These tips are gleaned from my own experiences and a lifetime of collecting the help and information from the professionals that I’ve been fortunate to work for and with. If you apply them you will feel much more calm less nervous and will be able to relax and have fun at competitions. This will automatically begin to increase your confidence.
1. Preparation, preparation & practice!
I know this is something you will probably have heard before, but it’s amazing how, the better prepared you are, the more relaxed you’ll feel.
When you have rehearsed and practiced until the test, or course of jumps becomes second nature, it will all begin to feel easy and familiar and you’ll feel so much happier and more confident.
You’ll be able to relax more and just enjoy the day.
2. Take a support team.
Enlisting the help of a friend who can read your test for you, or can help groom, or hold your horse when you need to rush off to the secretary’s tent or walk the course, or put on that last bit of show sheen is absolutely priceless.
Ideally that friend should be an experienced, patient, calm and organised soul with your best interests at heart.
If no such paragon exists in your social group or family, consider hiring a groom for the day, or trade something you can offer in exchange for the services of a professional. It will be well worth the investment..
3. Allow plenty of time.
Google the venue and your journey and load up the horsebox the night before, and have everything prepared.
Allow plenty of time for travelling, and loads of time to walk the course, and familiarise yourself with the show layout, and allow plenty of time to get ready for tests or classes.
Feeling rushed is not relaxing and is a major cause of anxiety and nerves.
When you are stressed you are not thinking “cleverly” either – your brain goes into “reflex” or purely reactive thinking and you will be prone to forget things, like parts of your test, or jumping course.
4. Remember to breathe!
When I first started teaching students – I found myself often having to shout ”....and breathe...” as invariably they’d be concentrating so much on the task in hand they’d end up red in the face, having forgotten to breathe.
It’s amazing how, when you take three deep breaths when you mount up, and again before you start your test or round, you can calm your nerves, and this can help you “centre” and stay in the present moment so that you can focus on what you need to do.
Don’t forget to keep breathing in the show ring.
Practice breathing at home in rhythm with your horse’s stride, or keep a metronome or chant in your head. Mine when show jumping was “..and forward, and calm, and rhythm, and straight.” to the canter beat.
5. Practice your focus.
One of the greatest skills that successful competitors have is the ability to get into their “zone of optimum performance”.
This is a place where they can absolutely focus on your partnership with your horse and the task in hand - to the complete exception of anything else or any outside distractions.
This really does take practice, and needs to be done often at home before going out to competitions.
I often help clients to establish a shortcut using hypnosis to anchor the feeling of being in their “zone” onto the feel of the reins in their hands – or to another useful trigger they can use to bring back that state when needed.
6. Give yourself permission to be a learner and lose the ego.
When you first start competing or have a new horse, aim to go out and do a “correct” round or test – and just have fun.
Remember – you are building a partnership based on communication and trust, and that takes a little time.
Plan to enjoy the journey - not plan to win first time out.
Horses are great levellers and will constantly surprise you - and even the professionals have their off days.
Believe me, if you are out to impress someone your focus will be entirely in the wrong place, and things are much more likely to go wrong!.
7. Compete below the level that you are working on at home.
You will feel much more relaxed when you and your horse are working well within your education and familiar zone.
Keep things comfortable for yourself and your horse.
There will be enough distractions on the day, so make it easy for you and your horse to get it right and enjoy the day without the added pressure of performing tricky new stuff.
8. Do lots of small unaffiliated shows, or riding club clinics or group lessons.
This will help to socialise your horse with other horses and new venues and get it used to going out to “parties”.
You’ll also get used to preparing yourself and your horse for travelling, and dressing for competing.
It will then become second nature to load up the lorry or trailer with all the stuff you need to ensure you enjoy your day.
There’s nothing guaranteed to ensure stress more than forgetting something!
9. Find yourself a mentor.