Five Tips to Stay Focused at Competitions

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Photo by Andrea Waxler Kaplen entry in the 2015 USDF Arts Contest

Olympians David Marcus and Allison Brock spoke to young professionals at the 2020 USDF/USEF Young Rider Graduate Program about how they stay focused at competitions. As competitors on the biggest stage in the world, both had some surprisingly simple suggestions for how they manage their nerves. 

Maintain a routine.

Keeping your routine at the show similar to your routine at home will trigger your muscle memory, which can help ease nerves! Whether it is putting your tack on in a particular order, grooming your horse a certain way, or getting yourself ready to ride, keeping your routine the same at home and at the show will allow you to take a breath and stay calm and focused, because you already know what the next step is.

Ride for yourself, not the judge.

You have spent months preparing with your horse for this test, you know the movements, you know your horse can do it, so show it off.

Act as if every trip down centerline is preparation for “the Big One”.

Whether your goal is First Level at the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan®, the Olympics, or anywhere in between, treat every ride down centerline as preparation for that ride. Use your time in the ring to familiarize yourself with the minute reactions to stimuli from your horse, to practice your invisible corrections to recover from a mistake, and to get comfortable enough to “ride on the edge” and really show your horse’s ability off.

Be honest with yourself and your team.

Know and communicate with your team what you want and need to do before mounting, to remove anxieties associated with being unprepared. Ensuring things are done the way you want will help you stay focused and relaxed before your test, instead of stressing about small problems, like whether your bridle is on correctly or where your horse’s ear bonnet is, as you are getting ready to head to the warmup.

Use your nerves as energy.

Nerves often make us jittery and restless, so use this to your advantage – to push you forward. Think of it in terms of a training session – when your horse is spooky and nervous, you give him something to do. Ride confidently down centerline and rock that test!

For more from the USDF/USEF Young Rider Graduate Program, USDF members can log into USDF Education Library.

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