We’ve all been there, stood at the side of the arena watching the numbers on the board slowly get crossed off. Your competition nerves kick it. Suddenly, almost as if no time has passed at all, your number is called. You gather up your reins and trot off, or in my case dance sideways into the arena to begin your round. All the while there is this ball in the pit of your stomach, it makes you nauseous and the nerves are building.
The best part about this feeling is, you’re not alone. Charlie Unwin a Sports Psychologist for five Olympic disciplines including Equestrian Team GB, comments that even the most experienced athletes still suffer with nerves. However, the good thing is, there are a number of ways to deal with those pre-competition jitters.
The top way of handling competition nerves is preparation. Imagine if you are preparing for a test; you have studied for the past two weeks and you know the subject inside-out. You will ultimately feel less nervous entering that exam hall than if you entered having not studied at all. This same logic can be applied to Showjumping. Prior to the competition make sure you have practised all the questions you are going to be asked in the ring; dog legs, related distances, up rights and fillers, to name but a few.
Anything that you know is a particular weakness to you and your horse, make sure you have taken time to perfect it; if your horse likes to take off early, if he is particularly terrified of colorful fillers. Adding all these things into your daily training can help prepare you for the competition. Ultimately making you feel more relaxed on the day.
In the spirit of preparation, prior to competition plan your warm-up. There can be little space or time when in the warm up ring. So design your warm up whilst taking this into account. Focus on you and your horse’s weaker elements, to ensure you have had a last minute practice. If your horse rushes, factor in lots of transitions to ensure he is listening to you. If he likes to nap or pull towards the other horses keep him busy, allow him to focus on little else.
Make sure you don’t enter the warm-up too early. If you spend too long in the warm-up you will inevitably stand around and watch those jumping before you. This will mean you will evaluate every rider, causing you to lose focus on your own round and the possibility of filling your head with doubts.
Finally, the reason we ride, the reason we get up at six in the morning to train before work, the reason we throw money at our hobby is because it’s not just our past time but our passion. We riding because we enjoy it. One sure way to reduce competition nerves is taking the pressure off yourself and concentrate on things you can control. For example don’t enter the arena telling yourself you have to win to succeed. Instead focus on producing the best turns into your fences, producing the most controlled round. Especially if you struggle to regulate your horses speed or simply focus on keeping all the poles in their cups. Even if you don’t win this time round. It’ll allow you to have something positive to reflect on and to take with you to your next competition.
A Royal Agricultural University graduate, having studied International Equine & Agricultural Business Management. Niamh is an aspiring journalist, primarily she enjoys writing about the equine world but can turn her pen to anything she finds inspiration from.