Stress At Competitions
We have all been there...you have trained hard for a competition....you are riding beautifully at home, only to discover that once you are in the ring, you are stressed, not focused, and insecure! Your horse isn't respondong to the aids like he does at home, and getting through the test feels like one big survival. Suddenly its not fun anymore, and you just want to go home!
It doesn't have to be that way. There is alot you can do to solve this and many more problems. I am going to give you 6 strategies to help you prepare yourself and your horse for competition so that you can enjoy the experience. Just like it should be. After all, we do this for fun, right? We shouldn't forget that!
GOOD STRESS AND BAD STRESS
Before we talk about the 6 strtegies, you need to know about Stress, the good and the bad.
You need some stress in order to have the right focus and to get motivated. This is good stress.
Good stress releases good hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and creates expansion of the muscles(more muscle strength and alertness), lower digestion activities, sweating (cooling down the body) and increased breathing(oxygen). These responses are very functional and help you deliver a better performance.
If you don't fall into this category, and most of us don't, you and your horse experience too much stress.
Bad Stress will cause your body to release too many stress hormones and the responses become exagerated. You might need to go to the bathroom several times beforehand, you might be out of breath or feeling hot. You might get muscle cramps and have difficulty following the movements of your horse.
Stress, Good and Bad, affects our mental state as well as our physical one. Good Stress levels only activate the areas of the brain needed to perform the task. Bad Stress levels makes us anxious and it becomes extremely difficult to focus.
Your horse experiences the same good and bad stress symptoms. Combine them together and things can go bad pretty quickly! Here's how you can be more successful at competitions.
1. Build Confidence- Master your Level
Feeling confident reduces stress. It is scientifically proven. It is essential to master your level so that you can fall back on well-rehearsed responses. Ride one level below the level you are schooling at home.
What level are you training at home?
What level are you competing at?
Do you feel like you have mastered your level?
Why or Why not?
What do you feel you need to work on?
2. Build Confidence- Discard Limiting Beliefs
When you enter the arena with self-confidence, you are able to stay focused and concentrate on the test. Riders who lack this, are more likely to be distracted by limiting beliefs and self doubt. Once you feel frustration, doubt, and insecurity upon entering the arena, there are limiting beliefs right beneath those emotions. The first step to changing limiting beliefs is to recognize them! BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!!
What thoughts do you have when you are in the warm-up ring or in the competition ring?
Write them down.
The other riders in the warm up are way better than me.
I'm sure I wont be able to keep my horse active throughout the test.
No way that my horse will stay calm and relaxed in that arena with all those flags and potted pants!
Now- Acknowledge that your limiting beliefs are NOT the truth anf that they can be changed.
Next - think of a different belief that is more helpful for each limiting belief that you wrote down previously.
Lastly- this is the hardest part- really act according to the new belief as if they ARE the truth.
3. Build Confidence- Prepare at Home
Building Confidence for yourself is essential. But equally important is building confidence for your horse! Make sure you have practiced ALL of the exercises at home before asking for them at a test at a competition. Make the competition a positive experience for both you and your horse!
4. Physical Relaxation - Heart Coherance
This a relaxation technique. This isn't just about lowering your heart rate, its also about getting your heart coherant.
EXERCISE: To get a more coherant heart rate, try to take just as much seconds for breathing in as for breathing out. Fr example, take four seconds to breathe in and four seconds to breathe out. You can do this at any time. Lear to control your breathing and your horse will follow and do the same.
5. Physical Relaxation - Relaxed Posture
When at a competion and the stress level of either you or your horse rises, work a ground pattern to promote physical relaxation. The groundwork pattern relaxes because of two reasons.
First it lets the horse bend in his body so he phyically relaxes. When your horse relaxes phsically he also relaxes mentally. So do you.
Second, choose a groundwork pattern he knows and that you use at home. He will understand this and know what to do. It will incease his confidence. You are asking him questions he knows the answers to, and therefore he will relax. So will you.
Ride the same pattern under saddle before moving forward and entering the ring.
What is the pattern you use at home to relax you and your horse? If you dont have one, find one and practic eit at home.
6. Focus- Have an Actionable Goal
You have most likely set goals for yourself and your horse. Often these are long term goals. However, it can be helpful to set short tern goals for each competition.
When you set the right goals it can help you focus and give you a tool for when stress levels increase. I emphasize the right goal....because getting a score of 65% or winning first place isnt a very helpful goal.
First off, you are not in control of who wins, and second, that goal doesnt provide ANY guidelines on how to acomplish it. Its not actionable. Set your goals so thatbthey tell you what to do.
You want to keep the right rhythm and more impulsion in your ride. You know that if you count the rhythm you are able to keep the rhythm. So lets say you set a goal to count the rhythm throughout the test like "1,2,1,2,1,2' etc. So when your horse loses impulsions and rhythm, you remind yourself of your goal and start counting again instead of worrying about what is happenning, Your goal leads to a specific action.
Ask yourself what you would like to accomplish at the next competion?
What do you want to improve?
How can you translate this to an actionable goal?
Keep a journal throughout the competition season with all of the questions above and their answers so that you can see and track your progress!
Good Luck and Happy Riding!