Confession: I’m panicking at the thought of competition this weekend.
It seems to me that anticipation is the hardest part for you.- Allan Horn, 2018 Gobi Desert Cup Click To Tweet
This summer I spent two weeks with Allan Horn, one of the 2018 Gobi Desert Cup riders in Mongolia. On the first leg of our journey home, he said something which resonated, “It seems to me that anticipation is the hardest part for you.”
Truer words were never spoken. Allan was referring of course to the near panic I had before the Official Race on the last day of the Gobi Desert Cup. Although I wanted nothing more than to race across the desert, when given the slightest opportunity to bow out of the race, I tried to take it because of my nerves.
He hit the nail on the head. Once I was mounted on the horse and committed to race my nerves quieted and I just DID it! This is the same anticipatory panic I experience each time I enter a horse show.
Oh yes, my famous competition nerves. In fact, this anxiety was a contributing factor to my stepping away from riding as a teenager. In my book, Confessions of a Timid Rider, I go into detail about my first rated horse show in the chapter, “Horse Shows and Oh No’s”. Quitting as I did is something I have always regretted. I got nervous, dismounted, and scratched never to show again as a young girl, all because of anxiety and nerves. The anticipation of it all.
So why did I enter a schooling show this weekend? First, Ferrous and I had the summer off. With intense heat and humidity, his anhidrosis was in full swing and resulted in light riding only in the early morning or late evenings. More, my schedule was incredibly tight with children’s camps, activities, and work. Second, both Ferrous and I needed a goal to get back into shape and jumping condition. Third, I must be a masochist. There is no other explanation for why I keep putting myself in this position. I am not after ribbons, nor attention. In fact, I’d rather ride without everyone watching me. And yet, every few years I enter a schooling show on my home turf.
There can be excitement in the preparation, that lovely butterfly effect the day before a big holiday or vacation. But for someone lacking self-confidence or struggling with performance anxiety, even a schooling show can create sleepless nights, crippling self-doubt, and even self-sabotage. As I sit here my mind is struggling to find an excuse not to ride and not to show. The only thing keeping me in the game is that I’m looking forward to the costume contest!
I sent a request out on my Facebook page, The Timid Riders, and asked how others dealt with performance nerves. The responses were fantastic, and I wanted to share some of them with you.
- “Breathe”. It may seem simple, but often we get nervous and forget to breathe, or do not breathe enough especially while riding. This came up a few times and someone even went a little further with this advice, “hum songs, it forces your body to breath and relax while also have your horse calm down and listen to you.”
- “Over the top organized.” Prep work makes the dream work. This speaks to my very Type-A soul and makes perfect sense. Although for me, I find that I do best when I don’t think about the show in advance too much.
- “Positive visualization.” A classic and for good reason. If we can’t see ourselves succeeding how can anyone else? Sometimes in a lesson or training ride, I take a break, breathe, and imagine the best outcome for our time in the saddle. I imagine smiling, remembering the course, and feeling happy and confident as I finish. It may not be scientific but it does help to calm my nerves and to inspire self-confidence.
- “Pretend the judge is naked!” This made me laugh and came from a very confident horsewoman from Australia, my friend, Gobi Desert Cup rider Tania Orlov.
Of course, there are a few other suggestions like taking Rescue Remedy and staying away from caffeine, both great ideas. I also use Vetiver essential oil and carry a worry stone in my pocket. A smooth stone, when my nerves get the best of me, I can rub it and helps me to self-soothe.
The truth is, I want to become comfortable with riding in these horse shows. Once I’m in the ring my nerves become manageable albeit never go fully away. The lead up to the show, especially the last few days, is what causes me the most problems. But I’m trying to let my passion be greater than my fear. To do that I must practice and challenge myself. After all, there couldn’t be a safer environment than a schooling show at home surrounded by my barn family.
How do you handle nerves?