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Keep Your Cool – The Science of Horse Show Nerves

Filed under: Current Articles,Featured |     
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226 – May/June, 2018


Everyone experiences some level of stress at a horse show. On the low end, it may simply diminish the amount of fun you have. At its extreme, it can cause full-blown performance anxiety.

The crazy thing about stress is that a small amount is actually a performance enhancer. There are many ways that we can manipulate stress to our benefit. However, all too often, stress takes on a life of its own and erodes our ability to function. For example, you may think you have that Horsemanship pattern nailed; but, the moment you step into the arena, it all falls apart.

To figure out how and why stress can physiologically and psychologically take over our minds and bodies, we visited with Dr. Allan Hamilton and Dr. Jane Hamilton. Dr. Jane Hamilton is a clinical psychologist, educator, and psychotherapist who has incorporated equine assisted therapy into her practice. Dr. Allan Hamilton is a neurosurgeon, professor, author, medical speaker, and horseman. They have developed programs that use equine experiential learning in innovative ways with medical students, business leaders, PTSD sufferers, and cancer patients.

The Biomechanics of Stress

Dr. Allan explains the fine line between helpful and harmful stress. He cites numerous animal and human tests that link a small amount of stress to having a positive effect on both cognitive and psychomotor skills. However, once too much stress is applied, and that amount varies individually, you have a huge decline in abilities. Stress triggers a fight/flight mechanism in our sympathetic nervous system. He says, “There are so many physical things that happen to you that are related to the adrenergic activation.” In laymen’s terms, the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortical steroids, result in physical changes like acceleration of heart rate, widening of bronchial passages to breathe more efficiently, an increase in blood pressure, dilation of pupils, and sharpening of senses. They also increase your strength and stamina while decreasing reaction time.

Click here to read the complete article
226 – May/June, 2018
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