Dealing with competition nerves

The night before a competition you realise that you have forgotten how to ride, can’t picture yourself getting on and can’t remember any of your training. Ring any bells? Trigger words or actions that correspond to a positive event can help.

  • Triggers form part of preparation and planning routines. Being well-prepared means you feel in control; being in control reduces anxiety and improves performance. 
  • Trigger words are shorthand to initiate a set of actions that will automatically kick in when you think or do something. 
  • The trigger must be a verb or other meaningful word and represent a feeling, invoking an action that triggers a corresponding muscular or mental response.
  • Keep the phrase/action simple and tie it to a situation or emotional response that you want to manage.
  • When you get a good feeling during training, capture your whole body feel, starting from the centre of your body; hips; relationship of shoulders and other body segments to each other; what muscles are in tension or relaxed? Feel the weight of contact from the rein and the pressure of the horse’s sides against your legs. Name that feel.
  • When the voice in your head is negative or confidence deserts you, replace it with a word that allows you to remember appropriate positive thoughts, such as times when you have won, times when you have completed a course, or similar challenges. 
  • For loss of concentration, use triggers to bring the mind back to the job and into the here and now. 
  • Visual triggers, such as looking at the detail of your environment, can be helpful for concentration, e.g. the hair pattern on your horse’s neck/ears.

Eight steps to finding your trigger words

Remember: FUN PARTY 
1. Feel it – physical feel or a mental state of confidence.
2. Understand it – what made it happen, how/why it happened.
3. Name it – remember the moment, feel the emotion and name it. 
4. Practise it – muscular feel or mental state. 
5. Action it –wherever, whenever. 
6. Rehearse it – again and again so it is automated. 
7. Trust it – believe in it. 
8. Yell it – in your head so it removes other thoughts!