As we near the end of the year, although 2020 looks different than previous years, equestrian sports are in the midst of “finals” season. If you are participating in any of the finals this year, whether it be your first time or you’re a seasoned finals veteran, you probably know firsthand how easy it is to succumb to the high pressure the environment fosters. These only come once a year, they’re expensive to participate in, and most finals only give you one shot, which means if you make a mistake you’re toast. Here are some tips to help deal with the pressure that comes along with competing, no matter how high the stakes are.
1. Breathe deeply.
Have you ever heard about the breathing trick that helps you fall asleep faster? The science behind it is that it helps slow your heart rate so you can fully relax and fall asleep. Though you don’t want to fall asleep at the in-gate, breathing can still come into play with slowing your heart rate and thus calming nerves. Try taking a deep breath in for about four seconds, then exhale for eight seconds, then repeat a few times.
2. Imagine it going well.
Often our nerves are heightened by thoughts of everything that could go wrong. While it can be hard to push these things out of your mind, it’s much more beneficial to picture the experience being a success and to think through what is needed on your part in order to achieve that. Visualize yourself on the other side having succeeded. If you dwell on what could go poorly, you’re allowing space in your mind for failure. If you only allow positive thoughts and sentiments in moments like these, your stress will ease and there will be a higher likelihood for the event to go well.
3. Make a plan and focus on it.
If your plan is detailed and thorough, you won’t have time or space in your mind to let negative thoughts creep in. Talk with your trainer, walk your course, and make the most comprehensive plan for you and your horse, with appropriate back-up plans where needed. A strong plan of action is the best preparation for a big class or final, and if you place it top of mind, the stress will seem to fade.
4. Think of everything you’re grateful for.
In the moment, this class causing stress can seem huge. But in the grand scheme of life, it’s just one day and there is so much more to being a horseman than competing. Think of the horse beneath you and how grateful you are for what your horse does for you. Think of your trainer, who has put in countless hours to help you prepare for moments like these. Think of your loved ones who support this crazy dream we all share. When you think about things in life for which you’re grateful, you minimize the pressure from the situation and fill your mind with happy thoughts. Know that you will still have all of these things, regardless of the outcome of any given final.
5. Use positive affirmations.
You’ve put in the hours and hours of hard work to arrive at this moment, so you know, deep down, you are ready and capable. Echo that to yourself until you fully embody it. Know that you are strong and that you can rise to this challenge. Trust that your horse will be there for you and you will give it the best ride you can. Above all, go in determined to enjoy the experience, no matter the outcome.