The Magazine November 2023

Competitive strategy

Posted 6th June 2024

Resolving competition nerves begins at home, as Alison Buttery explains


Being able to effectively manage competition nerves is crucial if you want to ride at your best and also enjoy competing with your horse. Feeling nervous or anxious in the weeks and days leading up to a competition is quite natural, but these feelings can become overwhelming if they’re not properly managed.

By developing strategies to control your nerves, you can channel this energy positively, transforming anxiety into focus and motivation that can supercharge your performance and allow you to fully engage and enjoy every moment of the day.

Understand your aims

Understanding why you want to compete is key if you’re to stay motivated throughout the season. Whether it’s the thrill of competing, a focus for your training, a way to have fun and stretch your comfort zone, or the desire to strengthen your bond with your horse, knowing what you aim to achieve helps tailor your training and competition plans. It also enhances your focus and helps you choose events that are best suited to your objectives.

In addition, knowing what motivates you plays a role in how well you manage yourself through the inevitable ups and downs. Competing with your horse can be physically and emotionally demanding, and having a clear understanding of why you do it helps maintain your motivation and resilience. This perspective shifts the emphasis from a specific outcome, score or placing to prioritising learning and enjoying each step of the process.

Furthermore, understanding why you compete helps you set realistic expectations and manage the perceived pressures of competition. For instance, if it’s simply to gain experience, then each event can already be seen as a success, thereby removing the pressure to win while allowing you to focus on what’s important to you.

Top tip

Keep a positive outlook, celebrate your progress and remember each competition is a stepping stone in your riding and training process.

Keep it real

Consider your expectations when competing. Are they to ride at your best, test your training, enjoy the experience or achieve a particular result or outcome? Setting unrealistic expectations that are either too high or too low can actually bring their own challenges.

Extremely high expectations can lead to unnecessary pressure and disappointment if not met, creating tension, nerves and stress. On the other hand, low expectations might not provide enough challenge to keep you motivated, so you don’t ride positively or enjoy the experience as much as you otherwise might.

To create expectations for yourself that are reasonable, fair and appropriate, start by defining clear, attainable goals that are directly linked to your personal reasons for competing. These goals should stretch your abilities but not launch you into a panic. Instead, think small, incremental challenges that will build confidence and self-belief.

After a competition, take the time, in a balanced and objective way, to reflect on what went well and what could be improved. Then tweak your expectations for the next event accordingly, ensuring they are always aligned with your current skill level and long-term aspirations.

Check out more of Alison’s tips on resolving competition nerves in July Horse&Rider, out now! ­

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