How to Shed Horse Show Jitters
Edited by: Dr. Andrew Hoffman
Anyone who has participated in horse shows knows
about it: performance jitters. This is not the normal edginess
most riders feel before competition, but an undermining fear that
erodes confidence, turns a soft body into a rigid lump, and turns
the brain into panicked mush.
It’s the kind of fear where the jumper who dazzled fellow students
at the schooling barn with accurate courses, topples easy rails.
Where the equitation rider who maintains a nice, relaxed pace and
fluid transitions at home, sits stiffly and fumbles through
transitions. Where the accurate barrel racer's timing is off in
the show ring and the flawless dressage rider forgets the
Fear Affects Competition
Fear of performance can knock a good rider out of the competition
in two different ways.
First, when a rider stiffens or becomes sloppy and is performing
differently in the show ring than at home, the horse responds in a
different manner. The rider who sits heavier on the horse, whose
hands are not as giving, whose legs are clamped on the horse's
side, who is leaning too much on the shoulder is communicating a
whole different set of aids to that horse. Those subconscious,
adverse aids usually will alter the horse's way of going.
Secondly, a horse picks up a rider's fear and may subsequently
become nervous himself. The rider who is suddenly tentative when
approaching the jump is actually telling the horse to watch out,
there is something here to fear.
Where do these fears come from? Why does a rider who performs well
at home fall apart in competition?
"A lot of the fear in competition comes from the fear of
psychological harm - the fear that we're going to embarrass
ourselves or make mistakes that make us look incompetent,” says
Dr. Janeane Reagan, a clinical psychologist who specializes in
equine sports psychology. “In some cases, these fears come from
perfectionist thinking; the individual tends to expect a great
deal of perfection and can't allow themselves to make mistakes.
Other fear sources may be from people around us who have extreme
expectations of us."
Rein in Your Fears
Practice makes perfect. Know your sport. Keep working on your
skills, improving weak areas. But do not over-train. Marathon
sessions can tire or sour the horse. Instead, work a few minutes
each day on specific trouble areas. Slow, steady work is best. The
more comfortable and confident you are at home, the more likely
you'll retain those skills and confidence in the show ring.
Prepare yourself mentally. Use visualization and relaxation
techniques to train yourself to be calm and confident in the show
ring. It works. At least a week before competition, find a quiet
place for 15 minutes each day, close your eyes, breathe deeply
from the diaphragm and let your body relax. Imagine how your body,
your legs, your hands and your seat should be during the
competition. Think about what you'll be asked to do and visualize
your performance. Picture yourself remaining calm and triumphing
in various trouble situations that could occur. Visualize yourself
putting together a confident and successful performance from start
Erase negative mental images. If, while visualizing your
performance, you see yourself losing control, becoming nervous, or
flubbing up, "rewind" your mental tape, go back to the point where
you were confident and in control, and begin again, making an
effort to keep negative images out of your visualization.
Keep proper perspective. While it's easy to get caught up in
winning and performing well, in the overall scheme of things, ask
yourself how important it is to have a perfect performance. Says
Reagan, “Regardless of the outcome of the class or competitive
trail ride, the rest of our lives will go on quite well. People
will still love us and our dog will still be happy when we come
home. Winning is important, but it's not that big in the overall
realm of who we are and what we do in our life.
"When you can say, 'So what? I'll get it next time,' you will be
more relaxed and confident more likely you will get that correct
lead. Look at the sport as a personal challenge and decrease the
emphasis on competitive goals.”
Recognize your choices. Examine your motives. Are you competing
because it's what you want to do or because your family or trainer
expects you to and you don't want to disappoint them? Not everyone
is cut out for competition. If you feel, deep down, that
competitive riding is really not for you, re-evaluate why you are
competing and consider devoting your riding time to satisfying
non-competitive personal goals.
If your trainer places more emphasis on winning than you feel is
healthy, or he otherwise pressures you too much, then see if your
competition goals are similar to your trainer's. If not, then
consider hiring a trainer who is more in sync with you.
By examining your competition goals, keeping the right
perspective, and working diligently at training yourself mentally
as well as physically for the show ring, you can reduce those show
ring jitters and get on with putting on a good – and enjoyable –
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December 27, 2016