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Chilling out in Competition

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  • Chilling out in Competition

    How do you all do it? I just got pix from the last two horse trials, and I'm stiff and tight....and I'm NOT that way at home.

    I had someone tell me (who saw me ride at home, then coached me at the events) "why don't you ride at the events like you do at home? You ride beautifully there!"

    I have a really hard time not tensing up....so how do YOU guys deal with pressure? How do you focus? Esp. in dressage, though I could use a bit of relaxation in SJ, too. XC I'm focused and good. :-)
    --Becky in TX
    Clinic Blogs and Rolex Blogs
    She who throws dirt is losing ground.

  • #2
    I believe Blutto Blutarski said it best, "My advice. Start drinking heavily."


    • #3
      I read a book by Jane Savoie when I was younger, think it was called 'It's not just about the ribbons' but she has written several... it's all about positive thinking and visualization to help you relax. I don't know if you're into that sort of thinking, but maybe give it a try?

      I guess the first step would be figuring out why you get so tense at shows in dressage and show jumping...

      I used to get really nervous before cross country, I was fine on course, but before was awful. I did loads of xc schoolings, clinics and hunter trials until it finally clicked in my head that hey, I can do this and I'm good at this... maybe you could try doing dressage schooling shows so you get more relaxed in the 'dressage atmosphere'?

      Anyway, if you figure out the secret to chilling out, let me know please!
      'Not all those who wander are lost.'


      • #4
        Compete more. The more you do it, the less tense you get - or the more you're able to channel that tension/nerves into something useful. Watch some of the pros amble around the start box - they are loose and comfortable and their horses look soft and happy. Keeping your body soft (think of trigger words or calming your breathing or consciously loosening your reins or whatever works for you) will improve your riding and your horse when under pressure, and the more you're able to put yourself into a situation that has the potential to ramp you up, the better you'll be at dealing with it. I love schooling shows or H/J shows for that reason - you go out and do 3-5 rounds on a Saturday for not alot of money and it helps take the edge off.

        But if you don't have that opportunity to get in the ring more, I think just practicing having to be "on" is a helpful skill set. Figure out what gets you tense: is it fear of falling or getting hurt? Worried about judgment by others? Concern about not doing well? Worried about not being prepared? Then figure out how to recreate those triggers in your lessons or at home. If you're not feeling prepared, can you school more? Maybe put a few more courses together? If being watched makes you nervous, can you arrange to have folks watch your lessons? Or take lessons with a new coach?

        If those don't work for you, you might consider talking with a sports psych about how to put together a good competition plan. Managing the mental side of competing is just as much a part of the sport as the physical, and if you're tense, it's just no fun.


        • #5
          Like Reed said. I do know of a couple of folks who have some wine, a wine cooler or rum and coke, before they ride dressage. They say that it really helps to "sooth the nerves". I've never tried it, but have thought seriously about doing so.
          When in Doubt, let your horse do the Thinking!


          • #6
            I agree with GotSpots, compete more. Even at schooling shows, prepare and ride them like a "big show" to test yourself and your horse. Or, set up questions at home or when schooling XC that mimic shows. Ride your dressage test start to finish as if you were at a show, same for a SJ round. Go XC schooling and jump 5-10 fences in a row, as if on course.

            I find a big factor is preperation, down to having all of your stuff organized, labeled, clean and easily accessible. Also, for XC, know your pace! Set up markers at home and learn how to feel your speed. Even at the lower levels this is benifical.

            Have "backup plans" for when you get in the ring and freeze up. I make it simple in my mind if I start to panic. For example, in SJ if it all starts happening to quick and getting sloppy I literally tell myself in my head, "start breathing, count your canter rythym (this will help you 9times out of 10), relax your elbows, shoulders up, and close your leg". For me, from there I can handle most anything.

            I love Jane Savoi's book "That Winning Feeling". Touches base on what a lot of sport psychologists teach about visualization and how our bodies don't respond to the word don't or can't. Instead of thinking "don't freeze up" think "relax my hips".

            Last thing, develop a routine that works for you on show day. Listening to music, taking a nap, walking, whatever works for you, figure it out. All other athletes do, why not riders!?

            GOOD LUCK!


            • #7
              Let me add a bit on a more serious note, of course years ago I did ascribe to the drinking to relax method.

              Remember the adage, practice like you show and show like you practice.

              In other words, when I school dressage, I NEVER let myself think, "Ah, I made a mistake and I can go back and work on it." I make myself think that every move during a lesson is being judged and must be the absolute best I can make it from the very first.

              When I jump, there are no pull-ups, turnouts or do overs. I get only one course to get everything right.

              In other words, make every lesson and training situation, such as a clinic, a show situation. Don't let yourself think that there are "do-overs" or that it is not serious.

              You will find initially that you will mess up more but in time, you can develop the mental aspects needed during competition.



              • #8
                I find the most effective way is to compete more. But that usually isn't in the cards for most.

                Listen to music - find really catchy songs that have meaning to you or you just love and listen to them before you get on. I always visualize my round going flawlessly and every detail is taken in (she may spook at dressage booth - lift inside hand leg yield feeling through the corner, half-halt, straighten, forward trot, big step etc. - basically prepare for the worst, but visualize the best) Just focus your mind before you go in take really big, deep breaths - it helps when I feel I'm getting nervous. If your tense - think loose. Go for a walk around, chat with familiar faces and do anything to get your mind off the task at hand after you have visualized your perfect round and you know the test like the back of your hand. I love watching the upper level riders ride the night before I compete too. I go on youtube and watch all their tests, watching what they do in each situation. They make it look so easy and it makes me feel more confident. I also try to 'shut down' and stop thinking and just rely on my riding and instincts to get me through. It seems to work well for me, may work for you too if you get nervous in front of crowds

                Best of luck and I hope this helps!


                • #9

                  read all her books! i also listen to her abridged tapes of 'that winning feeling' (there are two) non-stop for a couple days before I compete.

                  They have TOTALLY changed my attitude and nerves!!

                  Then, go to the show, and SMILE (another HUGE help in relaxing your body!)
                  Hillside Haven Farm
                  From starting gate to start box!


                  • #10
                    Becky - were we talking to the same person?? I had someone point out to me that I ride so nicely at home but basically look like sh!t in dressage at a show. I get tense, I pitch forward, I lock up... and Joy responds the only way he can, which is to lock up as well!

                    I am order Jane Savoie's newest audio/video package on overcoming fear (I think it's called Freedom from Fear).

                    But for now I'm just going to drink heavily


                    • #11
                      I do agree about reading the Jane Savoie book - and I have read it, actually ... but the killer for me is that I need to be allowed to be left alone when I'm riding, and when I'm preparing my stuff, else I forget important things. (Like legs, ferinstance). I just can't have someone popping up every 2 seconds jabbering at me irrelevantly about their own stuff, or asking me what the time is because they didn't bring a watch or whatever. It totally ruins my focus.

                      One year I went to a few shows with a trainer together with a nice little girl, and her entourage. They're real nice people, but have a 'cheerleader' mentality, and when I needed to get serious and concentrate, they'd insist on running up to me constantly and saying 'Ooh, cheer up Kate' and 'You need to be less serious' and other such vacuous remarks.... and then going on and on about it if I didn't immediatly leap about in a similarly cheerleady manner (and if you've ever met a miserable Brit, you will know that we ust don't do dappy-cheerleader all that gracefully). I found that all very stressful, because what I needed to do, actually, was figure out how much time I had left until warm-up, and where my armband was. As you do, at your first event.

                      For a while there, I was getting a reputation for being very stressed and snappy at shows.... however, when I was ready to be a big girl and start going alone, everything improved hugely ! Every picture of me at this summer has been happy, smiley - dressage results have gone up and up....

                      For me it is ALL about making sure I am not cooped up with the sort of people who do not know when to be calm, and do not know when to not give unaskedFor advice.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks, everyone. I've read both Janie Savoie books (That Winning Feeling and It's Not About the Ribbons), and I *try* to visualize...but it's really hard for me. I get distracted easily during the visualizations (which is probably part of my problem "in real life"). I do end up visualizing the SJ and Dressage several times over, but then I get to the "real" situation, and I end up tensing up, making my horse hollow, and trying too hard/trying to "do it for him" (thus the jumping ahead).

                        Reed, I DO need to practice better (as JW, sez, practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect). But it's hard; I live soooo far from anyone, and usually ride on my own. And then I'm listening for kiddos, thinking about work, etc.

                        "Miles" have helped me a lot, as has trying things here like shortening stirrups and doing LOTS of two point (that's helped my XC). But I realize I'm not demanding enough in dressage and jumping at home because...well, I just don't know what I should be expecting, I think, if that makes sense. (I don't jump alone at home, though maybe I should start--so not jumping is probably part of my problem there).

                        I KNOW it's all about relaxation in dressage, because my best test was when I was on oxycodone for an abscessed root canal....! I was just in it for "miles" because I figured we didn't have a chance (we ended up winning our division).

                        Someone suggested I videotape myself and give myself a little lesson at home twice a week. I might try that. In the mean time, keep the suggestions coming!
                        --Becky in TX
                        Clinic Blogs and Rolex Blogs
                        She who throws dirt is losing ground.


                        • #13
                          Okay besides the cooler (they sell nice Pinot Grigio in little plastic bottles, so you can even drink away your nerves with some good stuff, LOL),

                          Show, show, show. Do a lot of little unrecongized things, dressage & H/J, not just events. Good for your horse too, if he's green at all!

                          Have a ritual - an exact schedule and order in which you prepare for a class. I have a minute by minute "play by play" pinned to the wall inside my dressing room, when I stick to that exactly I feel fairly calm by the time I mount (you may be able to leave out my step, "time to put down the Pinot" GRIN)

                          Along with Savoie, I am just getting into the books by George Leonard - finished "Mastery" and am into "The Way of Aikido" and it's GREAT STUFF. Already has me going about day to day activities calmer, not getting stressed at work or in traffic, for example. Think it will help riding & showing though won't find that out next year!

                          As you should figure out by now, you are NOT ALONE, lol. I have a lot of secret stories about ULR's and how they "calm" down - it doesn't actually all involve alcohol either, haha. But helps me to know even the best have nerves to deal with.


                          • Original Poster

                            Originally posted by Arcadien View Post
                            As you should figure out by now, you are NOT ALONE, lol. I have a lot of secret stories about ULR's and how they "calm" down - it doesn't actually all involve alcohol either, haha. But helps me to know even the best have nerves to deal with.
                            First, thanks for the Leonard info...I'll get that. I read a LOT. Perhaps that's part of the problem--all that stuff is floating around in my head until I "feel" it. I just "felt", for instance, what it means to have my new horse in front of my leg. I sort of knew that feeling from my old horse, but didn't know how to "get" it w/ the new guy. Still working on getting it consistently (esp. in dressage!), but now that I've felt it, it's better.

                            BUT...any chance you could (anonymously, of course) share some of these stories? When I teach writing, I talk a lot about imitation, and I bet we could all learn something from these stories...!

                            If not, that's cool. But anyone else who wants to share, feel free!
                            --Becky in TX
                            Clinic Blogs and Rolex Blogs
                            She who throws dirt is losing ground.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Kairoshorses View Post
                              BUT...any chance you could (anonymously, of course) share some of these stories? When I teach writing, I talk a lot about imitation, and I bet we could all learn something from these stories...!If not, that's cool. But anyone else who wants to share, feel free!
                              Well, I'd have to check on a few to see if I'm at liberty to share, lol. For now, others have actually been recorded in books - check out 'Visions of Eventing' and Lucinda Green's 'Four Square' for some!

                              For now, several of these methods involve getting over natural reluctance to enter a porta-potty and instead finding it as something of a sanctuary, LOLOL


                              • #16
                                Maybe it is a sign of the times, you used to always see a porta-john next to the start box on XC. Today, not so much.



                                • #17
                                  Compete more. Dressage shows have helped me relax a lot, and are in themselves a form of relaxation--they're about as ho-hum as a horse show can get! (no offense to serious dressage competitors, but what is there to get anxious about?)

                                  The only time I really feel anxious/nervous at shows is walking over to XC warmup--that's when my jitters get to be uncomfortable, if I have them. Sometimes I don't, say if I know the course is going to be really easy. But if it's a step up for me or my horse, if the footing is iffy, etc. I can really get the butterflies going. Playing my favorite raucous music on my iPod right up until the time I'm putting the saddle on helps.
                                  Click here before you buy.


                                  • #18
                                    A book I have used that is helpful is PSYCHING FOR SPORT by Terry Orlick. It just happens to be the one that my OH (a retired elite athlete) recommended, though I am sure it is not the only one that is good. It is out of print but there are lots of used copies for sale on the internet. The book's strength is in helping you get to know your competitive self so you can deal with whatever comes up psychologically. As a result of paying more attention to my reactions, I have begun to notice the times when I get the most anxious before performing, and then I can tell myself, "you always get anxious when x happens, but you have always overcome the anxiety in the past."

                                    Also, I agree that showing more helps. And I also use visualization.
                                    Taco Blog
                                    *T3DE 2010 Pact*


                                    • #19
                                      i deff think that when you have a problem with being tense the more competition the better then u start 2 think tht the show ring is your second home!!! but iff u cant do tht then another good idea is picturing ur self at home just practicing, also if u didnt have such a good round, and you have another one 2 go just remember, tht one round wontt make or break ur entire riding career!!! there will always b another show and u will always get another chance to practice. if u try all this stuff and it doesnt work, u can always do wht i do and take more serious measures. i had a horrible problem with beating myself up after evry round, and i always got nervous, try a sports psycholigist! itt rreally helps
                                      iff u have any questions msg me and ill b glad 2 help
                                      he may hit a rail, but at least he wont break my heart <3
                                      Inside the rider u have become is a little girl who fell in love with horses, ride for her (;


                                      • #20
                                        itt sunds lik u r used 2 msging pnycrzy nd i cnt understand u very well u hav 2 realiz dat sum of uz r 2 old 2 lern yr nU spelin.