Competing should be fun!

Scottie and me competing in dressage with our merino wool half pad white
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As a horse mad child, I always remember shows being the highlight of the Summer. The chance to compete and have a full day of ponies was so exciting and something to look forward to. Yes I wanted to win, but just being there is what I looked forward to. I think we all remember competing as a child this way. But I would be lying if I said I still enjoyed competing the same way. Between the competition nerves and the pressure I feel to do well, competing definitely stirs a mix of emotions in me. But at the end of the day I still have fun and that is what it is all about.

For some reason, as we get older, we lose the joy of competing. I don’t know what causes this. Maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves to do well, or maybe the fears of what could go wrong start to creep in with age. But whatever the reason, so many fearless horse crazy kids grow up to be anxious about competing. This anxiety can completely ruin competing for you. While competition nerves are normal, for some people, these nerves can completely take over, to the point where the high of finishing a competition doesn’t outweigh the stress of the build up.

Competing should be fun!

We spend a lot of time and money looking after and training our horses, we should be able to enjoy them. We don’t have to compete our horses. We can get just as much joy from just being around our horses. So if we don’t enjoy competing them, why are we doing it? Because we feel we have to? Because we want to but don’t know how to get over our nerves? There are so many reasons why we can lose the joy of competing. But if you want to continue competing your horse, you have to find a way to bring the joy back. Not only for your sake, but for your horses sake.

Why don’t you find it fun?

If the joy of competing is less than the anxiety and nerves of competing, the only way to get this back is to work out why. Sit down and try and think about what is the cause of your nerves and anxiety. Do you put too much pressure on yourself to do well? Are you worried about embarrassing yourself? Are you worried about getting injured? I find that a lot of my stress stems from the idea of being late. I start to relax once Scottie is on the lorry, then a bit more once we arrive and I am usually my usual self by the time I’m on.

Take steps to reduce the nerves

If you can identify the things you are nervous about, you can then start to take steps to help reduce the stress of competing. Here are some of my tips for reducing stress levels for different triggers.

Being Late

If your stress is made worse by being late, aim to be early. Being late is a big stress factor for me, so I aim to be at the show with plenty of time before I have to. Luckily Scottie is good and is perfectly happy standing around at a show ground if we are early.

Forgetting something

If you worry about forgetting something, make some checklists and pack the day before. Think about everything you will possibly need and create yourself a checklist. Some people have multiple check lists, one for packing and organising the day before and one for final checks before loading the horse and leaving. If you can pack the day/evening before, do. As this gives you more time and less chance of forgetting something in a rush.

Getting good results

Too many of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get good results. But good results don’t have to be winning. We are lucky in that most equestrian sports give us the opportunity to compete against ourselves rather than others. Instead of focusing on winning, set yourself personal goals to measure the success of your day out. For dressage, this could be a certain score. For show jumping it could be getting the right jumping canter or going clear. For eventing it could be being within the optimum time cross country.

Setting these smaller, personal goals not only take the pressure off of comparing yourself to others. But they also allow you to focus on areas you struggle with at competitions and working on improving those things, which in turn will improve your overall performance.

Not being good enough

Everyone gets self doubts about not being good enough, especially when you are competing in public where you feel judged. These doubts may always be there. But you can do your work at home to put you in the best possible position to do well. You should always be working at a slightly higher level at home than you are competing. This means that when you compete, it should be easier than what you do at home and you therefore know you are perfectly capable of doing it.

Your horse not liking the venue

If you worry about your horse not liking the venue, get them out before the competition. Try and hire the venue beforehand for a lesson or just a practice. This should help take the edge off when you arrive for a show when the pressure and nerves tend to get in the way. If hiring the same venue isn’t possible, try and get them out and about as much as possible to get them used to going to new places. This could be hiring different venues for lessons and clinics. Or it could be attending shows in a slightly different discipline to help take the pressure off of doing well. If you want to show jump, maybe go do a local dressage test or ridden showing class. If it’s a local show, see if you can turn up just to walk around the show ground for the experience.

Talk to an expert

If you are struggling to identify the source of your nerves or if you are struggling to get them under control, reach out and talk to an expert. There are so many therapists and confidence coaches specialising in sports and horse riding that they will be able to help you deal with and over come your nerves.

Remember, it’s okay and normal to be nervous. But competing should always be fun! Yes there will be bad days and disappointing days. But the overall feeling of competing should be a good one.

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