The 2015 European Dressage Championships in Aachen have been nail-biting from start to finish. With breath-taking dressage from the three medal winning countries of The Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany; to lame horses, mistakes, withdrawals and eliminations! Competing is a roller-coaster ride no matter what level you are competing at. It was slightly comforting to know that even our World and Olympic champion, Charlotte Dujardin, suffers from the odd bout of nerves.
It was reported that before Charlotte and Valegro completed their Kur, the dancing duo found the atmosphere in the arena particularly challenging. It is never an easy crowd in Aachen, and Charlotte had to follow the German rider, Kristina Broring-Sprehe who scored an amazing 88.804 %. The crowd cheered as soon as Charlotte entered the arena – but for Kristina’s score, not for Charlotte. To top it all off, Isabell Worth was pictured on the big screen ‘stuffing her face’ (Charlottes words – not mine!) which encouraged the crowd to laugh and cheer! In my opinion, Charlotte dealt with this like the professional she is, but I’m not surprised that the Kur was a narrow victory for team GB. I’m sure that the home crowd at Olympia will settle her nerves for Valegro’s next outing.
Now, I don’t know about you, but as a grass roots rider, I find competition nerves the most difficult thing to overcome and I don’t have the pressure of the Nation resting on my shoulders like Charlotte does. I do, however, place an immense amount of pressure on myself days before the actual test. I’m conscientious enough to school every night, learn my test, clean my tack, but all this preparation leads to sleepless nights and tummy upsets! Riding and competing is meant to be fun! It’s our hobby at the end of the day, so why do we allow ourselves to feel like this?
The day of the competition means no appetite and constant trips to the loo! I can never eat before a test and then I’m starving afterwards! The horses can feel the nerves, which ultimately means a mediocre performance. Such a shame when your horses are fairly well schooled and talented!
My veteran mare, Mea, is a prime example. At home and in my lessons, Mea is working at Elementary/Medium level. She’s also a talented Working Hunter horse, but sadly not with me on board! I’m very much a four feet on the floor kind of rider and I’m lucky if I can scrape a 60% in a novice test! It just saddens me that I can’t overcome my nerves like Charlotte and produce a winning performance.
Part of my problem is that I came into riding later on in life. I was a dancer for years and only rode occasionally. My sister was the pony-clubber! I was 21 when I bought my first horse and although I could ride, I wasn’t a rider. It took years of lessons and hard work to become half the rider my sister is and now at 33, the nerves are getting in the way much more than they ever did. I own a beautiful, seven year old KWPN dressage horse with amazing breeding and talent. But, he’s not an easy ride and he’s knocked my confidence even more. Thank goodness I have my sister who seems to have nerves of steel to take over the rides. She’s determined to go out there and produce a good performance and even if it all goes wrong, she’s never deterred! I am always in awe of those riders getting out there and doing it no matter what level or discipline. Don’t give up, but remember, for most of us, this is our hobby! Our element of relaxation and fun! Enjoy your competing and remember, even world champions suffer from the odd bout of nerves!