As riders we all understand the feeling just before we enter the competition arena, the butterflies in the stomach, the jelly legs, the racing heart, these are just some symptoms of anxiety.
We do need a certain level of anxiety to help us perform to our best BUT too much anxiety can cause us to umm…. A brain fart… an error of course, do the wrong movement or completely forgetting your dressage test… we have all been there. A study was done on professional dancers, these dancers reported they all experienced some degree of anxiety before and during their performance but viewed it as an accepted and positive part of performing, providing they were able to maintain control over the anxiety. We believe most professional riders would agree with this.
Anxiety at competitions is completely normal as we have dedicated so much time, effort and passion into our training and we have expectations of how we would like to perform. Here are a few tips how to get the upper hand on your nerves and keep you on your A-game at your next competition:
- Know your bodies signs
The sooner you can recognize the signs of your anxiety the sooner you can reduce it. This might be dry mouth, hot/cold flushes, upset stomach, nausea, racing heart rate and trembling hands. This is your body jumping into fight/flight mode by releasing adrenaline as a reaction to your fear. A good quick fix to reduce these symptoms is controlling your breathing by taking deep, slow and full breaths as this will help your body relax and get out of fight/flight mode.
- Accept the unknown
Often our fear and anxiety is related to things out of our control like… is the flower pot going to have a monster behind it or is my chestnut mare going to have a ‘red’ moment. We can do out best as riders to prevent these but sometimes we just can’t and that is ok…remember we are working with live animals not machines.
The most important thing is to remember it is ok to make mistakes as it is how we learn… BUT when we make mistakes in competition do not focus on the rail that was knocked off, or the damn awful movement you just did, focus on the present and how you will attack the next fence or movement to be better.
- Positive self-talk.
Let’s be real there is no benefit to you or your horse being at a competition and thinking ‘we aren’t even going to make it to x without being eliminated, I can’t sit trot, I’m a crap rider and can’t ride anything’. It is your anxiety talking and can make us doubt our ability and be short tempered with our horses out of frustration.
Turn these negatives into positive constructive thoughts that psych you up instead of out, like ‘I know this horse doesn’t like going through the arena gate what can I do to help this? My instructor has told me by keeping my hips loose will help my sit trot. I can do this; we have got this”. Having more supportive self-thoughts can help you use your anxiety as a positive and be more focused and proactive during your event.
We would love to hear some of your strategies for coping with your anxiety at competitions, send us a message via our socials or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org