What I Want To Remember About The Mental Side Of Competing

I loved to compete the first summer I showed. I was riding Savanah and I don't remember ever worrying about her behavior. She was completely trust worthy and we knew our work. I was nervous, but in a good way. Seriously my biggest worry was learning to do her braids.
Then, because Rogo wasn't ready, I showed my Appaloosa Dan at Training Level. Although Dan was trust worthy at home, he bucked all through our warm up at our first show. I don't know how I stayed on as he bucked and leaped while galloping the full width of the warm up and several times across the dressage ring, but I did. (When we got home I found a sore under the girth area that the vet said was an infected fly bite. He was fine when that cleared up.) At our next show the stall door wasn't screwed in properly and he got out and ransacked the barn - threw chairs around, ate other horses feed, kept horses up all night, pooped everywhere,... It was a nightmare.
Then I faced bringing Rogo to his first shows, with memories of Dan haunting me. Those bad memories became a physical sensation. As I looked forward to our first shows, even months before, I'd get huge, painful knots in my stomach. I was still incredibly nervous this spring. I confess, I actually had the second anxiety attack of my life the night before the show. Doug wasn't here so I called my mother to come to the house because I was sick, the room was spinning, and I was sure I was going to faint and fall down. I didn't know I was having an anxiety attack until it was over, and I wasn't conscious of being anxious. I can't even tell you for sure what I was afraid of - doing poorly in the test? loading and unloading? the warm up ring by the highway? all of the above? don't know. But Rogo did fine, after some initial unease warming up.
Then we went to the clinic. I don't want to jinx myself, but leaving for the clinic I knew he'd be good. I was much more relaxed, knowing this, and he was the best yet. Knowing we weren't competing, that it was just a learning experience even though we'd ride and be scored on tests, made a big difference. So this is what I learned - going to a show should be exactly like this! It's a fun learning experience. It's all in the attitude it's approached with.
I was listening to an audio tutorial of Jane Savoie's today that my dressage friend Cindy sent me. It's about mental preparation for a show and is so relevant to this. Interestingly in it she mentions visualizing your horse with relaxed, flopped ears, listening to you. I noticed my banner picture:

I want to compare it to a year ago:

Although neither picture is bad, he looks more relaxed this year. And while I'm still not as relaxed as I should be (hmm, why am I leaning forward?), I sure look happier! So we're on the right track. As an aside, it's interesting to see Rogo's frame changing.

Maybe we've, Rogo and I, crossed over to being happy and having fun in our training and competing. Biggest goal met.


Oak Creek Ranch said…
You've done an excellent job of understanding where you've been, where you are now, and where you're going.
juliette said…
Very insightful post. You are on the right track just by naming it. You also now have a good memory to emulate - the way you felt before the clinic.

With horses, I know I have to have fun, or else I transfer nervous energy to them. I purposely laugh and smile a lot to relax.
Wendy said…
One thing I love about competing in dressage is that everytime the judges score you, you end up having constructive criticism to go along with the numbers. It helps me to think about showing as a learning tool and not as a "competition." If I keep thinking of it as learning opportunities then I won't work myself into a sweat over it! It's all in your view point. Congrats on learning how to have fun! That's huge!
Barbara said…
Riding is such a mental game and showing even more so. You seem to have a handle on it. I think we all struggle with it. :-)
TBDancer said…
Getting positive experiences under your belt--whether working around horses on the ground or in lessons or at shows--is a good way to build confidence. HOWEVER, it can work against you if you're not prepared to accept the fact that not all horses are the same. You are always a bit "up" for the show or clinic setting because you never know what's going to happen.

That said, I think you are making wonderful progress with Rogo (and he with you ;o) and once all the pieces fit together and you sit down and back in the saddle, ahem, you'll have experiences like the first year you showed with a schoolmaster that had been there, done that, and was willing to show you the ropes.
smazourek said…
Two thumbs up for your positive attitude :)
Karen said…
I just love your horse. Such a gorgeous guy with a million dollar mind. :) I still get show nerves, too. I think it's because riding at a show is different than riding at home - it's a new skillset really. Especially with young horses.
Jeni said…
Carol - I believe we may be twins. At least we have like minds when it comes to "hauling out".

Let me tell you - My motto before Rosie's first show a week ago was "We'll be be rock stars, or she's going to run through every fence there is all kill me"

I was so extremely nerveous but my young mare taught me something at that show - there is a 'work' switch in her brain and if I just sit back and ride like I do at home she's going to give me the absolute best she can.

I think you figuring this out too. Rogo is great horse, with a good mind. I'm sure he'll take it all in stride once you do.
Anonymous said…
When I decided I was going to ride professionally I had a short and simple conversation with myself. I said, the day I was no longer having fun I was going to stop and fin a new job, because if I'm not having fun, I might as well get a job that makes money.

FUN is the most important thing of riing your horse. You are improoving, and will keep doing so if you keep having fun, improovment will be found.
Jan said…
Carol, You are so insightful about things; I love to read your posts because you illuminate some of the more subtle aspects of riding and horses. Two of your commenters here made very interesting comments - that everyone has a bit of nerves at showing (you're not alone!) and that showing actually involves a very different set of skills. That is intriguing, that maybe the challenges faced with showing are a bit different than riding at home; perhaps knowing that, unconsciously, causes some of the anxiety. You and Rogo make a great team! And keep writing!
Carol said…
What great comments. Such valuable information in them. I need to remember that a different set of mental skills is needed for riding at a show. Also it's good to know that many of us face this issue, even more experienced riders and competitors. I also like the reinforcement to learn and have fun. It's my new motto :)
Thanks everyone.
The pictures are good. It looks like in last year's you're pretty tense and this year's you look more relaxed.

I understand completely how you can get so nervous before a show that you would have an anxiety attack. It's hard to pinpoint the exact reason why we get a case of the nerves. I think it's because we put too much importance on the show and what it means.

When I showed the only thing I really got nervous about was forgetting the course. There's nothing more embarrassing than jumping a round and doing it wrong in front of a crowd. Falling off was the other fear. Luckily, it never happened, but it's the thought that it might is what gets you. After a time I adopted the attitude that I wasn't showing for any purpose other than to see where my horse and I were in our training and what we had to work on and to have fun. In the big scheme of things competing in a show isn't really that big a deal. It's the importance the rider places on it that makes it a fun day or an ulcer inducing day. Have fun at your next show.
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