By: Brittany Bevis
It’s no secret that 2020 has been challenging, to say the least. We were thrown a big curveball in early March when news broke of an unusual virus sweeping across the shore. With confusing symptoms and a highly contagious nature, COVID-19 brought life as we know it to a screeching halt.
Now, several months later, as we’re beginning to adjust to the way things work in this “new normal,” you might be feeling certain, well… feelings. With jobs and businesses being affected and schools being closed, not to mention health concerns, life can seem a little scary nowadays. But so can the show pen.
Who among you hasn’t stepped up to the start cone, with the eyes of the judges upon you, your family and friends watching on the sidelines, and your trainer nervously chewing his nails, and hasn’t felt afraid. Fear is real, but fear isn’t fact. You’ve faced this situation before, and you will face it again. The way you choose to deal with the emotions caused by this pandemic, however, can help to make you a stronger equestrian and competitor when it’s time to return to the show pen.
#1- Dealing With Uncertainty– We face uncertainty daily. This feeling is the result of sensing a lack of control over a situation. This might have to do with your job, family, health, friendships, or faith. But are you ever really completely in control when you step into the arena with a 1,500 lb. animal as your partner? Likely, not. Certainly, we prepare the best we can; but, when dealing with large animals especially, there will always be a level of uncertainty. How will he react to the crowd? Will he respond to my cues like we practiced? Will that pesky trash bag cause him to spook again?
Uncertainty is part of life and part of showing horses. How you deal with that uncertainty is by recognizing that your job as a competitor is not to have everything under control 100% of the time. The mark of a true showman is the ability to deal with things as they happen. You set out with a plan. Things happen. You adjust the plan and move forward.
#2- Facing Loneliness- With no shows to go to and many of us being isolated at home, it’s perfectly normal to feel lonely throughout the pandemic. Loneliness is real. It’s not a fluffy emotion nor a sign of weakness. It shows you care about your relationships with others.
But think about stepping up to the first obstacle in the Trail pen at the Congress. It probably felt a little lonely. Perhaps, you felt like you were out there on your own, with no coach, no friends to help. It was all up to you now, and you were completely alone. But that really isn’t true, is it? Of course, you had your horse by your side, but all of those people who make up your support system were there too. They weren’t right beside you, in a physical sense, but there is a village of people behind every competitor, and they are right there with you, whether you see them or not.
#3- Handling Disappointment- A lot of competitors have faced disappointment this year due to cancelled events. Of course, there is a global health crisis we have to contend with, but being upset that your first Congress or last World Show was cancelled is nothing to feel guilty about. It means you care about your sport and have put countless hours of practice and dedication into honing your skills.
If you have plans of staying in this industry for very long, dealing with disappointment is something you should get used to quickly, as it will happen time and time again. Ever felt like a judge was particularly hard in assessing a certain penalty? Thought you should’ve received a higher placing? Felt like you didn’t deliver the best performance when you needed to? Being disappointed is a normal reaction to a situation not turning out how you’d intended. But the same as dealing with uncertainty, it’s how you move forward from these less than stellar moments that will make you a stronger competitor.
#4- Assessing Self-Doubt- With several months spent away from competition, you might be a bit doubtful about your ability to return to top form. Been practicing enough? Skills not as sharp as they once were? Slipped a bit with your horse’s preparation? Lost your edge? As an athlete, there always comes a time when you question your own ability. You must have faith in the hard work that you have put in over the years and know that what you have done once, you can do again.
#5- Controlling Anxiety- This is an all-too common malady among equestrians, or any athlete for that matter. Like uncertainty, anxiety has to do with feeling a lack of control. However, anxiety takes it one step further. Sweaty palms, nervousness, nausea, forgetting a pattern- these are all common results of letting anxiety take hold. The best way to combat anxiety in any situation is to focus on the small things that are under your control. For example, practicing deep breathing before entering the show arena is one method. Another might be walking through your pattern on foot to help cement it into your memory. Simply recalling previous, successful performances might do the trick.
We’ve all had a tough time throughout this pandemic. But athletes are nothing if not resilient, strong, and persevering types who can conquer whatever obstacle stands in their path. Take these strategies with you into the next horse show, and into life, and you’re certain to be well on your way to success, whatever that means for you.