Calming nerves before the show – a simple way to improve your performance at a competition

Calming nerves before the show – a simple way to improve your performance at a competition

Show season brings with it the excitement of getting our horses ready for competition.

Unfortunately for many of us, driving well in public is an elusive endeavor. At home our equine friend does great, but at a show we get tense. The horse either acts biased or loses flexibility and our performance is far from what we could achieve. Instead of fun, the race turns into a frustrating disappointment.

Show concern

I used to be nervous even a week before the event: I snapped at everyone! On the day of the show, when I got in the ring, I was panicking and thinking “there’s no point, I’m going to screw things up, let’s get this over with”. With the predictable result that I knocked over jumps, got multiple rejections in cross-country, or couldn’t get a canter in my dressage tests. I had no confidence in myself — which was ridiculous because physically my horse and I had prepared ourselves properly and should have done well.

Sound familiar?

Turning to the mental side

Until I sorted out the mental part of the athletic equation, I was never going to compete at my best.

Desperate, I visited a hypnotist. He taught me the following simple but effective method of overcoming my self-destructive behavior. After using his techniques, my performance on the show improved significantly and as a result, so did my confidence. I started earning.

Release the stress to succeed

Sit in a comfortable, quiet place where no one will disturb you for at least twenty minutes.

Close your eyes and – very slowly – start counting backwards from 10. After the word “ten” take a deep breath, then exhale as long as you can, concentrating on each breath. Then say “nine” and inhale and exhale deeply again. Keep your eyes closed the whole time and relax your whole body – head, neck, shoulders, back, legs, ankles, toes…

You’ll find yourself slipping into that no man’s land between wakefulness and sleep, and once you’ve completed the countdown, you’ll focus inward.

Record your perfect movie

In this state of complete relaxation, imagine the day of your show. Review every action in minute detail. Start by waking up, dressing, preparing your horse for the trip, loading and transporting. Visualize everything going smoothly — your horse is relaxed, charging for the first time, there’s no traffic, and your radio is playing soothing music (I find classical tunes perfect). Upon arrival you will find a great parking space.

In your imagination, you now saddle your horse, then ride it and go to the arena for warm-ups. Do you get nervous? Take another deep breath. Imagine you both look amazing out there: your horse is performing brilliantly. Allow yourself to see the impressed looks on the other riders’ faces as you slide past them. Yes, it’s you they’re staring at!

An Oscar-worthy production

You are now “on deck”, calmly patting your horse as you look forward to wowing the judges and spectators.

Imagine a grand entrance, after which you and your horse excel in every movement as you perform your test in dressage, jumping or whatever applies to your particular discipline. It’s important to see and feel every part of your presentation 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.

Now you will “wake up” more confident.

Rewind and play again

Repeat this process many times before the show.

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

Soon, just visualizing your great performance, not the whole day, will be enough to reinforce positive images in your brain and ensure a great racing experience.

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