Dressage Competition Nerves And How To Perform At Your Best

Mastering your competition nerves can really help you to perform at your very best. In this article, I go into detail about what I try to do and give you some tools you can try out for your next competition to reduce nerves.

Mindset is everything when it comes to life and of course our riding and mastering our competition nerves. Often our own inner dialogue and chatter can hold us back from being able to do what we love and perform at our best.

Our mindset needs to be strengthened just as much as our body, that’s why we think it is 25% as important as suppleness, stamina and stability within our DRT system. They all require equal attention and what I seem to find a lot with my clients is that mindset is not given the attention it deserves.

So I really want to take some time to help you with this and I thought I would begin with competition nerves as this is often something that can completely overwhelm us (me included!) and I have learnt some great strategies overtime to help and I thought you might find them useful too.


Exhaustion through competition nerves

I remember when I first got out competing again after a good 10-year break and by the time I got to the actual arena to enter and do my test I was completely and utterly exhausted mentally and almost wanted to cry just from share overwhelm.

My horse wasn’t being easy, so the warm-up was enough in itself to navigate, I was trying to remember my test of course and I was just letting my mind go everywhere with all the chatter and storylines and by the time I got to the end of the test I was completely and utterly drained. The scores pretty much reflected my distracted mindset. My poor horse!

I was trying to remind myself the whole time I should be enjoying this, this is what I have wanted to do for so long and yet in that moment everything else was clouding my judgement and I simply couldn’t enjoy it.  I wasn’t letting myself be present, instead, I was trapped inside my own head with my own negative mindset and it won on the day.

Over the next couple of seasons, I spent more time working on my mindset and how to master it to help me perform at my very best on the day and as my mindset improved, so did my riding.


Training the mind to be present and letting go of nerves

One of the best skills I learnt was the ability to let go and create focused anchors in my everyday life, when riding and also within the competition. I train this through meditations and to really help you and share what I can,  I have put together a free Dressage Competition Mindset series of meditations to help you develop this skill too.

What this series will do is help you remove your negative chatter, reduce your fear and help you become more present and at the moment. This is what our horses require us to be, to be able to perform at our very best. So as much as you are training your horse, think about training yourself too, but not just physically, but emotionally as well.

It’s so easy to let our thoughts overwhelm us and these meditations don’t shut down your thoughts, they simply give you strategies to let them go, not attach to them and run off with storylines, but instead to let go and be present. To come back to being in the moment, fully with your horse and able to perform at your best.

I can’t recommend this sort of training enough. I used to get completely exhausted competing and just mentally drained and by working on my mindset and staying present I have been able to manage energy so much better and can come home from the competition and not need an entire week to get over it!

It’s not something that happens right away and you may find at the start of each season you have to train yourself within the competition setting again, but as time goes on you really will notice the impact this can have not only on how you feel but also how well you perform.


Take away the stress at a competition

In order to help with your anxiety or stress on the day of competition, the key really is preparation. So that when you do turn up on the day, you are fully prepared to perform at your very best and you aren’t letting your competition nerves get in the way through lack of preparation.

To me, this means you really need to know your test and have spent time riding movements and working on your accuracy. Don’t leave it up to the day of the competition to be your first ride through the test. This is a recipe for anxiety. You may well ride it ok, but for me personally, I want to remove an opportunity for my mind to think I am unprepared, so really knowing my test helps this and having practised at home is crucial.

In the week or so leading up, concentrate on small things and break the movements down and work on preparing your horse for each movement so that they can perform at their best. Ride through 3-4 movements at a time, repeat them and find the flow, balance and timing you need to really ride them well and prepare your horse successfully.

This requires you to be fully present each ride and really think about what the horse is doing and how you can prepare them better and set them up to perform.

Once you have practised the movements of the tests a few times, run through the whole test a couple of times and string it all together to make sure you know the test well and are heading to the right markers.

By putting in the preparation you are going to set yourself and your horse up for success.  You are also then taking away a huge part of what can overwhelm us on the day, by being prepared.

When you are prepared both physically and mentally you can enjoy it so much more.


On the day of the competition

Focus on what you have control of.

Don’t hope for a certain score or focus on what the judges will say because you can’t control these things. Instead, focus on what makes you perform at your very best. Remove expectations and focus on mastering your warm up. Getting yourself and your horse ready to perform well. Know the minutes you need to both be ready.

Mastering your warmup time comes through practice, but when you get to know your horse and the competition setting, you will have this down to the minute! The two of you will then be fully prepared to enter at A and ride a flowing clear test together.

Then when you ride your test focus on staying fully present, in each movement and any time you feel your mind get distracted, come back to your horse, the movement and finding that flow just like you have practised during the weeks leading up.


Finding the flow for competition

None of this happens overnight, the key, however, is in the process and I certainly am not immune. However, when I am fully present and when I am fully there for my horse, this is when the test flows, this is when the ride is easy and this is when I fully love what I am doing and know my horse does too.

As mentioned before I have put together a series of 10 Competition Mindset Meditations to help you develop this skill of letting go and being present. Just like a muscle needs strengthening, so too does your mindset. You can access them all here, they are also free as a podcast series on Itunes, Stitcher, Podbean, Himalaya, spotify and youtube.

So use them as often as you need and put the time into developing your mindset as much as you do everything else and notice how this changes your whole experience with your riding.

I hope you find these useful and you can go out there and shine with your horse and enjoy what you do even more!


Want more articles on mindset? Try these out.

Dressage Competition Mindset Series

How You Can Do Anything By Changing Your Mindset

Simple Reminders To Achieve A Successful Rider Mindset

Changing Habits And Mastering Routine



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