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.

Points, prizes and Petplan preparations

I snuck out to Keysoe earlier this week to do a couple more Prelim tests. I was hoping to gain one decent score so we could qualify for the Petplan Area Festivals but as ever, my mind was more focused on not making a complete idiot of myself rather than winning any prizes!

Rupert arrived pretty chilled and only needed a little stretch on the lunge before I got on. It was lovely and quiet, so we went straight outside to warm up and get used to the usual spooky monsters. He felt very settled, even to the point of having to get after him a bit – which was a reassuring feeling! We still had trouble getting past the banners entering the arenas but with lots of leg and a couple of taps on the shoulder, we body swerved enough to get past them and up the centre(ish) line.

In the first test, Rupert broke into canter a couple of times when I asked for a bigger trot but the rest was OK so I was really pleased with him. Our second test was only ten minutes later, so just enough time for a quick stretch before picking him up and going back in. He felt a little behind my leg but there were no major hiccups and it was a really positive step forward.

Our scores were way above what I had hoped for – 66.8% in the first test and 71.79% in the second! As long as my calculations are correct, and maths isn’t my strong point, that means we have qualified for the Regionals – something I had never thought possible a few months ago. Now I have the dilemma about whether to go out and do some novice tests to try and qualify for the Area Festivals as well. That means getting out a few times between now and the end of July to get three scores above 62%. And I was only just starting to remember where I was going in the Prelim tests!

Rupert is having a well-earned week off next week when I go to Glastonbury. Time for us both to let our hair down! When I get back, I’ll need to have a plan of action about what we do next. It just goes to show that a few positive experiences can really help boost your confidence, as I am starting to think ahead to the next goal.

One other thing on the priority list between now and then is to sort out his mane, as it was a flipping nightmare to plait!

The value of volunteering

I’m too busy. I don’t have the right skills or knowledge. I won’t know anyone. These are just some of the reasons why you might decide against volunteering. But even the smallest amount of support can make a huge difference to organisations which rely on volunteers to help them.

In the past I have helped out on school and local community centre committees but more recently I have joined British Dressage’s Eastern Region as the marketing representative. This was an ideal opportunity to combine my skills with my passion, and to get to know more people with a love of dressage in the region. I was worried about the time commitment and how I would balance that with managing my own business, but I was reassured that any time I could give would be gratefully received.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of British Dressage, like so many other equestrian disciplines. Each of the regional committees are run by volunteers and competitions simply wouldn’t be able to run without the scorers, stewards, runners, writers and many other supporters who give their time for the love of the sport.

Giving something back to a cause you are passionate about is a great feeling but there are all sorts of other benefits to volunteering. For example, having written for a judge at a competition, I gained a valuable insight into what the judge is looking for and how to ride tests more strategically to gain maximum points. There is so much you can learn from the people around you, so it’s a chance to improve your own knowledge and riding.

As part of National Volunteers’ Week, we are celebrating the vital contribution that volunteers make to British Dressage. You can find out more by visiting the Eastern Region’s Facebook page.


What a day!

Yesterday I took Rupert out to do a couple of BD prelims at our local venue, Oaklands College. Rupert had never been there before, so I wasn’t expecting much. I planned to treat it as a bit of a schooling round just for experience.

As we arrived, the enormity of the decision to come somewhere new without a lunging pen, suddenly hit me. I reached for the bottle of Rescue Remedy that I keep on the lorry and swigged half the bottle.

Rupert clocked the peacock proudly displaying his magnificent feathers when we let the lorry ramp down. The llamas on the way to the warm up were even more scary, particularly as the little group of weird creatures came over to the fence to watch Rupert as he snorted and shaked at the prospect of getting past them.

We made a dramatic entrance into the warm up, and I imagined what the other riders were thinking. “Nothing to see here” I said to myself, and led him round on foot for a few circuits before getting on. I opted for getting into trot quickly and doing lots of transitions to keep his mind on me and I was really pleased with how he started to let go of the tension.

Too quickly it was time to go in. The first test was wobbly. Lack of steering and concentration led to a disagreement with a white board and we came to a grinding halt at A when the spooky monsters were just too much. A quick circle to get into canter and we were off again. The rest of the test was OK and I was really delighted with 66.6%.

After an hour’s break, it was time for the second test. This time I was determined to be bolder, braver and give Rupert as much reassurance as possible that I had everything under control. He was incredible. Still wobbly with a big spook down at A again but he really tried hard and the canter felt particularly good.

The stress of the day had clearly got to Rupert as he wouldn’t go back on the lorry. He flat refused, and no amount of coaxing was working. As I was starting to lose the will to live, my daughter came back to the lorry with the news that we’d got a really good score. She mentioned 75% but I refused to believe it. The entire class (and it was big) had finished by the time Rupert gave up and walked on the lorry. I went back to look at the score board and it was true! We’d absolutely smashed it, winning the class by a long way with lovely comments from the judge. This was the kind of score that I have only ever dreamed about. The frustration of the loading issue quickly dissipated and I drove back to the yard with the biggest grin.

A whole 24 hours later and it still doesn’t seem real. Did that actually happen? I keep looking at the test sheet to check! I am sure I’ll come down to earth with a bump later – time for loading practice I think.


Bridle review – Wolds Exclusive Bling

Rupert has a weird shaped head. It’s a cross between hippo and sea horse. He’s got a really broad forehead tapering down to a tiny little muzzle, so off-the-peg bridles just don’t really work.

I started with a mish mash of leatherwork from various old bridles but decided to invest in a proper bridle when he’d chewed the noseband to the point I could no longer find the holes. Wolds Exclusive Bling was top of my list, as they offer made to measure bridles in quality English sedgwick leather. They had also recently developed a new ‘Revelation’ headpiece, shaped for extra comfort and ideal for horses with sensitive ears.

Lara, at Wolds Exclusive Bling, is incredibly helpful and passionate about what she does. She gave me loads of advice on how to measure Rupert for the perfect fit. But when I heard she was coming our way to do some bridle fitting, I jumped at the chance of a personal consultation. She brought samples in various finishes and it was great to be able to try them on and see which styles suited him best. She also provided expert advice on which options would work best for his shape and way of going. I chose the Revelation headpiece, a patent drop noseband and a sparkly bling browband for parties.

It wasn’t long before my new bridle arrived and I hurried up to the yard to try it on. It fitted like a glove. The leather is beautiful quality and the design is perfect for Rupert’s hippo-seahorse head. The extra wide headpiece made a clear difference, as Rupert is really fussy about his ears and can be very tense in his poll. I immediately noticed he was more relaxed to ride and that he was much happier about being tacked up. The drop noseband helped to keep his jaw still and tongue below the bit, without the pressure of a traditional flash, and he was steadier in the contact as a result.

I’ve been riding in the bridle for about a year now and it still looks fabulous. I’m not very disciplined about tack cleaning and Rupert likes to put everything in his mouth, so it has to withstand a bit of rough treatment. I couldn’t be happier with it and already have my eyes set on another noseband and more bling to add to the collection!

So, if you are looking for a great value, made to measure, quality bridle, then Wolds Exclusive Bling is definitely worth considering. You won’t be disappointed.

Happy campers

What a great time we had at BD camp last weekend.

Having packed the entire contents of the tack and feed rooms into the lorry, I set off to Keysoe with a mixture of excitement and nervousness about the weekend ahead.

Once we arrived, Rupert settled into his stable well and I met up with fellow campers for prosecco and dinner! We had the first lesson on Saturday at 9am, so it was a very early start as I wanted plenty of time to lunge and wander round the venue beforehand. Rupert came out the stable like a fire-breathing dragon and bucked and squealed around the lunge pen like a hooligan. I can’t say I was particularly relishing the prospect of getting on board at this point and it went through my mind that I could slope off home without anyone really noticing. But I knew I had to do it, I just needed to put on those brave pants and get on with it!

Once on, Rupert settled really well and we had a fantastic lesson in the outdoor arena with Teresa Edmonds, who is an absolute diamond. I normally have lessons on my own, so it made a nice change to have a partner this time. Steve and his lovely horse Woody, were brilliant company and it really helped to settle my nerves and start to enjoy myself. Apart from constantly spooking at the railings at the A end, Rupert was great, so I felt more confident about the test riding in the afternoon.

It took several attempts to get him back into the arena for his test – as he had taken a real dislike to the railings by this point and decided reverse was the best option. Once I’d been towed in by someone on foot, we wobbled our way through the test with no major mistakes but with some spooky moves thrown in. I was delighted with him though – he’d coped with the first day brilliantly, warmed up well with lots of horses and settled enough to get a 66+% result, coming third out of a large group.

Our lesson on day two was in the indoor arena, complete with the shiny pink satin bunting which had worried Rupert a few weeks ago. But nothing was as scary as the three people sitting in the gallery! Rupert was very tight and worried through most of my lesson but he held it together and manged to get a little closer to the scary monsters in the gallery towards the end.

Test two started in a similar way to the previous day – reversing away from the railings and into arena 1 this time. Not ideal! I knew it would be fruitless getting cross with Rupert, as he was nervous and needed reassurance more than anything. Thankfully, help came from another lovely camper and after much persuasion, we got to arena 2 and performed a pretty good test. Despite my idiotic riding and doing two 20m circles instead of 15m, we achieved another 66+% score and came second! Clever boy.

In between riding, there were some great workshops and a pilates class, as well as many, many trips to the stables to muck out, feed, tack up, groom and check the horses. It was exhausting but we had a great time. Rupert thoroughly enjoyed the attention and was pretty miffed when we returned home to only get two or three visits a day. It’s not the kind of service he had become accustomed to! Back to reality Rupert – I’d keel over if I had to do that every day.

Getting ready for camp

On Friday, Rupert and I are heading off to a BD camp for the weekend. With a mixture of excitement and dread, I’m slowly gathering random items into a pile and filling the washing machine with musty old blankets from the lorry, brushing boots and rugs – in between washing school uniform and other important garments. I hope the school jumpers don’t come out too hairy!

So far, the pile includes:

  • Bandages and sadllecloths in assorted colours – must have some matchy matchy options
  • A box of out of date tea bags, coffee and hot chocolate
  • Rugs ranging from summer sheets to arctic duvets
  • A couple of light bulbs from the lorry – I’m hoping Google will tell me how to completely re-configure the electrics so the lights last more than 2 hours
  • Four uncharged phone chargers
  • Two new bags of feed (although enough for five feeds would be sufficient)
  • A miniature chopping board
  • Gin

OK, so I might be missing some essentials but it’s a start. I probably need to write myself a proper list!