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Horse Riding With Confidence #7

The Big Day

Welcome to the third part of this short series on mental preparation for competition.  This month we are looking at coping on the day as well as a quick look at post - competition analysis.

Today is your opportunity to put into practice everything that you have been working towards and therefore is an exciting and challenging day.  

If you have followed the last couple of monthly blogs on pre-competition preparation then you will be more than ready.  You will have ticked things off your list and arrived at the show ground in plenty of time.  The aim of all that is to continue to control what you can control and to help you avoid last minute panic of, for example, having to fill up with fuel en route or waste time trying to find vital pieces of tack before you leave.

It’s a really good idea to have someone with you who is supportive and understanding and who has the experience needed to be able to offer useful help as and when you need it.  

It is absolutely normal to be experiencing some butterflies or perhaps having some of those other symptoms of last minute nerves such as having to rush to the loo or having sweaty palms.  Remember that how you interpret these sensations will affect how you feel and how you cope with them. If you are saying to yourself ‘OMG, I’m terrified’ that is not going to help you at all.  Much more useful will be to accept whatever you are feeling and welcome it as proof that you are ready to compete.  The symptoms of being nervous are simply your body’s way of preparing you and making sure that you are alert and have the energy required to perform the tasks needed on the day - they are a good thing and are to be welcomed.

Everyone is different but if you need a little bit of time to yourself then go and hide in the car or lorry for 5 or 10 minutes.  You might use this time to do some relaxing breathing and visualisation or perhaps to mentally rehearse your test one final time.

If you are walking a course give yourself plenty of time and, depending on your reason for competing or on your level of experience it may be useful to have a coach with you.  It is important, though, that the person with you is there to help YOU and not walking the course for themselves.

When the time comes to warm up your horse remember that it is your right to have space in the warm up arena and ask your friend/helper to come with if necessary to help you.  This is often a time that riders find particularly challenging because you are so close to other competitors and can easily be affected by their levels of tension.  A useful technique in this sort of situation is to imagine that you are riding in a bubble or a cocoon, nothing and nobody can enter that space without your invitation.

A common theme which I hear from clients is a concern about being judged by spectators, other competitors and their peers and it’s interesting to note that those riders who have this concern inevitably presume that they are being ‘judged’ negatively.  Remember that the majority of folk watching you are probably more concerned about their own performance than they are about yours.  Some may be watching you and thinking something very positive - who knows?  We can’t read other people’s minds.  The official judge is there to make sure you are riding within the rules of the discipline and, of course, in dressage and showing there is also a subjective/opinion element as well.  The judge is not there to give an opinion on you as a person or on your overall riding skill, just on what they see on that day.  You may like to try using your bubble/cocoon technique to protect you from what you perceive as unwanted opinions - give it a go, it can be very helpful.

So, off you go and ride your test, jump the course, put on your show and enjoy it!  Whilst riding please do remember to focus on what you are doing now and what is coming next rather than on what has gone before.  By that, what I mean is if you make an error then just let it go and move on to the next movement or the next obstacle.

Once you have completed your ride then enjoy the sense of elation, you have done it!  However things have turned out it is useful to do a short post ride analysis.  The best way I can recommend to analyse your ride is a three step approach.

Firstly, what went well?  Be pleased and proud of yourself for all the things which went to plan, all the goals you have achieved and all the moments during your ride which you enjoyed.

Secondly, what did you find difficult or what would you do differently if you could do the ride again?  This is where you can learn.  There may well have been some errors or misjudgements and they can be used as an opportunity to learn for the future.  Discuss the with your coach or trainer as appropriate.

The third phase of this analysis is to remind yourself once again of what went well and be PROUD of your achievements.

Once it’s all done you can relax, have a drink, meet up with friends and enjoy the rest of the day knowing that in my books you are truly a winner for having got out there and performed to the best of you and your horse’s ability on that day.  WELL DONE!

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