Especially when you’re pretty sure you’re going to throw up.
As I rode through the in-gate at my first show after my 2 year hiatus from riding, I fought a conglomeration of feelings. Most of me felt like I was going to throw up, or pass out, or maybe both. A little bit of me was serious, my game face was on. Part of me was convinced I was asleep and that this was all a dream. And an itsy-bitsy piece of me tucked wayyyy back in the corner of my brain was jumping up and down with excitement.
Whether you have been doing this for years, you got a late start, or you are coming back after a little break most of us share one thing in common — that whirlwind of nerves as you pick up your courtesy circle at the end of the arena. I spent all morning trying to prepare for my first show and convincing myself that I was going to make it out of that arena alive. Fear itself can often be our worst enemy when in the saddle, so I sucked it up and got on and crossed my fingers that fate was on my side that day.
Step One: Think. Happy. Thoughts.
There is no easier way to set yourself up for failure than to only think of what can go wrong. Seriously, I used to ride with a girl who would always get on and make jokes about how she was going to fall off and sure enough — what did she do? She fell off. One day our coach stopped us as we joked about how many times we saw the girl topple off and broke it down for us: Horses feel your emotions, they sense what we are preparing for and their confidence is built up with our help. If we are thinking, “please don’t fall, please don’t fall,” we are most likely jittery with nerves, looking down, and not setting ourselves or our horses up for success.
From that moment on I refused to get on a horse until I had cleared my mind of any negative thoughts — that is, until I took my little break from riding. My second show with my former lease horse, I woke up with this feeling in my gut. I just knew something was going to go wrong. I dreaded getting on and the whole trailer ride to the arena I tossed around a few ideas in my head to convince my trainer I needed to play the role of supportive side-ring coach today. If there is one thing I am not, though, it’s a quitter. So I got on and tried to ignore those nasty thoughts and guess what, mid-trip they crept back up and poof. Just like magic I was toppling over a fence and thinking, “well I knew that was going to happen.”
Step Two: Don’t be a Negative Nancy, even though it is SO easy to be one
You can’t ignore your fears, but you can’t let them consume you either. I still get nervous when we bump the fences up or on days that Joey feels a little fresh, but I find my happy place. And do you know where my happy place is? In the saddle. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t do what we do if it scared us so bad that we hated every second of it.
My husband was a football player. The way he talks about football is the way I talk about jumping. He was terrified as he walked on that field, he knew he might get hurt, but he put his helmet on and did it anyway because he loved it. As equestrians, no matter the discipline, are just the same. We love that adrenaline rush. We love that high as we land from a fence and turn to the next one or perform a elegant dressage test or tell that barrel pattern who is boss. We love the feeling of working together as a team with an animal that has no clue what we are saying other than how we communicate with our bodies.
So sure, you can be scared, but thrive on that emotion! Channel that anxiety somewhere else. My favorite thing to do when I am nervous is to first, say a little prayer (I am a religious person and it helps me to feel like someone is watching over me). Then, I repeat my mantra, “You got this.” I can literally be seen walking into the arena whispering, “You got this,” over and over again (no joke, watch every video of me ever taken at a show). Third, I picture Joey and me successfully landing from each fence in the arena with a big smile on my face. Take a deep breath. Do it.
Step Three: Ride it like you stole it
If you go into that arena picturing yourself as the winner or making a clear trip, you’re going to be in a much more positive place and that alone will help you succeed. Get in there and put in the best ride you can. Trust your horse. Trust your coach. Trust your heart, not your head. Your head will always try and trick you. Powerwalk your way into that arena and show off. You are big. You are bad. And you got this. You hear me?
Ok… now I am just giving myself a pep talk while I write this.
What I am trying to say is, trust yourself. Trust yourself and the skills you have developed and put your best effort in. That is worth way more than a blue ribbon.
Go adult ammys, and go riding!
Meagan DeLisle has spent her whole life clipping photos of horses out of magazines and dreaming of the day that her photo appears in one. She spends her days balancing her new marriage, a demanding career, and a desire to spend every free moment in the saddle.