According to Steven Pressfield, in The Art of War: The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread free artist.
And so, we face the dressage shows. We love them and they scare the crap out of us all at the same time. They are our escape and our nightmare all rolled into one.
So, what do we do? We, as dressage riders, may not act like a child, kicking and screaming because we are scared. But our brains are doing back flips. Our Inner Critic is working overtime. What if I forget my test? What if I fall off in front of everyone? What if…..?
Yeah, what if, those “What ifs” never happen? Somehow, we need to learn to control our inner critic. Our inner critic is only concerned with the negative aspects of our lives. It will always be there. It is part of how we evolved as a species. What kept us alive. But in the the modern world our inner critic limits our achievements. Holds us back. and creates stress.
And who the hell is watching you anyway? Your trainer? your husband? your kids? Come on. Those are the people who know you. They have seen you at your worst and still love you.
So, WHAT if you fall off. Your trainer will catch your horse. Your husband will pick you up. And your kids will make fun of you. But you will know you tried. And next time it will be better.
As an amateur, you probably watch the open division and think I wish I had the confidence to ride like that. Well guess what, confidence comes from courage and courage is the act of facing our fears.
Fear is a feeling that is sometimes very intense, but we can learn to push through it. Train yourself to ride through the fear. Oh, your horse will know. And your trainer will know.
Just like any other partnership, or relationship, your horse and trainer know you all too well. But your trainer is the one who encouraged you to do this. She knows that you are capable.
Facing your fears will give you a since of accomplishment. And this since of accomplishment is where confidence comes from.
Perhaps thinking of the show as another lesson, will help.
The judge is going to give you somethings to work on at home with your regular trainer. The judge will not give you training techniques or exercises, that’s you trainer’s job. But the judge does give you a list of things that need improvement. The second column of your dressage test tells you what the judge was looking for. Most riders don’t even look at that second column. Use the second column and the remarks column to guide you in your training.
If you can have someone video your test, read the judge’s comments as you watch your ride. See if you can see what the judge is referring to during your ride. Again, looking at the second column, see if you can see what the judges remarks are referring to. The shows should be just another source of input on a long journey.
I have also had students who dealt with their fears by thinking of the worst-case scenario. What the student did was to verbalize what she thought was going to happen, a spook, forgetting the test, whatever. And then she and I came up with a plan of what she would do if each of those things happened. Kind of like knowing what a one-rein-halt is. You know how to take control back, so it allows you to be brave and face those fears.
The most important part for some riders is remembering was that they are competing against themselves. And that is the coolest part of dressage, we are all on our only little journey. And if you think about it, do people actually watch dressage shows? Maybe the Olympic or World Championships, but not the local adult amateur classes. The only people who are watching your ride have either been there or they love you. And sometimes both.
Your trainer has been there. She knows how you are feeling. She can see it on your face. But she is the one who encouraged you to show. Your husband is only there because he loves you and wants you to succeed.
You are an amateur and horse showing is about fun, striving for your goals and enjoying the camaraderie of other horse people. This is what you do to relieve the stress. Ok, so you get scared and worried, own it. You are not in competition with anyone other than yourself. Do your best and next time do better.