Q: When I’m practicing at home I never forget a jumping course. But I go off course at nearly every show. After taking the first few jumps I’ll suddenly realize that I have no idea where I’m supposed to be going. I really think it has a lot to do with nerves. How can I control my nerves so I don’t go off course again?
Here are a few ways to regain control of your horse show nerves. First, a nervous rider is often a rider who lacks confidence. Therefore, only enter classes with jumps that are set at or slightly below your comfort zone. Next, make sure your horse is trained sufficiently to compete. If you know in your heart that your horse isn’t up to the task you’ll feel even more anxious. Third, adopt a one-thing-at-a-time mindset. Focus on just the upcoming class, not the ones later that afternoon. Don’t fret about who’s watching from the rail. Forget about the rounds of your fellow competitors. Zero in on the course and how you plan on riding it.
As a final note, when you memorize your course, try to envision it as a series of straight lines and turns. After all, a jumping course is just a giant flatwork pattern with obstacles in the way. So instead of trying to recall the names of the jumps (like red panel, white gate, pink flowers, natural oxer), think, “Up the outside, down the diagonal line in five strides, up the outside line in six strides, across the diagonal, and the single at the end.” It’ll simplify the course in your mind, making your round less stressful. Less stress will lead to calmer nerves.
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