We've all been there - you've worked hard towards a particular event or competition, put the hours of practice in, considered all the tiny details of how to prepare your horse, ensuring your equipment is clean, a good fit and in working order, that their feed is maintained or adjusted according to conditions, you've double-checked the lorry or car is packed with everything you'll need then that horrible tummy-churning feeling of nerves and anxiety creeps in.
Your palms are a little sweaty, you're a little 'short' with your parents/children/friends, you might start to tremble a little or feel a little light-headed and your heart might start racing. All of a sudden you don't feel so much like competing.....
I'm not a psychologist but here are my top tips for handling competition nerves from my experience....
1. Be Prepared
This is the practical stuff - what can you do in advance to avoid a last minute rush? Can you bring someone along to help you prepare and take the pressure off a little? Make sure you clean out the trailer or lorry and re-pack with your competition essentials after each trip so you're ready for the next time. Remember to ensure your vehicle has been serviced and taxed recently and that your tyres are fully inflated before setting off. Have a checklist of everything that you're going to need for the day and tick it off as you pack - that way you're not having to keep all that in your head.
2. Eliminate the Unknowns
There is no way to mitigate for every eventuality but if part of the anxiety you are experiencing is about not knowing what to expect, why not have a dry-run? If you're not sure if your horse will load - practice daily and give them their feed each night in there. If you're anxious about hitching up the trailer or using the ramps on the lorry - practice until you're feeling confident. If you're not sure how to get to the venue - print off the directions, invest in a sat nav or use the maps app on your phone or if you have time, take a drive there one day before the competition.
Try to take time before an event imagining/day dreaming about the very best outcome for the day - you hitch up the trailer without an issue, your horse loads first time and travels well, you enjoy the drive there and encounter no hold-ups. You arrive at the competition venue in plenty of time and find the perfect parking space, check on your horse and they stand contentedly munching hay while you confirm your attendance with the secretary who meets you with a warm smile and you enjoy a wee chat. You tack up and get on without issue, your horse is relaxed and enjoying being out and about. You warm up in a spacious warm-up arena where your horse goes beautifully and other riders give you plenty of space and adhere to the left-on-let rule. You enter the ring and are feeling confident, you ride the round/test/class you'd hoped for and you come home without an issue, with a rosette and with a smile on your face. You can't wait to go out again next time.
Now, it's probably unlikely that every outing is going to be perfect - that's just not how life works is it? But there is no point in imagining the worst possible experience before you go - all that will do is highten your anxiety and make sure you won't enjoy it even if it does go well.
Put all your energy into imagining you enjoying the experience and that's what your body will expect.
If you're at the competition and nerves have got a hold of you, the chances are your breathing will have become shallow which will in turn deprive your body of the oxygen it needs to function at it's best and be able to concentrate as you'd like.
Take a moment to take some really deep, chest-filling breaths and control the exhale. Controlled breathing calms the nervous system by slowing the heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones in the blood.
A few things to remind yourself of when the nerves/anxiety kicks in....
• This is meant to be fun!
• I may have fallen in a muddy puddle in my white breeches (this may or may not have happened to me!) but nobody died!
• If I get stuck in mud and wind down the window to shout for help and get splattered with mud when the wheels spin - try and see the funny side because it really is funny! (again, this example may have been taken from my own experience!)
• If I score badly or fail to qualify this time, there's always next time and again, nobody died!
• It really doesn't matter one iota what anyone else may have thought about me/my horse/my round - They don't know the journey I'm on and if I've come away happy with my efforts then great, time to celebrate!
I'd love to hear your experiences of competition nerves and what has worked for you in controlling them - drop us a message...
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