Soothing Pre-Show Nerves – A Simple Way to Improve Your Performance at a Competition

    Show season brings with it the excitement of getting our horses ready to compete.

    Unfortunately for many of us, riding well in public is an elusive undertaking. At home, our equine buddy goes brilliantly, but at a show we become tense. The horse either acts up or loses suppleness and our performance is a far cry from what we could achieve. Instead of fun, the competition becomes a frustrating disappointment.

    Show Anxiety

    Nerves used to make me impossible to endure even a week before the event: I snapped at everyone! On show day, when I entered the ring I’d panic and tell myself “there’s no point, I’ll make a mess of it, let’s get this over with.” With the predictable result that I knocked down show-jumps, got multiple refusals cross-country or couldn’t get canter strike-offs in my dressage tests. I had no faith in myself — which was ridiculous, because physically my horse and I had prepared properly and should have done well.

    Sound familiar?

    Addressing the Mental Side

    Until I sorted out the mental part of the sports equation, I would never compete to the best of my ability.

    Desperate, I visited a hypnotist. He taught me the following simple, but effective, method of over-coming my self-destructive behavior. Once I used his techniques, my show performance improved hugely and as a result, so did my confidence. I started winning.

    De-stress for Success

    Sit yourself down in a comfortable, quiet place where you will not be disturbed for at least twenty minutes.

    Close your eyes, and — very slowly — begin to count backwards from 10. After the word ‘ten’ breathe in deeply then exhale for as long as you can, concentrating on each breath. Then say ‘nine’ and breathe in and out deeply again. Keep your eyes closed throughout and relax your whole body — head, neck, shoulders, back, legs, ankles, toes …

    You’ll find yourself sliding into that no-man’s land between wakefulness and sleep and once you complete the countdown, you’ll focus inwardly.

    Record Your Perfect Movie

    In this state of total relaxation imagine your show day. Go through every action in minute detail. Begin with waking up, getting dressed, preparing your horse for the trip, loading and transporting him. Visualize everything going smoothly — your horse is relaxed, he loads first time, there’s no traffic and your radio is playing calming music (I find classical tunes ideal). Upon arrival you find a great parking spot.

    In your mind’s eye, you’re now saddling your horse, then mounting him and on your way to the warm-up arena. Are you getting nervous? Take another deep breath. Imagine you both looking fabulous out there: your horse performs brilliantly. Allow yourself to see the impressed looks on other riders’ faces as you glide past them. Yes, that’s you they’re staring at!

    An Oscar-Worthy Production

    Now you’re ‘on deck,’ calmly patting your horse as you look forward to wowing the judges and spectators.

    Picture a grand entrance, after which you and your horse excel in each movement as you perform your dressage test, jumping round, or whatever applies to your particular discipline. It’s important to see and feel every part of your performance happening exactly as you want it to.

    And here you are now, leaving the ring after a stunning show. You pat your horse enthusiastically, a big smile on your face.

    You will ‘wake up’ more confident now.

    Rewind and Play Again

    Repeat this process many times before the show.

    If you’re really anxious, enter a class below the level you ride at home until you get comfortable at shows. Combining that with this exercise will give you the best chance of succeeding.

    Soon just visualizing your terrific performance, rather than the whole day, will be sufficient to reinforce the positive images in your brain and ensure a great competition experience.

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