What to do when the nerves get in the way...

Too many times it is the nerves that let us down when we go out competing, riding in a clinic or just riding in front of others.

The reason is that many riders feel the pressure when someone is watching compared to just riding by themselves.


There are expectations that come in and the desire to do well and to show others that all the training has paid off.

But let's face it, most of the time when we put pressure on ourselves to do well the exact opposite happens and things generally go wrong.

So let's have a look why this is and what we can do to prevent that from happening.

First of all what I see all the time is that pressure for most riders becomes stress.

That means that pressure is not a positive thing that motivates them but rather a negative thing that sabotages their success. 

Stress is always our own creation and a combination of what we think and the feelings that our thoughts produce. Stress is self-inflicted and that means that we are the only ones who can turn it off as well.

Most peoples thoughts around competitions and riding in front of others are focused on the fact that they DON’T want to make a mistake.

And here is the first step you can take to make your life easier.

Be careful what you wish for.....

The brain does not recognise




The brain, just like an internet search on your computer, focuses on the keyword and that’s where we create emotions that match our memories and experiences around those keywords.

So if you keep telling yourself: “I don’t want to make a mistake” and mistakes to you means failure, you will automatically become nervous.

Instead if you keep telling yourself “I am good at this”, “Our training is getting better and better”, you have replaced the negative keyword with a positive one and you will instantly feel different.

Try it out....it’s amazing how simple and how affective it is!

The second thing to focus on is your breathing.

Ahhh, the good old breathing....something we do all day, every day and yet it seems to be the first thing we STOP doing when we become nervous. 

The breathing is a direct flow on from how we feel. If we feel nervous, tense and anxious our breathing will become automatically shallow and it will be short and sharp. This creates tension in our body and our horse can feel that. The tension often starts in the neck, shoulder and forearms and can also block the hips and thighs as the arms pull back and the body tips forward.

Focusing on breathing is so easy to do and so subtle but makes a big difference in how our horse moves or the lack of.

On the other hand positive words that make us feel relaxed and confident have the opposite affect. The breathing becomes automatically longer and deeper. Like at the END of the dressage test when most riders finally let go of a sigh and miraculously the horse leaves the arena in a much better FREE walk than it produced in the test.

It is scarily true, isn’t it...?!

And thirdly, just become aware.

Spend some time to ponder on how you feel and what you think.

  • Is it really that important to produce the PERFECT ride when someone else is watching?
  • Do other people REALLY think what you imagine they are thinking?
  • When the judge makes a comment that suggest areas in your training that need to improve does the world really COME TO AN END as you predict it or is it in the end just a comment that is meant to suggest what to focus on in your next training session?!

Think about it. If you mind can make you feel nervous then your mind can also make you feel confident.

So, next time you start creating a drama in your mind, catch yourself and change the stories. Remind yourself about all the good rides you’ve been having, the improvements you have already made and be kind to yourself.

You will be able to ride much better when you feel that you are doing a good job and your horse will thank you for it too. 

Happy riding everyone xx