Tuesday, August 9, 2016

lets talk nerves and conquering them

Its no secret the sport of eventing...or any equestrian sport takes some level of nerve. Riding on a 1,000lb animal that has a mind of its own is a challenge in itself, let alone when youre galloping at solid fences.
Exhibit A: Riding something with a mind of its own
I would be kidding myself if I said I don't get nervous. When you think about it, nerves are a really healthy dose of some fear which is really your self preservation kicking in reminding you to watch your back. I havent really been nervous though for an event or a ride in a long while, so its easy to forget just the effects nerves have on your performance. I consider myself pretty fortunate to have been feeling as confident as I have this season on Tillie competing.

Remember this? Riding right out of the dressage ring last year...
My fall at my last novice event, while I knew the reasons, and didnt cause me much concern at first...definitely had a way of creeping in. I was feeling great after working through some of that leading up to our Training Level debut this past weekend, but I wont lie a bit of "OH SHIT" found its way in upon walking the first portion of our XC course the night before. I kept hearing all my trainers saying the height wont be the issue, it'll be the in between...and I found myself questioning my own ability to set up Tillie properly for some of the initial questions on course.

Last year, our last BN event...it doesnt help when Tillie protests to being set up
Between each fence I walked and analyzed, I would oscillate between feeling really scared about the move up and questioning if we were really ready and then bucking up and trusting in our training and the backing from my various trainers feeling really confident.

Also from the end of last year when my trainer was pretty adamant on us sticking at BN
Side note: Tillie has been an incredible horse for me to learn on. She hasnt made it easy to be confident or trust much of anything...but shes made me one hell of a rider. I have doubted myself, her and everything in between but the mare has proven to me time and time again we can do this and it really is inspiring.
From this past winter. She just needed some channeling of her energy to get it right.

So with that said, I knew going into our debut I needed to be the best rider I can be to give Tillie the best confidence building round. The last thing I wanted to do was set her up for a bad ride and set her back when she has been going so well. Talk about putting pressure on yourself and creating nerves ;)

Needless to say, I was super disappointed in myself after the dressage and stadium phases from this last weekend. Especially because we have done training level schooling events of each phase separately and multiple times...both the dressage and stadium have been feeling really good and solid. It felt like an old comfortable sweater you put on and even on a bloated day, you still look ok in it.

When our dressage started falling into place...
I got a bit caught up in the nerves. Its embarrassing...I usually can channel my focus and keep my head on straight and still put in a good performance despite them. This event I just couldnt rally I guess and being out of my comfort zone this day was just a hair too much for my brain apparently. What is so silly is, warming up for each phase I felt fine...but it was clear in my need to be quick to adjust and recover just wasnt there.

Oh how far she has come
In a way, it took the pressure off by the time we got to XC. All those nerves that consumed me suddenly werent such a huge deal. Sure I still thought extra hard about the few fences that concerned me...but suddenly I wasnt so far out of my comfort zone. It wasnt exactly in my safe zone either, but I stood in the start box confident we were going to go out there and tackle the course.

Where was that same attitude before?

One of our first bigger xc jumps ever earlier this year
So what is it about the recognized shows that I have done that seem to make my brain freeze up and stop thinking? Well...I can guess I place way more pressure on myself and Tillie to be perfect, when we all know thats impossible with horses!

Its the same criticism I have been getting from my trainers lately to let it go...stop trying to make every stride perfect and make the mistake. When I try that hard, it ends up getting in Tillie's way in one way or another.

all the sass
Then I thought more about why I was so disappointed and it goes hand in hand with why my nerves were so great...mostly for worry of what the score reflects to anyone reading it. But then I thought, Tillie and I have come so incredibly far. We have been doing so much homework and working really hard and its been FUN. Something I couldnt say this time last year or even over the winter months.

At the end of the day, does it really matter how the record looks, or the score or whats on paper?...it only really matters how YOU as the rider and horse felt. I was disappointed in myself because I know we can do better and I know I am capable of giving Tillie the better ride...and I feel like I let her down in her big moment. When I thought I couldnt feel any lower about it, a thought crossed my mind that you know...we tried. Not only did we try, we didnt a pretty darn good effort.

Around the time I started understanding her sass rather than being afraid of it
For me this move up to Training level symbolized a lot more than just a move up after putting in the work. Training level has been a long time goal for me with Tillie...one I thought for sure I would need a trainer to ride her through first before I did or could. I used to be kind of scared of Tillie and her antics to be honest. I questioned was she too much horse for me to handle.

Talk about a case of nerves.

Sass monster
But somewhere over the winter months, I began to understand Tillie better...and became less afraid of her answers, sass and forward responses and got better at riding them. Because of that and conquering that demon and getting over the nerves there we have gone from Beginner Novice to start this year now to Training Level. (Ok and because of the exorbitant amount of lessons we take).

Dom Schramm Clinic..the turning point in me believing in my horse
It made me sad at first that it took validation or an external source to make me believe we could do it...but I think deep down maybe I knew, just felt lost and frustrated and defeated. I still have to be careful that I dont look for that outside validation and rely more on myself. I have to be stronger in believing in us...why shouldnt I?

So how does this relate back to nerves and this last weekend?

Well the nerves I felt were a bit like going all in and betting everything you have. This event to me felt like I was putting it all on the line, even though I wasnt. This event didnt have stipulation other than what *I* was putting on it for myself.

Our first Novice this year

So basically alllll the pressure on myself created the nerves. I admit, I am super competitive with myself and I want to always be my best. I get really aggravated with myself when I do something I deem as a silly mistake...which is kind of how I felt about this last weekend that the errors made were just silly.

Our first recognized show had interesting moments as well...
When the pressure was off after the first two phases were over and well, it just didnt "count" anymore...we marched right out to do the phase I was most worried about and owned it. I came off the course smiling because it felt smooth and like that old sweater. The nerves no longer factored.

So much good lately...

So basically I need to stop caring so much about outside validation, our record, what it looks like on paper and keep my focus on how its been feeling. Look at the over all picture and stop being such a control freak and perfectionist. We arent unfamiliar with the growing pains, and Im all for the growing and keeping things positive.

The fear and nerves stemmed from an insecure part of me worried of being judged for going to Training level and if people thought we were ready after our fall...but like fellow blogger emma says, its not about confidence proving right? Who cares unless its my trainer?

The stellar Training level dressage test is in there!
So Im sticking with being proud. Proud we tried it. Proud that even though it didnt start as planned, we ended on a fantastic note in the phase I was most worried about. Proud at my horse for being a grown up and tolerating me. So yea, take that nerves! Ill be seeing less and less of you the more we chip away and I believe in us belonging here at this level!

(You think maybe it will work?! hehe)


  1. Nerves suck! I'm sure I will struggle with them when I start showing. Stinker is so sensitive I need to be able to keep myself totally chill so it doesn't totally fall apart. I really think showing is a skill in itself.

    1. It really is! I used to get nerves soooo badly but all this going and showing frequently has really helped.

  2. the quote you attribute to me is actually from Carleigh Fedorka of A Yankee in Paris. "confidence building not confidence proving." she wrote that to explain why she started her season off with taking her training horse novice. bc she didn't need to prove that she and the horse could go training when she knew that they would be better benefited from a confidence building round at novice. by taking time at an easier level to refine and perfect, rather than pushing their limits when problems exist.

    i adopted that same quote when acknowledging that isabel and i had training issues that needed attention. and that going novice, even tho we *can*, was not necessarily the best choice. i didn't need to prove anything by going novice, instead i could build by going BN. that is the context of that quote - it seems to be applied opposite in your post above.

    1. Ah makes sense :) Yea I guess my use is different...I feel totally fine at novice level stuff and the training we have been schooling. I think its definitely a matter of me trying it, pushing the envelope and believing we can do it but doing it. This XC round really did build a ton of confidence for us...it was awesome. I guess in a way it was both a confidence building and proving ride. One I needed to know we got this and to stop worrying so much about the level, but more about where we are in our training. If we have prepared and our coaches agree then I need to go into with just that, do what weve been training to do and keep it positive.

  3. When I was a junior I used to get really nervous at shows, like really nervous. IHSA helped me a lot because it gave me an opportunity to show a lot without spending a ton of money, and eventually showing became pedestrian. The same thing happened with Carlos, the first year with him I went to 2 schooling shows a month during the summer, and one a month during the school year. It made the whole showing experience (at every height) really mundane. When it came to rated shows because they were still few and far between, expensive and a big to do, I would still get really nervous. Just attending them as a spectator, watching Pros and Ammies like me make the same exact mistakes, really changed the game for me. There is nothing wrong with just going out and doing it over and over and over again until its old hat, on your horse, on another horse, from the comfort of your own chair.

    1. I like that!! I should probably try to go attend more recognized events even as a spectator...

  4. Something about barreling as fast as you can towards a jump isn't always appealing... esp when the life beneath you can spook at the most minor thing. :P

  5. You should be very proud of all you've accomplished! I am hoping I can keep my nerves under control at my even next month. Nerves are not easy!