EN guest blogger Tamie Smith is back with more insight into this wild and crazy sport of eventing. Today she talks about how to handle show nerves, and her advice makes a lot of sense: Get out of your comfort zone! Many thanks to Tamie for writing, and thanks for reading.
Let’s face it, this sport is thrilling and full of adrenaline, which is why many of us love it so much. Many great riders have said that the day they don’t get nervous to leave the start box should be the day they retire, and I could not agree more with that. We need that adrenaline pumping through our veins to channel greatness, but we must also learn to deal with the nerves that often come along with it.
Not only do we get nervous, but our horses do as well, and it is our job as riders to put them in a variety of atmospheres and train to overcome inevitable anxiety. In order to become the best possible competitor in any sport, stress training is imperative. Professional baseball players and NFL stars spend countless hours working on their mental game, and all too often we still see them crumble in front of a packed stadium because they have lost focus and let their nerves get to them.
Riding is no different; some riders are very anxious by nature and don’t like the anxiety or stress that comes with competing, and as a result elect to stay at a level or at events that offer familiar surroundings, not taking the risk to venture outside their comfort zones.
Everyone gets show nerves in some form, and most of our greatest riders have fallen victim to pressure at one time or another. The difference between a good rider and a great rider, or athlete for that matter, can be one’s mental game. To develop a better mental game, I feel it is imperative to get out of our comfort zone by intentionally placing yourself in higher-pressure situations.
The same goes for our horses. People are afraid of the unknown, and horses are no different. We all know in eventing that having three perfect phases in the same weekend doesn’t happen often, and when it does, it baits us into loving our sport even more, working harder to reach our goals.
It has been great the last few years producing my young horses and thinking about getting them accustomed to different atmospheres. I’ve travelled all over the Northwest as well as Texas, exposing my youngsters to a very different type of eventing. In California, we have amazing events, and we are very spoiled by having top course designers such as Derek Di Grazia and Ian Stark.
We now also have James Atkinson and Jay Hambly, who have brought a different twist to our cross-country courses as well, but the truth is, I still grew up on the West Coast, and this footing and terrain is something I know very well. I know the lay of the land all over California, and it is not only good for my young horses to become exposed to a different atmosphere, it is good for me as well.
I believe that horses learn and gain confidence from seeing a variety of things, but not just in big moments. They can benefit hugely from going somewhere different to compete at a level they already know, and it can build a great deal of confidence for them, as well as the partnership you share.
It’s been very rewarding being able to compete at so many different venues. And more often than not, when my horses return home to compete on our familiar turf, they are better for it. Things like what studs they need, how they run in mud, when to half halt on grass — those things are all different depending on where you are and can be a huge game changer.
So when producing horses and riders, think about what the next steps are for your mental game once you have become comfortable at home. The West Coast travels east, and the east is now traveling west, and what better way to prepare our upper-level horses and riders for a trip to Europe?
But it doesn’t just apply to the upper-level horse and rider. Everyone can benefit from getting out of his or her comfort zone. That means show jumping, dressage shows or planning a trip to the American Eventing Championships. This process even teaches things like how your horse acts when traveling long distance, so when you are getting ready for a big pressure situation, you are more comfortable with anything that comes your way, and so is your horse.
Venture out of your comfort zone! Our sport has incredible people all over the country happy to help you or make it not feel so far from home, and how lucky we are for that!