Learning to deal with nerves

These days, I get really nervous about competing, or doing anything a bit out of the ordinary with my horse. It’s got worse as I’ve got older and it’s held me back at times.

Being nervous isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can have a really negative impact if it starts to prevent you from doing the things you want to do. Many a time I’ve avoided certain situations for fear of what might happen and then been cross with myself for being a wimp. I’ve also found that it can make me ride defensively, with the handbrake on, which doesn’t help my young horse relax either.

The tricky thing is, I’m not ready to hang up my boots just yet! In fact, I’m more ambitious than ever about competing, as I have a lovely, talented horse and a real determination to progress. I’m not aiming for the stars but I’d like to see how far we can go.

Up until fairly recently, I’d just accepted that I’m not a brave rider anymore and that there isn’t much I can do about it. I had got into the frame of mind that it’s best to expect the worst, then if it doesn’t happen, it’s a bonus! But a number of things have happened which have started to change my perspective and I’m learning more about how negative thought processes can have a very powerful impact on what plays out in reality.

Here are a few tips which can help set you on a different path:

  • Don’t listen to the “You should be doing this” brigade. We all know the horse world is full of ‘experts’ and you can be bombarded with advice and views about what is best for you and your horse. Some people find it hard to understand how crippling being nervous can be, and their ‘toughen up’ talk is usually pretty unhelpful. Take things at your own pace and don’t feel pushed into doing anything you don’t want to do.
  • Remember, you are not alone. You may think that you are the only one who feels this way. You watch all the incredible achievements people post on social media and feel like you’ll never be good enough. But believe me, there are many people who really struggle with their nerves competing at the highest level, including professionals. It’s just that they have found ways to deal with it.
  • Invest in training. Find a trainer who you really connect with, who has a positive, encouraging approach. I invest as mush as I can afford into training, as it not only helps us to progress, it helps with self-belief which I try to carry over into a competition environment.
  • Seek positive support. One of the biggest influences on me recently has been some incredibly supportive people who have changed my view on mindset. I am learning how positive thinking can transform your approach and ultimately shape what you achieve. I have been working with a fab coach, who has been helping me with my business, but it’s had a much wider impact on changing my thought processes and believing in the possible. There is plenty of support out there and a growing number of equestrian coaches who offer online courses, workshops and training specifically designed to help build your confidence.
  • Follow some role models. There are some fantastic equestrian role models on social media who are very open about the challenges they face and what they do to overcome them. For example, Olivia Towers does a weekly Facebook live session with valuable advice on a range of issues with a particular focus on mindset and visualisation. Lili Brooksby-Dalby gives refreshingly honest accounts of her journey with her sharp but mega talented horse Fons, and Diary of Wimpy Eventer is a hilarious blog about getting back into eventing. And there are many many more!
  • Little steps gain big results. Sometimes you can feel under pressure to throw yourself in at the deep end. But I have found taking small, gradual steps is the best way to build confidence over the longer term. Rather than plunging straight into a competition environment, I have been building this slowly by going to clinics at a range of venues with the support of fantastic trainers. I’ve also been to an adult training camp which means you have intensive support over a couple of days and plenty of time for your horse to get used to the surroundings. Even simple things like hacking can be a major issue, so getting someone to walk with you on foot for a 10-minute hack to start with, will help you gain more confidence and build trust with your horse. I find that if you take things a step at a time and have a positive experience, you begin to feel like you can tackle the next thing with greater positivity.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m still a massive wimp and I am a long way from being ‘cured’ but I am much more positive now I believe there is a way forward. I know that I’m not going to change overnight, that it’s a gradual learning process, but it feels like my goals are more achievable. The first step is to believe that you can change the way you think and feel – but to make it happen, you have to be prepared to really work at it.

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