Show nerves, everyone gets them so how do we cope? My humble thoughts on the matter are firstly to acknowledge them rather than pretend otherwise. Yes I am a bit nervous because it’s my first show/ my first time at xx level/ my first championship or simply because I have put a lot of time and money into getting here and I desperately want to do well.
Also acknowledge that even top professionals get nervous. I read an article by an international level event rider who said that the day you stop getting nervous before cross country is the day to stop eventing. Well we can apply that to dressage too.
And is it really nerves or the excitement and energy that a competition atmosphere inevitably creates? That butterfly feeling in the pit of your stomach is not necessarily a bad thing. Laura Deas, the UK skeleton bobsled athlete who won Bronze at Pyeong Chang told me, that in her sports psychologist training, she was taught that this feeling is excitement and is your body’s way of saying “I am ready, this feeling will give me the edge I need to win”. When I start to get that nervous feeling, I tell myself “This means its game on, its show time!”
Another coping mechanism is to keep busy. As an amateur, with 1 or maybe 2 horses to ride, there is a lot of time at a show to sit around and get nervous. I always think it’s easier if you have multiple rides in a day as you simply don’t have the time (or energy) to get too nervous. So perhaps groom for yourself, clean tack, muck out stalls, braid your own horse (there are lots of great YouTube videos on how to do this) or watch riders you admire in the warm up as well as in their class.
Downplay the show in your mind: it’s just riding, I can do that, I just need to stay between the white boards and not fall off.
Mentally, I go to a quiet place in my mind before the class, clear of all distractions other than what I am about to do. It’s the same strategy I used when sitting exams. Just don’t try to engage me in conversation when I am in that place, it may not end well for you!
Well I hope my ramblings may help, and I am always keen to hear on how others cope and channel that energy that a show creates.