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NCEA – Tips on Conquering Nerves From Collegiate Riders

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174 – August/September 2019

By Cameron Crenwelge

The phrase “having butterflies in your stomach” has always struck me as strange. Butterflies? I’ve always looked at butterflies as soft, gentle, and kind. Maybe I was born different, but I firmly believe that I’ve never been lucky enough to experience these butterflies. I’m sure that I was born with a different kind of critter in my stomach, because my nerves don’t make me soft, gentle, or kind.

Every time I walked into the arena, it’s almost as if a switch flipped in my brain. My body became stiff, my communication with my horse was either lacking or overbearing to an extreme, and my attitude often took a turn for the worse. I never struggled with nerves when it came to test taking or public speaking, because I knew that if I had prepared correctly, everything would go smoothly. I was confident in my method and was ready to put it to the test in any situation. But I soon learned that when it comes to riding horses, things never go as planned. This realization shook my confidence, which led to the buildup of nervous energy every time I walked into the arena.

With every ride, my nervous energy grew and my confidence shrunk. Riding is, and has always been, my passion. But, my lack of confidence as a result of mishandled nerves slowly began to drive me away. Eventually, I took a step back. I stopped attending every horse show, riding every day, and reviewing my rides from previous competitions. My mishandled nerves had cost me my confidence, and I began to see how far-reaching the hit to my confidence had been when I took a look at my grades from that semester. This lack of confidence had made an impact on every facet of my life, and I began to feel nervous in any sort of challenging or unfamiliar situation.

For me, taking control over my nerves finally came with the idea of certainty over confidence. Walking back into the show pen, I had very little confidence left, so, I relied on experience. I reminded myself that I had done this exact thing before, and I know exactly what I need to do should any sort of problem arise. Today, as I walk into the arena, I rely on this idea of certainty. Confidence is fleeting. It can be taken away or diminished by something as small as waiting at the start cone for longer than usual or forgetting to wear your lucky pair of socks. I have found that certainty is different. Socks don’t determine if I can or can’t compete the way I have trained for years. However, my mindset does.

This mindset of certainty is what ultimately helped me in my struggle with nervous energy. However, everyone is different. So, here are a few tips and tricks on conquering nerves from some of NCEA’s top collegiate riders.

Sarah Orsak · TAMU Equestrian

“Before walking into the arena, I visualize the pattern in my head as if I was riding it in real time. It’s important to visualize it going well! I have found that the mistakes that you anticipate will often occur. I have also noticed that when I get nervous, I get tight. So, I always make a conscious effort to loosen up.”

“When it comes to nerves, it only takes one time to let them get the better of you, and then you won’t let it happen again. The bigger the competition, the easier it is for you to feel like you have only one shot; but, I’ve found that if I don’t handle my nerves right, I don’t have a shot at all. So, why let them get in the way? Nerves show that you care; so, don’t worry about them and use them to push you further.”

Elena Hurd · TCU Equestrian

“I always get nervous before I show, but surrounding myself with positive people who believe in my ability to succeed has helped me the most. I like to visualize and talk through my pattern with my trainer or coach so that I’m prepared to ride and help my horse through any possible problems. Ultimately, I just have to remind myself that I ride and show horses because it’s something that I’m truly passionate about.”

Emma Edwards · TCU Equestrian

“I’m a rider who has definitely struggled with show nerves in the past; but, I have figured out some little tips that have worked for me and have helped me succeed. I make organization a priority. I know my patterns well in advance and decide on a practice or warm-up strategy that will work best for me and my horse. Planning helps me feel prepared and not rushed which, in the end, helps calm my nerves. The more rushed I am, the more nervous I get. I always make sure I’m not at the arena too early, but not showing up as my name is being called. Being well-prepared and not rushed keeps me calm and focused, which enables me to ride to the best of my ability. Finally, I stick to my plan. I take in everything my trainer tells me for that ride. I go to my spots, listen to my horse, and fall back on what I have practiced.”

Darby Gardner · TAMU Equestrian

“I have been showing horses competitively for over 15 years and still get nervous every time I enter the show pen. The best advice I can give someone to manage these feelings would be to take deep breaths and repeat positive affirmations before showing. I also like to remind myself to do my best at what’s in my control and try to not to worry about anything else.”

Lisa Bricker · TAMU Equestrian

“I find myself with show nerves any time I go into the arena. In order to get over these nerves, I often take three deep breaths and remind myself of three truths:”

“I’m only able to control what I feel at that moment in the pen.”

“I have to trust myself and my horse.”

“I’m going to take this pattern one maneuver at a time.”

Katie Conklin · TAMU Equestrian

“I try to focus on turning the nervous energy into something positive. Visualization and deep breathing techniques have been the most effective for me in managing all of the meet day emotions. These techniques help me to convert the nervous energy into something productive. I start by positively visualizing the entirety of my ride. Having this plan helps me to become more comfortable managing the different challenges and emotions present on meet day. On meet day, prior to my ride, I try to focus specifically on my breathing. Deep breathing exercises can help to relieve excess stress by putting your body in a relaxed state. Finally, I acknowledge that nerves are natural emotions, and on big competition days everyone around me probably feels the same way.”

Click here to read the complete article
174 – August/September 2019
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