The Magazine June 2018

Beating pre-competition nerves

Posted 1st May 2018

Do you find yourself weak at the knees and sick with nerves at the mere thought of competing? Performance coach John Haime helps you overcome it so you can really start to enjoy your horse

We’ve all been there. You have a show coming up and can’t stop thinking about it. Although you and your horse have done the training and have a great partnership, the anticipation and that little voice inside you are determined to give rise to an uncomfortable anxiety that just won’t go away. Eventually, you begin to wonder why on earth you put yourself through this – riding is supposed to be fun, right?

You’re not alone in suffering pre-competition anxiety, it’s very normal. But if you let it get the better of you, it not only spoils your fun, it can affect your performance and your horse’s anxiety levels, too. So if you’re determined not to let your nerves get in the way, here’s how to keep them under control.

Keep your mind on the job

Consider this reality about human thought – people spend 46.9% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So how does this relate to your riding? Well, as your mind wanders forward (often weeks or days ahead) to the upcoming show, two important things happen…

  1. You diminish the quality of what you’re currently doing and don’t fully enjoy the moment you’re living in.
  2. You create threatening scenarios and think about what could go wrong, which causes anxious feelings and can spoil the joy of the competition.

In the run up to the show

If you have trouble with anxious thoughts leading up to the show, I highly recommend a simple mindfulness practice that can help you learn how to be in the moment and fully enjoy it. This involves taking some time to sit quietly, while paying attention to any thoughts and sounds, and the sensations in your body, and bringing your attention back to this whenever your mind wanders.

It’s a critical skill for riders to be able to stay in the moment, stopping themselves from thinking ahead to the competition or, during the competition, keeping their entire focus on the current fence or dressage movement. Many top level riders use simple mindfulness practice to develop self-awareness, even if they don’t suffer from pre-competition anxiety.

If you haven’t had any experience with mindfulness practice, there are a number of good apps available that can introduce you to it and teach you how to be in the moment. Two good ones are Headspace and 10% Happier. Find one you like and get into the habit of learning to stay in the moment.

Discover more of John’s tips for banishing competition fears in the June issue of Horse&Rider, on sale May 3.




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