As riders we all experience a huge number of pressures, we all have fears and worries and everyone that rides has someone to answer too, that can be an owner, a sponsor, a parent or even yourself. Often answering to yourself is the worst. It is so easy to be incredibly tough on yourself when days are not quite going to plan. A totally normal thing is to tell yourself you're useless; you're rubbish; and you should just give up. BUT giving up won’t solve anything or make you feel any better. We all compete because we love the sport; the horses and that thrill of going cross country. So how do we deal with the pressures we put on ourselves or the pressures an outside person puts on us.
Over the past few years I have found pressure to be one of my biggest demons. But I didn’t get the pressure from owners or sponsors it was just pressure I was putting on myself. Yes, when an owners horse doesn’t go well of course they are going to be disappointed but they also know we are just humans and sport isn’t all standing on a podium having won your class. The whole journey of owning an event horse is the ups and downs. I would often tell myself that I wasn’t good enough and that when something went wrong it was all my fault. But having been through a lot of ups and downs over the past two years I have realised it wasn’t all my fault. Of course sometimes I got it wrong but sometimes the horses got it wrong and sometimes it was just a bit of bad luck. Let’s face it when Eventing you do need a bit of luck on your side. So how have I dealt with this demon; and what ways have I found to help me when I’m feeling under pressure?
My biggest answer to this is just by breathing normally, it may sound stupid but, when you're feel yourself getting worked up, nervous or upset just allow yourself a few minutes to breathe normally. Look around you, take in the surroundings and always remember that there is another day. One thing I have learnt whilst competing, is that if you are not in the right mind set sometimes it is best to withdraw and save both yourself and your horse for another day. Obviously this is much easier if your riding for yourself and not for an owner, but the majority of owners would have far more respect for you if you were just honest and said today is not the day. In the long run this could save a potential elimination and both you and the horse loosing confidence. After all a lot of riding is about confidence.
Take a step back, if you have had a rubbish run then there is no harm or embarrassment in stepping down a level or taking a weekend off from competing and going training instead. This straight away takes the pressure off. Doing this doesn’t make you rubbish or weak it just makes you sensible. Wouldn’t you far rather finish the day thinking ‘that felt great and we could have done the higher level’ rather than thinking ‘oh god I wish I had stepped down, what am I going to do now’.
Take a break from social media, it is so easy to sit on the internet and look at how well everyone else appears to be doing, it is very important to remember that social media isn’t always the truth. We all feel we need to justify our days and make them sound amazing even when in reality they really haven’t been amazing. How often do you write a status saying everything is fine but in fact your feeling pretty rubbish? On these days when you have felt the pressure and things haven’t gone right, instead of going on your phone and beating yourself up, reach out to a friend or a trainer and just chat through things.
We all love to win, anyone would be lying if they said they didn’t but not winning isn’t the end of the world. It is so easy for us to forget that. Going into the ring thinking all that you want is to win is not going to make it happen in fact it will almost certainly stop it from happening. Winning comes from a bit of luck on the day and your preparation before. If your someone that gets nervous find a tactic at home with your trainer that helps calm your nerves then put it into practice at a small low key show and then head to your main competition. For me just going in the ring with a specific thing to focus on works, for example; Maintaining a forward bouncy canter, as soon as you concentrate on that you stop panicking when going into the fences you allow them to just come to you.
Every horse and rider is different, which is what makes the sport so exciting, stop watching rider after rider in the ring and putting pressure on yourself. Instead pick a couple of riders to watch so you can see how the course is riding and then walk away and distract yourself, then get on your horse and stick to your plan and forget about everyone around you. They all have their own problems and worries and trust me even though you feel like people are watching and judging you, they are not!
NEVER FORGET EVENTING IS MEANT TO BE FUN!