Urgh… What’s with that paralysing anxiety that strikes just before you step into the ring?
At best it’s irrational…
At worst it has a detrimental effect on you (and your horse’s performance)…
So how do we get those damn nerves under control?
1. Breathe, baby breathe:
Not just a hippy solution, breathing effectively will enable you to to relax and ride at your best. It actually works because increasing your oxygen levels will facilitate better working muscles.
How to do it:
This technique is pretty easy…Just breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in. For instance, inhale for the count of three and exhale for the count of 6.
This causes your vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) to put your body into a state of calm.
Go on, try it 😉
2. Set your ‘gettable goals’:
Goal setting is a simple, but useful technique to ease your psychological anxiety. By creating small, measurable goals you can focus on chunking your performance into bite-sized pieces.
Aim for small victories rather than huge, long term goals. For example, aim to ride your test with smooth transitions and to enjoy yourself.
3. Talk yourself down:
This one might sound a bit woo-woo…. but once you’re dialled you can get it working in just a few seconds.
To start, place your nervousness on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, you’re at an 8 out of ten with jitters…
Next…. identify your main worry.
Maybe you’re worried that this is an important competition and you HAVE to nail it, right?
Well yeah… but what if you don’t?
Life will still go on – and there WILL be other opportunities. You’ve still got your wonderful horse and you can chalk it all up to valuable experience.
Keep rationalising until you can feel yourself reach a 7 on the jitter scale.
Once you’re at a 7, then identify another concern… let’s say you’re worried about making a fool of yourself.
You know what? Who gives a crap what anyone else thinks? Riding is about enjoying a partnership between you and your horse.. so give your horse a big hug, crack a smile and remember why you’re riding in the first place.
Are you at a 6 now?
Keep going with this technique until your mind is in a more logical state…
In the grand scheme of things there’s not a lot to really worry about is there?
Once you’ve done this a few times, you should be able to talk yourself down in a few seconds.
4. The cackling quick fix:
So this one sounds ridiculous – but it really does work…
Make. Yourself. Laugh.
Even if it’s completely fake and you sound like a choking donkey – just do it.
Interestingly, laughing produces the same positive effects on the body whether it’s real or fake. So when you laugh, you release endorphins which are chemicals that function as neurotransmitters and block pain receptors in the brain.
In addition, fake laughing will often stimulate real laughing (usually at the realisation that you’re being ridiculous 😉
This is an amazingly effective technique at ‘resetting’ your nerves.
So when you’re at your next competition, remember that every athlete faces the problem of anxiety at some point in his or her career. The trick is to get your nerves to a manageable level.