I was hanging out in the Solo Swag Wagon this weekend at a small local dressage show when a lady and her coach passed by. The coach was trying to calm the nerves of her student by various means while encouraging her to do deep breathing exercises. It's something I see time and time again. Show nerves suck. But let's give it some perspective. Here's a dose of truth about what show nerves are, where they come from, and what to do about them.
Performance induced anxiety is ultimately the fear of failure. If you knew 110% that when you entered that dressage ring to do your test that you were going to get at least 75% I'm quite certain your anxiety would be diminished. But, we can't predict the future, and failure might actually become your reality when you enter that ring. But guess what.......? No one cares! Now that might sound harsh but I try to use that mindset to keep my show anxiety in perspective. I've had some disaster tests and so has everyone else. Do you remember my last horrible test? Of course you don't.
To eliminate or greatly reduce show nerves we need to shed the ego. When negative thoughts start to creep into my mind and I begin to imagine a variety of disastrous situations, I give my brain a half halt and ask myself: "Who the f*ck do you think you are??". Do I really think I am so important that the entire dressage world watches my every move? The reality is the last time I was in the ring the only one watching my ride was my groom and she happened to be busy taking selfies with her dog during my test. She got some great pics and I had a decent ride with a few bobbles.
So if you think everyone is going to watch you fail, I'm sorry, but you're thinking way too highly of yourself. That ego needs a half halt. Maybe even a full halt.
Next, ask yourself this question: if Charlotte DuJardin came to Amberlea Meadows (Edmonton, Alberta's local show grounds. I know, you've probably never heard of it, but insert the name of your local show grounds here) and had to ride a dressage test with a younger horse, do you think she'd feel the stress of top competition? Or would she feel like it's a nice relaxing show to just have fun and focus on her ride? I'm guessing the latter. It's important to keep things in perspective.
It is also important to believe in your own potential. You are a way better rider than you give yourself credit for! And you are capable of doing some pretty amazing things on your horse. You have to remind yourself that you are destined for greater things than just this schooling show. This isn't the Olympic games! (Yet!) Believing in your potential and feeding into your ego are two separate things. Just because you have limitless potential, which I believe all humans do, doesn't mean the world all of a sudden watches your every move. Ego is the concept that you are so self-important that the world is devastated at your failures or comes rushing over to hoist you up into the air when you have a success. Most likely, none of those two things is ever going to happen in the sport of dressage.
Dressage is an individual sport. It's about self-improvement. Embrace failure and live in the moment of your successes. Don't feed that ego and believe in the power of your own potential.
Now get in that ring! I have high hopes for you, but don't take it too seriously!