Competition tension, or shall we just call it performance tension. It could be tension for a competition, a clinic, lesson or even when you have spectators. It is the tension that comes from the feeling you need to achieve something, need to perform. It is performance pressure we put on ourselves (and therefore on our horse) to achieve something that you think is expected from you. Emphasis on think, because we often have a certain ideal vision of how something needs to look or go. That tension can be very constricting and don’t forget you transfer this tension to your horse. Important is to also realize this tension is different from fear. That is something else entirely.
Why do we suffer from peformance pressure? Well, we can blame the world, blame society, or our school years, but in the end it comes from within ourselves. That we as a person need to be as good as (or even better) than another person. Nothing is more intimidating than a combination riding a very good test with natural impulsion from the horse we can only dream about, right before you need to go in and do yours, when you know your horse will spook 6 times seeing invisibe pokemon. Or if your horse is not even following your hand imitating a giraf and another combination comes by where it all seems easy and appears to come naturally to them. Fun thing is, nothing comes from nothing. Everyone has to put the work in, and train, practice. In addition, we all, riders and horses, are individuals. Original, authentic. Not a singel person or horse is exactly the same. Not to forget that some rider and horses just have more talent for certain aspects. Bottom line is that comparing is absolutely useless. It is about you and your horse als a pair, what you need to grow as a combination. Not what you think someone else expects from you.
Another think to keep in mind is that you and your horse are living breathing beings and that you (or at least 1 of you) can have an off day. Even if yesterdays training went fantastic, it is no guarantee today will as well. You need to treat every day as a blank slate. Your planning can be perfect, life happens. How you deal with that is the key. If your training the day before your competition went really well, but during warm-up you notice your horse is a bit stiff or builds up tension, you need to adjust your plan for warm up and even how you will be riding your test. You might even need to adjust you expectations regarding the results. What does it matter if you don’t ride any points? Or drop a pole during the course? It is no longer possible to get any points deducted, and you have gained some more experience from which you and your horse will learn and grow. There is always a next time to try again. 100% perfect does not exist. Even the professional riders and extraordinary horses have never reached that 100%, that is an impossible goal to set. That 90% riden in Den Bosch? That is extremely high! Riden by a great rider and maybe even a greater horse (a horse we dream about sitting on one day). Your goal should be to improve yourself and your horse while looking at your own personal capabilities and potential. Not those of another. So focus on your own growth and development. Take your time, you do not need to get there tomorrow. I think Anky once said you need to practice something over a 1000 times to learn something well, and then the fine tuning starts.
Easy talking you might think, but you are in control. You can decide to add that pressure or decide not to. Our sport is one of the greatest there is, why put that pressure and tension on yourself? Just anjoy and appreciate every step, how small it might be. Savour every day and ride you have with your best friend. Training not going well? Go canter some laps with a long rein and try again or go take a ride in the woods. Take that pressure off. Forget the potential expectations others might have.
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