Competition Nerves? Performance Anxiety?

It is four in the morning. You wake up and in the  predawn dark you remember; you are competing in a horse show today. “Why did I ever think this was a good idea? What was I thinking?”

If this has happened to you, rest assured, you are not alone. I know many people who suffer from competition nerves,some to the extent of feeling physically ill. Even the most famous Olympic riders have to deal with nerves and performance anxiety. This kind of nervousness is something that can beset us before an important presentation at work or an interview for a job . But I would like to focus on  the nerves involved in competing in horse shows.  What makes a horse competition unique is the horse. You have a competition partner who is of another species, who does not speak your language and cannot join in with a pregame pep talk.  Being nervous has never been a sensation I have enjoyed. Here are some of the things that have helped me to be excited but not nervous.

Advance Preparation

1. I like to prepare well in advance: check my show clothes and my boots and all accessories. Does anything need to be repaired or replaced? If I do this in advance I have time to solve any problems. I also check everything for my horse; does he need anything repaired or replaced, is all my tack in good order?

2. What about getting to the show? Do I need to book transport? Is my coach going? Is anyone else from my barn going? Do we need to book a tack stall at the show? Shavings?

3. I find it much easier to be calm if I know there will be no last minute surprises. So I look for things that could be surprises and make sure they can be sorted out.

Mental Preparation

1. I find visualization very helpful so I will visualize the show grounds and then visualize riding my test in the arena I will be in. If you do not know the show ground then try to make time for a visit or at least look at photos.

2. Do you like to have music to listen to while driving to the show? Do you like to have music while you are braiding or while taking a break in the tack stall? Choose the music you like for inspiration or for relaxation.

3. Do you like to be socializing with your friends while you wait for your test? Do you like to be on your own and not be disturbed as you get into the “zone”.  Everyone is different and it helps to know yourself well enough to know what would work best for you to have you calm and approaching your competition  with excitement but not nervousness.

4. Do you like to braid your own horse or do you find it frustrating? I enjoy braiding and find  it relaxing but not everyone feels like this. For me it is a nice time to spend with my horse one on one.

Competition Day

1. I make up index cards with the time of my test and all the “times” that lead up to that: time of arriving at the show, time of braiding, time for a snack or something to eat,  quiet time seated by myself, time to get my show clothes on, time to groom and tack up, time to mount up and start my warm up. I know….it may sound excessive, but I have a poor sense of time and I HATE to be rushed so for me this type of planning allows me to be calm and feeling well organized.  I always add in extra time because there may be something unexpected that will crop up.

2. I always bring something to eat. Snack type food not big meals my favorites include: peanut butter and honey sandwiches, fruit and nut bars, small oranges, bananas and a recovery drink  which can be a sports recovery drink or chocolate milk, almond milk etc. And of course, lots of small bottles of water.

3. Do you like to have friends come and watch you compete? Or do you want them to stay home as their presence will just add to the performance anxiety? I don’t mind either way as long as my friends understand I will not be socializing before I ride my test. As for other people who may or may not be watching…I do not give them a thought as, other than my coach and my husband, they are not part of my day to day life.

4. I like to mount up in enough time to be able to walk for at least 10 minutes. This gives me time to get my aged joints loosened up and gives Biasini a chance to stretch and relax as well.

5. I always ask my coach to give me time to get my show coat on if I have warmed up without it in hot weather and time to walk calmly to the ring I will be riding in.

These are all the things that help me to be feeling happy and excited about competing and not feeling stressed  and nervous.  They work for me and some may work for you. These are just simple suggestions. If you experience nervousness that impedes your ability to ride or to get the best out of your showing then perhaps consult a sports psychologist who has worked with equestrians. A couple of years ago I struggled with thinking I was too old for competition. I worked through that with sport psychologist Dirk Stroda, who has worked with many equestrians, and it helped me a lot. Whatever you decide I believe it is worth planning how you can be at your best at a competition and able to really enjoy it.


18 responses to “Competition Nerves? Performance Anxiety?”

  1. David Avatar

    Small show, large show, it doesn’t matter. My daughters have a few butterflies before mounting up and heading to the warm-up ring. Then, it goes away.

    Managing the day, just keeping the routine same for themselves and their horses. Attend the morning rider’s meeting. Everything from schedules to weather are covered. A draw for start order, mostly for GP events, are made. A draw for other events only happen if the rider field is large. My daughters are also keen people watchers, so that’s part of the relaxation scheme. A few minutes before the course walkthrough, that’s when the switch is flipped on. It becomes all business.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      I remember the course walk from when I was doing the jumpers as a teenager. Thanks for sharing this David. Nice to hear from you with your point of view.


  2. Sagittarius Viking Avatar
    Sagittarius Viking

    What a great check list! I am a big believer in planning ahead, preparing for the next day. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Thanks! I appreciate your comment. I think planning ahead really helps me


  3. Emma Cownie Avatar

    At least the horse (hopefully) will get a good night’s sleep before a competition? Although he must pick up on the preparations and get excited? I love the photo of you braiding his mane, it always looks so beuatiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Avatar

    Keep calm… yes, a good skill for life as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Irene Avatar

    It is wonderful that you are so organized in your preparation, Anne. Seems like that kind of focus would definitely help calm the nerves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      It works for me Irene.🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Alli Farkas Avatar

    Our pre-show preparations are almost exactly on the same track, except I’m not as fastidious about time as you are. I give myself 3 hours before my first test to get everything done. If I can’t do it in in a flat three hours that would mean something had gone terribly wrong–like i was maybe dying or the horse escaped or something LOL! I don’t really have performance nerves in the sense of me or my horse performing poorly. Probably because at my level there is hardly anything at stake. My biggest worry is forgetting the dang test. I know most of the venues I show in quite well, so I can (and do) easily ride the test in my mind, preferably at the speed it should be ridden, in any of those show rings. I rehearse it this way relentlessly, even riding it backwards in my mind just to make sure I know how all the parts of it stick together. I practice it in the ring, at home, but not excessively and we practice it in sections because I don’t want my horse to memorize the test and try to take over, which she would be more than happy to do except she would always be sure to make her transitions too soon LOL. And sometimes in spite of that practice I still forget it’s supposed to be a 15-meter circle instead of a 20-meter, for example. Or that the extended canter ends at R instead of M. I just have to accept that my brain is old! Making sure my prep list is taken care of way beforehand, as you do, takes a big load off my mind. I’m happy to say I have not gone “off course” for the last two years, only forgotten circle sizes or transition points!


  7. Tina Schell Avatar

    Interestingly I follow many of your suggestions when I compete at golf or when I have a presentation or am teaching photography. I choose my outfits, lay everything out, always eat breakfast and take a snack for later and practice or prepare thoroughly ahead of time. Often times that means I arrive earlier than I need to but that’s OK, I’m ready to go. Now having another species that I need to work with and prepare – that would be a WHOLE other level of complexity!


  8. Integrity Training Avatar

    So helpful Anne Leueen, thanks for all the helpful insights your blog offers!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      I am very happy to know that something I write can be helpful to another rider. Thanks for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Debby Cummins Avatar

    Oops, and how I tried hard to be organized and have plenty of time to ride before test. But something always seemed to get added somewhere and I was pushed for time.

    Thank you for sharing your pre-test routine. It’s nice to be able to think back – and – ENJOY!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Debby Cummins Avatar

    It’s been awhile (almost a year) since I stopped blogging.

    It’s so nice to hear the things you do to prepare before each show. I’m the 60year old that feel off her horse and crushed a vertebra in 2014. I learned just recently that I also herniated C1 and C2.

    I guess you can say I’m set for life. I can no longer ride – period.

    Anyway, back to my meditation – I just read your article and reminisced about my show days

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      sorry to hear that your injury has left you without the possibility of riding. I hope that you can at least spectate and get some enjoyment from that.


  11. Megala Avatar

    My son played for his school’s cricket team until few years ago, this post reminds me of such preparations before every match.
    Thanks for sharing a wonderful post useful for every sports person. If I could read this post earlier he would have been benefited in a large extent. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Thank you for this lovely comment Megala
      I appreciate knowing that non horse people can get something from this post.

      Liked by 1 person

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