Do Professionals Get Nervous at Big Championships?


10 am, August 2, 2012. Greenwich Park equestrian stadium. The London Olympics. I have arrived early and I am sitting in the stands waiting for the start of the Dressage  Grand Prix. To entertain us there is an interviewer speaking with British Dressage star Carl Hester.  We can see them up on a jumbo-tron  screen. She asks him how he was feeling.

“I’m better now that I’m here,” he replied with a smile. “I’ve had friends calling me up and asking me if I was alright. ‘I’m NOT alright’ I would tell them. I kept feeling like I was going to throw up. But now that I’m here and with all the other athletes, all of whom are in the same position, I feel better.”

Carl Hester has ridden in multiple Olympics, and won numerous national championship titles. If he can feel nervous anyone can feel nervous. There is a bigger than normal pressure at the big championships like the Olympics or the World Equestrian Games when you are riding to represent your country, especially if your country expects you to do well and be on the podium. There are many dreams that are waiting for you to make them come true.

Being nervous and being excited are two very different things. Being nervous is not such a positive feeling. Being excited is. So when you feel like you are going to throw up or actually do throw up this is nervousness that is not positive. But butterflies  in your tummy can be excitement and this can be a positive feeling that lifts you up to make a special effort for a special event.


When we look at the top dressage riders in the big championships they always look calm, and composed. But is that what is really going on? This is how Charlotte Dujardin, two time Olympian and gold medal winner said of how she felt going into her freestyle ride in the Rio Olympics on Valegro. Her coach is Carl Hester.This is an excerpt from her autobiography.

Usually the bigger the competition, the more I want to get out there: bring it on. This time my heart was pounding through my jacket and my legs were like jelly. ‘I can’t feel my legs.’I said to Carl. ‘I’m so nervous, I can’t feel my legs.’

“You’ve got nothing to prove,” he said. “You’re going out there for yourself. Just go and enjoy it.” Even that was enough to make me want to cry. I had tears in my eyes when I walked Blueberry (Valegro)in the  ten minute box because I felt so nervous and worried and emotional. 

The rider before her came out with a very good score that put her into first place. Charlotte now had to walk down to the main arena.

Carl gave me a pat on the leg……Then Robbie Sanderson, who was a friend of Alan’s (Alan Davies who grooms for Carl and Charlotte) said, ‘Go for it girl.’ And just like that the message got through. I picked myself up,held my head high, and as we came trotting round the outside of the arena it actually felt like Blueberry had taken hold of my hand. It was the most unbelievable feeling: like he was reassuring me and saying ,’We can do it.’

And they did! Charlotte and Valegro scored 93.857% to win the gold medal.

So, yes, even the big professionals can feel nervous about competing in the big championships. Next week at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon  there will be the best riders in the world competing.  Once in the arena they will all look like it is easy and they are calm and confident. They are professionals. But in the warm up ring, or in their hotel beds the night before ….nerves may creep in and try to do mischief. But these riders all have learned ways to quell the negative nerves. They will all be able to enter the arena, hold their heads high and ride on!  The horses and the riders will give each other confidence. That is the beauty of equestrian sport.

Charlotte and Valegro (photo by Jaime Porter Photos.)



9 responses to “Do Professionals Get Nervous at Big Championships?”

  1. Lignum Draco Avatar

    Being nervous might not be positive, but it makes you try to do your best, just as being excited does. We’re all human, even the superstars.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      We are all human….so true!


  2. Gbolabo Adetunji Avatar

    Carl Hester’s statements made me realize that when we are going through challenges, the greatest comfort is in knowing that we have company and those companies are more comforting if they have men through similar situations or are going through similar situations. Very nice post, Anne. 😍❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Thank you. I agree with you that we are comforted by knowing we are not alone. It helps us to feel calmer and know that we are not crazy ,what we are feeling is normal. I appreciate your insightful comment.🙂


  3. Emma Cownie Avatar

    This is a real eye-opener. I’m impressed that Valegro/Blueberry responded so well to her nerves/excitement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Horses are good that way. At least some of them are. Valegro is a very special horse and he had such a close connection with Charlotte. Also if you think about the horses the para riders and riders in therapy programs ride. They all know they have a job to to looking after their riders. Not every horse is this good but many are.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Emma Cownie Avatar

        That’s true – a whole lot depends on their temperament (just like humans).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. dprastka Avatar

    I Love this, I can’t imagine how nerves must be at these huge events. So neat how you shared a few examples with the greatest riders!! I truly believe that every horse competing knows exactly what to do and holds their riders hands as they join together in the arena or in the hunt field! Great post Anne! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Thank you Diana for this comment. You are right our horses can look after us if we let them. And in the hunt field too!

      Liked by 1 person

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