I've been there, many times. Everything is going 'hunky dory' one minute, then the next you feel like you've lost complete control, you start to panic and before you know it you've blown it! I've done this countless times, and it wasn't until I wrote for a top level dressage judge that my attitude began to change.
It's so easy to lose your focus and ultimately, your way. A few years ago I was writing for a high level dressage judge when a rider had an 'upsy daisy' moment with her horse. An incorrect canter lead, one flying buck and an extra circle in her test caused her to lose it completely and she ended up retiring. It was such a shame too, as up to that point she'd done so well! The judge was so upset she retired instead of carrying on. To be honest, so was I, they looked such a lovely partnership and it really was a case of miss-communication! Plus when you looked at the test, she'd only really 'fluffed up' one movement. Yes, the extra circle had given her an error but this could've still been redeemed.
After talking to the judge, she explained lots of people end up giving up after the first mistake either by retiring or not riding positively. They become so disappointed and have the mindset that it's 'all gone down the pan' when really that's not the case. It just ONE movement. Just like it might only be ONE fence. It does not mean GAME OVER.
So with this in mind, here's my top tips to help keep you calm, focused and stay on top when it all gets a bit too much;
- Start with a routine. Everything you do on the run up to the competition, during and after needs to be a strict routine. Everything flows better when your organised and mentally it helps you to prepare. From packing the wagon the day before, to the same routine in how to mount your stead (I always walk mine around the car park/arena once before I mount to let them acclimatise to the environment).
- Listen to some music. Whatever inspires you or calms you is best. Whether you like a bit of the Rocky soundtrack or your more of a classical lover, listen to some, it's amazing how this helps!
- Do not be negative before you even start! Don't crowd your mind with 'we're not going to win anyway', 'we're not good enough', 'I just want to see what he's like'. Rubbish! You're there to show everyone how fabulous you are! You are major competition for everyone, go and prove it!
- Breathe. A big deep breath will release some of the tension that's been building in your shoulders. There's enough tension already, so best not to add to the mix! It's surprising how many of us hold our breath when it's all going wrong so relax, it's not the end of the world. Take a deep breath and, calmly carry on.
- Remain neutral. It's essential in 'difficult' moments that you do not, under any circumstance 'over react' in any way, shape or form! It's almost as if you have to look down from up above and calmly bring the situation under control. You have to put your anger, tears, frustration and 'flappy panic' in a box and seal it shut. You are neutral, you are in control, you are awesome!
- Plan ahead when you're riding. It's so easy to lose focus when you're riding and only think about what's happening now. Instead try to plan ahead, for example, 'there's a corner coming up, what do I need to do? I need to make sure he is balanced, bending the correct way, on my aids etc etc'. Always think about your next movement or your next fence to stay one step ahead.
Finally, remember the 7 P's!!! Proper preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance! Stay in control, focused and always end on a good note- no matter what! Start practicing these tips and you'll be in that number one spot in no time!