Nice horse, pity about the rider

Competitive behaviour is human nature. Deep inside all riders, there is a desire to compete in shows. You polish yourself and your horse, you practise until you’re sure that you’re ready.

Nice horse, pity about the rider
Photo: Kim Dyson

You do your training, your horse is fit and prepared; you even manage to get to the venue with plenty of time to spare. So, why are you sitting inside your horse box, with a knotted stomach and waves of nausea at the thought of your show-jumping round? You keep asking yourself why you put yourself through this – just for recreation? If this sounds like you, rest assured, you are not alone. There are plenty of other riders sitting in their horse boxes feeling the same way, if not worse. 

Once you realise you’re not an exception amidst all the other seemingly confident riders, you’re on the right path to overcoming those show nerves. Show nerves can manifest for a number of reasons. Whether you’re scared of making a fool of yourself or getting into an accident, anxiety is a natural response before this sort of competition or public exposure.

The “nice horse, pity about the rider” syndrome occurs when riders imagine that everyone is watching them. Feelings of inadequacy surface as these riders feel that they lack the skills needed to cope with whatever comes their way in the show. Horses are very unpredictable creatures and if something goes wrong, it’s easy for riders to think it’s their fault. Remember, the other riders are in their horse boxes trying to overcome their nerves. They’re not watching you!

“Paralysis by analysis” occurs when the rider worries too much about riding technicalities – thinking too much about the task at hand that they simply forget to ride and react to whatever is happening around them They get behind the movement and it all goes to pot. Another really common reason for a lack in confidence is fear of an accident, after having previously experienced one. These riders feel like they are out of control.

It usually crops up after the sudden realisation that there are an awful lot of elements out there that you can do nothing about. So the answer is to get in control of all controllable elements and put them in perspective. Do all you can to proof your horse against unusual or spooky situations which may affect its riding performance. Remember that you can’t control the experience your horse has at a show. But you can control the experience he has at home. So, get him accustomed to rain, wind-wobbly umbrellas and loud music through exposure. 

Always congratulate yourself on the small achievements.

  1.  Practise, practise, practise. The more confident you and your horse are at home, the easier it will be at the show.
  2. Get someone to help you with your schooling.
  3. Set short-term and long-term goals, and keep record of them.
  4. If you do well at a competition, do not move up a notch straight away. First master being a big fish in a little pond, then move up once you’ve learned all you can.
  5. Control what you can.
  6. Don’t overanalyse.
  7. Enjoy it. After all, you ride for fun!