Conquering your competition fears, banning the competition nerves by Daniel Petho

dressage rider competition

Any rider or athlete will have undoubtedly experienced a bout of competition nerves in their sporting life and with it, can see just how debilitating this can be to us. Daniel Petho, of  D.P Equine & Sports Performance Psychology  tells us how we can eliminate our competition nerves through the use of psychology.

Daniel says “Nerves are a natural way of the brain telling us potential dangers are around and it seeks to protect us from doing anything rash or blindly. We see nerves in two aspects, the first through the use of negative thoughts like worrying and secondly through sweating, increased heart rate and sickly feelings in the stomach. It’s a natural reaction of what we call the Fight or Flight response”.

Sound familiar to you? Well this can be a used by athletes for better use in optimal performance getting the best out of what we do in competition. Believe it or not, we all use our nerves to boost performance, its just a matter of our control. However, the use of nerves can also send us into a downward spiral by overcoming us in a variety of ways, this is something every rider see’s as their “bad day”. So why not join me in my 5 best tips for overturning nerves and becoming the next Fox-Pitt

1.  Change your vocabulary.

Bit vague, right? When we say we feel nervous- we attribute negative feelings and we start to worry, this feeling then begins to snowball onwards. Flip this on its head by replacing “nervous” with “excited”. Just by replacing a negative with a positive word, you’ll be amazed by how your brain will adapt and generate a completely different state.

2.  Keep yourself in the now.

There is nothing a worry junkie loves more than a “what if” catastrophe situation. This skill doesn’t have a place in our real world, our horse cannot comprehend the end of the world situation we’re reciting repeatedly in our heads. Learn to stay focused as to what is happening below you right now as your horse can feel our body’s reaction to your thinking- by keeping yourself in the present you are keeping your horse calm.

 3.  Breathing Techniques.

Breathing is key to success, breathing allows oxygen to the muscles and brain to let us to perform. When we get nervous, we start to breathe lighter and faster or stop altogether, what we see is that our muscles will be already tight and will get tired very quickly. Therefore, the use of a simple breathing technique, breathe in deep for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds repeated for 8 reps will allow your body to relax (this will be transferred to the horse), for you to clear your head and take the weight off your shoulders, therefore allowing you to perform better. 

4.  Positive Self-talk.

The most important and easiest to do! You know you have done that movement or fence before, so why are you worried about it now?  Self-talk such as “I have done this before, I will do this, I want to them to see how proud I am” allows us to boost our self-esteem and enhance positive thoughts while reducing negatives to deliver a significant performance. The best thing about this is that you can do it at any point before and during your test or round and it makes you look more confident.

5.  Proactively create images and motions of you riding confidently.

The brain is a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it will become, we have to teach our brain to do this. Everyday take a few minutes to mentally rehearse yourself incorporating these tips every time you ride, whether that be hacking, schooling or competing. Your brain will start to develop them as a habit and you’ll start to see yourself climbing up the score board!


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Daniel is British Psychological Society Sport and Exercise Psychology Stage 1 Graduate. Looking to further his career as a Sport Psychologist, Daniel is offering free consultations to work with riders across the Northwest.  With published work and his most recent research guidelines for the British Equestrian Federation Talent Development Programme, Daniel is an upcoming new student in the works of psychology. If you are looking for a consultation or Sport Psychology workshop free of charge, you can get in contact with Daniel via email: