Lexington, Ky.—April 22
Whether you’re gearing up for your first beginner novice course, a training level championship or the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, chances are, at some point before cross-country, your nerves will bubble up.
Maybe it’s as you walk the course for the first time and realize just how big that log is. Maybe it’s when you start tacking up or even as you begin warming up. But it’s important to wrangle those butterflies before you hear “Five, four, three, two, one: Have a nice ride.”
We chatted with some of the riders preparing to tackle the biggest cross-country course in the U.S. on Saturday to see how they handle their pre-cross-country nerves.
“If you’re not nervous, there’s something seriously wrong, and you should probably hang it up! There’s certainly a difference—it’s probably a bell curve. Some nervous energy is really good and will make you super sharp [but] you certainly don’t want to be so nervous that you’re debilitated. We’re incredibly lucky: We’ve got a great group of horses who are super talented and plenty capable of doing it, it’s just the nervous thing is more that you don’t want to screw it up.
“We have a lot of horses going, so I get to show and compete a lot, and you kind of just fall into your own rhythm. I’ll probably go and walk a particular line [on Saturday morning] that’s potentially tricky.
“I don’t want to say it’s not an important competition, but for me to perform best, I try to almost minimize the importance of the whole situation. I think in the end, the horses are accustomed at home with us applying very little or no pressure, and I think that’s where they’ll perform best, so I try to do my best to replicate that so they’re able to perform as well on the road.”
“If anybody says they don’t [get nervous], they’re lying. I kind of like the nerves. It’s actually more the times I don’t get nervous I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong?’ I think at this point in our careers, we thrive off our nerves to do a better job.
“I just kind of embrace them. You can’t avoid them, so you just kind of know that they’re there for a reason. They help keep you sharper and smarter.”
Sara Kozumplik Murphy
“I did my first five-star over 20 years ago, and in the barns on the Saturday? Even the best riders you could name of our generation, everybody’s nervous and rightfully so. You have to have respect for it. Nobody’s like, ‘Oh this is going to be wonderful.’ That’s just not how it goes.
“I think everybody deals with things a little bit differently. For me, I sort of stay away, and stay away from the barn a bit, and I sleep a lot. I do get very nervous, but I’ve always said to myself that if I went out of the box and that didn’t switch off—which it always has—then that would be the time to do something different.
“Cross-country, the nerves have always generally worked for me. Not against me. I’ve had to learn to deal with nerves in a productive way in dressage and show jumping, but cross-country, the adrenaline’s always helped.”
“I do [get nervous] before. If I have a lot of time to dwell I will [get nervous]. As I get older, I get more nervous. I didn’t used to get all that nervous. Blind ignorance is fun that way. But once I’m in the warm-up and once I’ve jumped a few and his eyes have clicked in and mine have, I’ll feel pretty good about it.
“I sleep pretty well. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh you won’t sleep very well Friday night.’ I’ll get nine hours.”
“You know, it doesn’t get easier as you get older. I think that’s the one thing that keeps you on edge, and you know this is a very, very difficult sport. We’re trying to compete at the top level, and you should be terrified.
“I walk the course by myself very, very early, and I’ll probably hop on and ride the horses a little bit before they go just to get a little bit of their energy out and just try to sort of visualize the course.”
“We all get nervous. It’s a five-star, and even [at] not a five-star you just want to go out there and have a good result.”
Valerie Vizcarrondo Pride
“I get quiet. The last couple minutes, I just like to sit on my tack box and just kind of do nothing, [be] zen. I’ll be excited. When I get excited I can’t sleep, and that’s annoying, so I’m sure I’ll be up at 3 a.m. ready for whatever time I go. I won’t be late!”
“I do feel prepared, and I’ve known (Galloway Sunrise) her whole life, so we’re just going to go out, and I’m going to try to give her the best ride I can.
“I’ve played sports my whole life, so nerves are something I’ve just been used to dealing with. But at the end of the day, I think just having a really clear plan and staying really focused on everything helps your brain stay relaxed even when you are nervous.”
“Once I get on, I’m fine. It’s all the waiting around. I’m kind of happy I’m going early in the day so that I can just go out there and do it and not have to fret the whole day.
“I have a good yoga and meditation practice, so I try to do a little bit of that before I get on.”
“[I’m] more nervous about trying to come up with a good plan and trying to really execute. I’m not nervous about my horse’s capabilities at all. He’s an absolute beast. It’s just about in the moment making good decisions, reacting. I’ll keep walking it and keep coming up with a plan, and hopefully, it’ll come off the way it’s supposed to.”
The Chronicle of the Horse will be on-site all week for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event bringing you reports from each round of competition, beautiful photos and stories from the competitors. Follow along with all of our coverage here, and be sure to read our May 17 Kentucky Results issue for more in-depth coverage and analysis of the event.