I think just about everyone who has competed in horse shows is familiar with nervous energy that comes along with it. If you’re one of those rare souls with ice running through your veins, count your blessings. I am not one of those people. To what degree those butterflies really affect us varies from person to person… some of us just feel a little bit of heart-pounding at the in gate, while others might be in the porta-potty barfing up their breakfast all morning.
I’ve always been the type of person that feels anxiety and nervousness at shows. I’m lucky enough that it’s never been super severe (no hyperventilating, no puking, no hysterical bawling in the warm-up ring) but it has definitely varied from almost none to feeling queasy. For a long time I tried really hard to conquer those nerves and force myself to relax. Eventually I realized how ridiculously futile that was, and it dawned on me that maybe I was looking at it from the wrong perspective. I have never succeeded in getting rid of my butterflies, but what if I could tame them and turn that nervous energy into an advantage rather than a detriment? It took time and a lot of introspection, but this is what has really helped me a lot and I’m hoping that by sharing it here it might help someone else too.
The first thing I had to realize is that nervous energy doesn’t have to be a negative thing, it can be positive too. Research has actually shown that nervous energy, when properly channeled, can help you perform tasks more efficiently and can improve memory. The butterflies are not our enemy. For me, recognizing that fact and learning how to make it positive has been the key to a happier horse show experience. That’s not to say that I win the battle with nerves 100% of the time, but it’s gotten better and better, and substantially improved after I changed my perspective on nervousness.
When I start feeling those butterflies creeping up on me, I take a deep breath and think “Ok self, you’ve got two choices here. You can let the nerves overtake you, fill you with doubt, and defeat you. Or you can embrace the feeling, use it to energize yourself and sharpen your focus, and go out there ready to kick some ass. Your choice.”. It’s my own little pep talk to myself, so to speak.
One of the first things we start thinking about when we feel anxiety is how many things could go wrong, and in how many ways. What if, instead, we thought about all the things that we could do to make things go well. After all, things are going to happen no matter what. We can’t do anything about that, and worrying about all the things that could go wrong does absolutely nothing positive. What we can do is figure out how to plan accordingly, how to react, and how to move past it. That’s what we’ve spent so long training and preparing for… at horse show time it’s just a matter of implementation. By the time you’ve gotten to the show you theoretically have all the tools necessary for success, all you have to do is use them. Success isn’t something that happens to you, success is something you make happen. And you can’t make it happen if you allow yourself to become debilitated by nervousness.
Whether it’s deep breathing, visualizing success, giving yourself pep talks, or even simply just smiling, the first step to handling the nerves is to stop the cycle of negativity. If you can’t get rid of the butterflies you might as well learn how to tame them and use them to your advantage.
What do you do to help calm your show nerves and/or turn them into a benefit instead of a detriment?
Some useful articles for further reading: