Anticipation is My Achilles Heel
Confession: I’m panicking at the thought of competition this weekend.
It seems to me that anticipation is the hardest part for you.- Allan Horn, 2018 Gobi Desert Cup Click To Tweet
This summer I spent two weeks with Allan Horn, one of the 2018 Gobi Desert Cup riders in Mongolia. On the first leg of our journey home, he said something which resonated, “It seems to me that anticipation is the hardest part for you.”
Truer words were never spoken. Allan was referring of course to the near panic I had before the Official Race on the last day of the Gobi Desert Cup. Although I wanted nothing more than to race across the desert, when given the slightest opportunity to bow out of the race, I tried to take it because of my nerves.
He hit the nail on the head. Once I was mounted on the horse and committed to race my nerves quieted and I just DID it! This is the same anticipatory panic I experience each time I enter a horse show.
Oh yes, my famous competition nerves. In fact, this anxiety was a contributing factor to my stepping away from riding as a teenager. In my book, Confessions of a Timid Rider, I go into detail about my first rated horse show in the chapter, “Horse Shows and Oh No’s”. Quitting as I did is something I have always regretted. I got nervous, dismounted, and scratched never to show again as a young girl, all because of anxiety and nerves. The anticipation of it all.
So why did I enter a schooling show this weekend? First, Ferrous and I had the summer off. With intense heat and humidity, his anhidrosis was in full swing and resulted in light riding only in the early morning or late evenings. More, my schedule was incredibly tight with children’s camps, activities, and work. Second, both Ferrous and I needed a goal to get back into shape and jumping condition. Third, I must be a masochist. There is no other explanation for why I keep putting myself in this position. I am not after ribbons, nor attention. In fact, I’d rather ride without everyone watching me. And yet, every few years I enter a schooling show on my home turf.
There can be excitement in the preparation, that lovely butterfly effect the day before a big holiday or vacation. But for someone lacking self-confidence or struggling with performance anxiety, even a schooling show can create sleepless nights, crippling self-doubt, and even self-sabotage. As I sit here my mind is struggling to find an excuse not to ride and not to show. The only thing keeping me in the game is that I’m looking forward to the costume contest!
I sent a request out on my Facebook page, The Timid Riders, and asked how others dealt with performance nerves. The responses were fantastic, and I wanted to share some of them with you.
- “Breathe”. It may seem simple, but often we get nervous and forget to breathe, or do not breathe enough especially while riding. This came up a few times and someone even went a little further with this advice, “hum songs, it forces your body to breath and relax while also have your horse calm down and listen to you.”
- “Over the top organized.” Prep work makes the dream work. This speaks to my very Type-A soul and makes perfect sense. Although for me, I find that I do best when I don’t think about the show in advance too much.
- “Positive visualization.” A classic and for good reason. If we can’t see ourselves succeeding how can anyone else? Sometimes in a lesson or training ride, I take a break, breathe, and imagine the best outcome for our time in the saddle. I imagine smiling, remembering the course, and feeling happy and confident as I finish. It may not be scientific but it does help to calm my nerves and to inspire self-confidence.
- “Pretend the judge is naked!” This made me laugh and came from a very confident horsewoman from Australia, my friend, Gobi Desert Cup rider Tania Orlov.
Of course, there are a few other suggestions like taking Rescue Remedy and staying away from caffeine, both great ideas. I also use Vetiver essential oil and carry a worry stone in my pocket. A smooth stone, when my nerves get the best of me, I can rub it and helps me to self-soothe.
The truth is, I want to become comfortable with riding in these horse shows. Once I’m in the ring my nerves become manageable albeit never go fully away. The lead up to the show, especially the last few days, is what causes me the most problems. But I’m trying to let my passion be greater than my fear. To do that I must practice and challenge myself. After all, there couldn’t be a safer environment than a schooling show at home surrounded by my barn family.
How do you handle nerves?
There are few things more beautiful than watching a rider and horse. It’s so amazing you went to Mongolia to participate, and well done for not giving into nerves and missing out on such an amazing event. Quite some time ago I read a quote “feel the fear and do it anyway” and it has stuck with me all this time. I used to be so nervous about many things, and often I would decide not to participate. While there are still many instances where I will feel uncomfortable and not go, it’s usually something that I don’t care much about anyway. I find remembering that quote has validated that it’s okay to be nervous, natural even, as long as you acknowledge and honour the feeling…and do it anyway.
That is a great quote and something I try to incorporate into my life all the time. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone!
Cute halloween horse!
I totally agree on your tips to calm down
Breathe – this is huge and so easy to forget
Prep – This is probably the most important!
Visualize – this is great too and has worked for others, but harder for me
Pretend the Judge is naked – lol! Maybe sometimes.
I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to picture most people naked. LOL. I think my biggest hurdle is breathing!
Naked judges would make me MORE nervous, LOL! Love the pictures of your costume for Day of the Dead celebration.
Thank you, I was very proud of that costume and Delight made a fantastic skeleton horse. He was so proud. I think naked judges would be too distracting. You wouldn’t know where to look!
When I am nervous I go for a walk and try to relax or sit at a coffee shop or the dog park just watching the people go by.
I absolutely love people watching! I rather enjoy watching and imagining their own stories.
Rescue remedy and CBD help both me and my anxious cat. I’ve let anxiety get to me so many many times and you’re so right, it is about the anticipation.
Anxiety can absolutely be the worst! I’ve been managing it but now it is the evening before and frankly I’m starting to get a little nauseated. But I keep reminding myself that this is something I wanted to do, and it’s just for fun.
I can relate! As a rider and past show competitor, who loved going to and competing in shows, I would make myself sick when I was waiting around to be called into the ring for a jumping class. Thoughts of “what if I forget the course” would spin through my mind. As weird or funny as this may seem, I found if someone told me “just do your best”, that calmed me. It took the pressure off me – that I put on myself – to be perfect. I went into the ring with the attitude “I can just do my best”.
You nailed it on the head, “putting pressure on myself”. I only have my own expectations to live up to. Thank you so much for the reminder.
Honestly I feel like your experience with nerves may be just a prevalent with other equestrian riders. Maybe they are all just not speaking up about it?! I remember when I wanted to try acting and performing my nerves would be insane off the charts before a performance. Then I read about how Barbara Streisand (legend) gets nauseous and has stage fright before every performance. You’d think she’d not have a worry in the world right? She’s a legend. My point is , like you did, you just work through the nerves and hop on that horse anyway. It takes a lot of will and courage. I commend you. I’m a scaredy cat when it comes to horses. I love looking from afar though. They are beautiful and magical. 😉
Wow! You had an ‘Aha Moment’. Allan Horn seems a very wise, insightful man. I never figured out how to overcome my nerves and am disappointed in myself for not doing so. I had piano lessons, singing lessons, and guitar lessons and quit everything because I was expected to perform at recitals and other shows. I’m glad you’ve recognized your issue and are addressing it.
Lola The Rescued Cat
Nerves can definitely get to us. I also tend to be anxious about certain situations, and I’m disappointed when it keeps me from doing something I really want to do. Congrats on the Gobi Desert Cup and staying corageous!
I’m glad that you didn’t let your anxiety rob you of the chance to ride in the Gobi Desert Cup! When I feel anxious, I sometimes think of what the logical “worst thing” that could happen. And in doing so, I realize that I can probably handle that too.
Love the costume photo! Ah yes, performance nerves! Anticipation could either make me sweat or pump me up! When I used to show horses, I would always get them right up until I was let in the ring. What I would do is take a lap or two around the practice ring and definitely “breathe.” Then I would nod to my Mom who was my greatest supporter at the time and always attended my shows, and then take my place on deck. Once I placed my Stetson on, I can still feel it…I would close my eyes, breathe, pat my horse’s neck, breathe out and become centered and one with my horse. It’s funny, I don’t know if you feel this – but I could always tell right as I entered the ring after centering, whether or not would go as I hoped!
I used to get really really nervous before public speaking and also tennis matches. I found practise before or prep and doing it more and more made both so much easier in both cases (as long as I won in tennis and improved). I did a lot of training in both and was taught to embrace the fear or nerves and use for excitement and better performance. In tennis we were taught to grunt so we couldn’t hold our breath as we hit and positive visualization. In public speaking, rehearsing and reframing the presentation and being grateful for the gift that everyone was giving me- their full attention listening to what I wanted to say.
Anticipation and expectations can indeed be either an Achilles heel or even a wrecking ball.
I, too, experience anticipation anxiety, especially when traveling. I get so nervous that I can’t function about 3 days before a trip. Once I leave for the airport or get on the road, I’m fine. I’m trying to learn how to relax because Truffle picks up on my emotions so easily.
Anticipation is the toughest part of my doggo too, fortunately it manifests as excitement rather than anxiety – but it’s so much work to keep him calm.
Anytime he hears anything, he goes crazy.
Other dogs on TV.
Anytime I get up he thinks hes getting played with, petted, or fed
Keep working through it!
Great advice! It’s easy to give up and harder to push on, but worth every effort. I myself have a reactive, intense dog and work often with this type of personality in my massage practice. I confess, helping these animals and earning their trust is a true gift.