Ever wondered whether you’re the only one feeling crippling nervousness about an upcoming show? Fear not, for you are not alone.
Steph Croxford’s final centre line aboard Mr Hyde at Keysoe’s High Profile show last weekend — the last major national dressage fixture of the year — was what clinched her the win, according to judge Harry Payne.
Steph looks full of self-assurance when she rides into the ring on her eye-catching driving-bred gelding with four white stockings, Mr Hyde.
But going down the centre line is what fills Steph with dread.
“I get very, very nervous,” Steph tells H&H. “It’s the thought of going down that centre line and all the pressure to get it right first time. You can’t say ‘Oh hang on, I messed that bit up so let me just come back and do that half-pass again.
“I get so nervous I feel sick and think, ‘Why am I doing this?’”
With 673 test results to her name on the British Dressage database, Steph has come down at least 1346 centre lines, which you’d think would make her a seasoned pro, immune from show anxieties.
Conversely to most people, Steph’s nerves are far worse when she competes in the UK compared when she rides at big international shows abroad.
“There’s so much pressure on me when I’m riding here,” she explains. “I hear the commentator — at the nationals for example — saying, ‘And next in is crowd favourite Steph Croxford’, and I just think, ‘Crowd favourite? Me? Really? Please no! It’s too much pressure.
“When I go abroad, I know I’m not going to win, and that totally takes the pressure off. I know they’re thinking, ‘Oh look, there’s that carthorse again, bless’, but that’s fine because it makes me relax.”
So instead of being fiercely competitive, Steph aligns her international show schedule with the things things her family want to do while “on holiday” — and they take Mr Hyde with them.
“I’d like to do Compieigne, because that’s close to Disney and we want to take the children there,” she says. “And we fancy the Apls, so we’d like to go to Fritzens.”
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Unfortunately Steph’s husband Simon can’t help with exercising Mr Hyde because the horse is so particular about how he is mounted.
But combining competing with family holidays seems like the ideal way to combat nerves.
For the full report from Keysoe’s High Profile show (10-11 December), pick up a copy of this week’s H&H magazine, out today (15 December)