Expert advice on how to cope with nerves at important competitions

Q. My daughter is a capable rider at home but gets extremely anxious before going in the ring at larger shows. She looks pale and tense, says she feels ill, and the pony never goes as well in the ring as well as at home.

The pony is well behaved and we don’t expect my daughter to win – just enjoy herself and do the pony justice. Do you have any advice on how I can help her cope with her nerves?

Patricia Hardcastle answers: You and your daughter need to be totally honest with yourselves when answering the following two questions:

  • Does your daughter genuinelywant to compete at that level or does she do it to please you?
  • Does she feel capable and prepared for the classes she is competing in at larger shows?

If your daughter genuinely wants to compete, then there are a number of steps you can take in the run up to the show to help her feel less nervous.

  • Don’t over-hype the situation or go on about it in the days before the show
  • Make sure everything is ready 24 hours before then do somethingelse to take her mind off it
  • An early night and a good dinner the night before can help combat nerves and physical weakness caused by a lack of energy
  • Try to encourage her to eat a good breakfast on the day if she can, but don’t force her if she can’t face it. Sometimes fruit, such as bananas, goes down more easily than a “proper” breakfast
  • Arrive early with plenty of time in hand to work in, check rings etc
  • Build time for your daughter to relax into the day and bring music or a book to help her relax during that time
  • Reassure her that everyone, no matter how great a competitor, suffers from nerves – she is not alone
  • Ask if she would prefer you not to watch then respect her decision
  • Never criticise – always find a positive comment or observation about her performance
  • Enter some local, low-key shows to boost her confidence, before taking the pony to larger shows but without actually competing
  • Only progress to competing at the original level when your daughter wants to
  • Have some “ringcraft” lessons with an expert to help your daughter improve her performance in the ring
  • Video your daughter at the competition to show her it doesn’t look as bad as she imagines
  • Buy her a little consolation prize to boost her morale – an example might be a piece of new grooming kit to build a “show” set

Remember – be prepared, arrive early, and enjoy.

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