YES! George Morris struggled with his nerves for a long time. And, while I am no George Morris, I used to be a very timid rider. It actually proved useful to me in the show ring...guess I ride well under pressure.
I never had the degree of anxiety that you're dealing with, but feel like I overcame my own nerves by really owning them. Instead of trying not to be afraid or ignore the feeling, I put it under a microscope. What exactly was I worrying about? How could I keep that one thing from ruining the rest of my ride?
Outside of riding, when you get tense, how do you resolve it? Does following a consistent routine help? Do you need to break down the stressful situation into smaller chunks so you can manage better? Does it help you to move on if you take a moment to freak out first or does someone to telling you its ok help?
Once you've got a sense of how you deal best with other situations, then apply that to your riding. What triggers the tension? Is it the course of jumps you're asked to do or feeling rushed through the flatwork? Would breaking down exercises help? What if you knew your horse had schooled through the exercise earlier in the day?
When you've really thought this through, set up a time to talk to your trainer when they can focus on the conversation. Let them know what stresses you out and how you handle it outside of riding. Agree on a plan for when you get nervous in a lesson so you can quickly communicate to them and they can help you to work through it. It could be anything from trotting the "scary" jump in a course as a single fence before jumping the full course to spending more time on a flat exercise before jumping. Also talk to them, if they could change one thing about the way you ride when you're nervous, what would it be. Then when the anxiety starts, focus on that one thing.
After your lesson, talk (and think) about the successes and what you accomplished. If you were nervous and overcame it, talk about that but avoid the "did you see what so and so did, I'd never be brave enough" conversations. Put all your mental energy into the progress you're making so you can really own it, instead of focusing on the anxiety inducing what ifs.
It took a while, like a year or two, but now I can use that gut feeling to figure out, is there a real safety issue that my body is warning me about (like pushing too hard when overtired) or is it unjustified and to feel comfortable deciding that sometimes quitting while I'm ahead isn't running scared it's making sure that I really enjoy my time at the barn.
I also ditto the thought of narrowing the focus. When I'm at a show on course, instead of allowing myself to freak out over EVERYTHING )are my heels down? Am I balanced? Am I straight? Oh my god, I'm going to chip! Crap, the lead!), I will pick ONE thing at a time in my head and put my focus into it. So It goes like this:
Circle - pick up lead. Lead lead lead.
Head to first jump- straight straight straight (I find when I'm straight to the first jump, everything else falls better into place).
Heading to second jump - feel the stride, feel the stride, feel the stride.
Turning to next line- lead change lead change, lead change.
Corner corner corner corner. USE THE CORNER
Feel the stride, feel the stride, feel the stride, feel the stride JUMP
etc. I find when I worry about the "bigger" things, the other things fall into place. I KNOW what position I need to be in and that I need to have good equitation, and I find that if I tune out the nagging thoughts about it, everything tends to come out OK. Now, it may not be perfect, but it will never be the disaster I think it's going to be in my mind.
Focus on ONE thing at a time in your head, obsessively, and it tends to take some nerves away.
Try some time with a GOOD sport psychologist (if just in riding), or a psychologist if it is across the board. You have to have a plan about how to replace your behaviors. A person with no fear is a fool or a liar, the question is what you do with your thoughts. Channel the AWARENESS into learning. Learning a better seat (riding w/o stirrups/planning a line/etc). Your mind is either OCCUPIED with what to do messages, or introverted to #$*($& which is merely a distraction. So, choose the right thoughts, use the focus which comes with the simulation, it is a positive (channel your inner GM!). And it leads me to wonder how PROGRESSIVELY you have been presented with equitation/caveletti/jumping (and jumping bigger is just a simple progression). (Interestingly enough, 2'6" used to be a hack class, and 3' was only for green horses, not riders. Jumping smaller fences is actually more difficult for good equitation.) Learning to ride is one thing, learning to train is another. IF you work progressively both the horse and the rider will have NO problems.
Are there any good books out there on sports psychology? I got dumped pretty good last April (trip to the ER with CT scan and bad concussion), and although I've been riding since then, something has changed in my mentality and I haven't been quite able to break through it. I'd love to attend a sports psychology clinic too...ideas?
I had really bad nerves after a bad fall at a show. It didn't make any sense at all, because I have the most honest and wonderful horse on the planet. Took me two shows but I worked out of it and love showing again. I get so energized and excited and ready to go. Maybe I've just finally got all my butterflies flying in the same formation, but I don't feel bad jitters... just jitters! I could never imagine wanting to go pro or "make it" if I always had nerves like I did for the two shows after my bad fall, and from the sound of it, what I had was much more mild than what many people experience.
[QUOTE=GingerJumper;6775016]I had really bad nerves after a bad fall at a show. It didn't make any sense at all, because I have the most honest and wonderful horse on the planet. Took me two shows but I worked out of it and love showing again. I get so energized and excited and ready to go. Maybe I've just finally got all my butterflies flying in the same formation, but I don't feel bad jitters... just jitters! I could never imagine wanting to go pro or "make it" if I always had nerves like I did for the two shows after my bad fall, and from the sound of it, what I had was much more mild than what many people experience.[/QUOTE
If you weren't scared, you wouldn't be human
I get terribly nervous, have spent many sleepless nights before shows! The things that help me.... Not trying to pretend I'm not afraid - I tell my trainer how I feel and we can talk about it, make a joke about it, etc. Trusting my horse and thinking about her good points, realizing SHE is only afraid of things when I tell her to be (she's so much braver than I am!) and trusting her to try for me. Making myself go, go, go - to schooling days, clinics, lessons at at another farm (trainer and I go together to ride with a BNR) - so I feel like we've done our homework, horse has the background to do the job, etc. I get so nervous before ANY trip that I wonder why I do it to myself - but then the feeling when it's over and we've done well is more than worth it.
Another great thing my trainer has done is breaking the whole thing into bite size pieces. We get to the show, set up, horses go in stalls, we go take a walk to check in and see the rings/fences, and see that the puddle jumpers are not doing anything Olympic (in my imagination, there are liverpools and triple bars in the 2'6" division)... If everything is good, we make our schooling/warm up plan and go tack up. If everything is good, we start jumping a few warm up fences. If everything is still good, we canter/jump a few lines. If everything is STILL good, we synchronize watches to get ready for an actual class. It's always, "Just trot around. You don't have to do anything but trot around." "Okay, now just jump this warm-up fence. That's all you have to do." I can handle my nerves for one thing at a time. I have a hard time handling my nerves for an entire weekend of showing, but I can do one thing at a time. (When we are showing frequently, sometimes I can handle two or three things at a time! It's a miracle!)
I used to teach lessons and ride a few horses for other people. Weirdly, my nerves are easier to deal with when it's someone else's horse? I don't understand why. But overall I was too nervous to keep it up. I loved teaching and my riders did well, but I just about died of anxiety every time one of them trotted into the ring. I can't imagine a successful pro having that kind of nerves - it makes the job no fun.
I tell myself that we all have our strengths - a lot of people are afraid of public speaking, and I love it - doesn't make me nervous for a second! I wish I could trade in my public speaking bravery for horse show bravery, though.
You may be able to contact him with a letter this way:
In addition, showing youngsters where there are really no expectations has also kept my expectations/anxiety at bay. I set a goal (let's say straightness) and I go in and try to achieve that.
This might sound a little backward, but what helped me with my show nerves was being unprepared. The last show I was in (so this might not actually permanently fix you-haven't had the opportunity to show since then) was when I was in college. I had been home for the summer for 2 weeks and my friend was going to a local show and told me I should load my horse up and come along. We were both out of shape and hadn't had lessons since Christmas. I knew we were totally unprepared so I stopped caring and relaxed. It was the most fun I've ever had at a show and we ended up with reserve champion for our division, which is my highest show accomplishment (so I'm obviously no BNR!).
Another thing that helped me when I was taking regular lessons most recently was getting a trainer to tell me to do it. She's a no-nonsense trainer, and I'm terrible at telling people no. Turns out it was a good combination! She would set a course for me on XC and I would look around and think there was no way, and that the things she was pointing to were giant (definitely not giant, but to me they were), but I didn't want to tell her no or that I was afraid so I'd just suck it up and do it. It worked wonders and despite my fears, we didn't die :) I knew she wouldn't tell me to jump something I wasn't ready for. I would have told her no/refused if I had felt otherwise, but I trusted her and put on my big girl panties and those were some of my most fun and exciting rides!
So for me it's all about trusting your horse, your trainer, and realizing it's all about having fun. We'll see if I remember that someday when I start showing again :lol:
Kip Rosenthal is a been-there/done that rider, trainer, and sports psychologist. I've heard her lecture - she's wonderful. I'd contact her.
Really happy to read all the suggestions... I was having a lot of fear issues with jumping, seemed to get better with it, and then had a couple of falls when my horse started stopping again and I went right back to square one. I fortunately have worked with all good instructors recently who don't overface me, and let me do stuff slowly, so I'm starting to regain a little bit of confidence again. But it's such a primal and unreasoning sort of fear that it's really hard to try to get past it--I can sit on the couch and think about jumping and I'm suddenly having a panic attack.
I used to get really nervous at the in-gate. Butterflies, the whole nine yards. As show season would go on, I'd be less nervous (I guess I was getting used to it, and I was getting good results....I think a lot of nervousness stems from "Oh man, I'm doing this in front of a ton of people what if I screw up? What if I'm not as good as I think I am? Took me screwing up a few times and eating a few jumps to realize that everyone does it and no one really makes that big a deal out of it! A few blue ribbons didn't hurt, either.)
Now I have found that my main source of nervousness is the fact that I'm a re-rider and it's 10 years later, and I'm SUPER out of shape. I'm all brave and think to myself "EFF IT! I'm gonna go ride the heck out of this horse and I MAY EVEN JUMP A FEW JUMPS" until I actually start riding and then my confidence goes out the window because it's there in black and white how out of shape I am and how quickly I'm winded. I'm working on it, though.
If only I could figure out how to not have feelings when I'm on top of a horse, just like how I don't have feelings in the rest of my life.....