerves get the better of both of you. Positivity always wins and before long you will be coming home with big smiles and matching rosettes!
Written by Samantha Hobden
Working in collaboration with Marlin Rosettes
Image Credit: Pixabay