Got Show Nerves? You Have Something in Common with Elvis!

Photo by Chelsey Burris

By P.B. O’Dwyer

If anxiety is keeping you out of the show arena, remember:

You are not alone. 


Experiencing anxiety before a competition is a normal and natural reaction, even for the most experienced of riders. The great Elvis Presley got the jitters before every show, even at the apex of his career.  The King’s legs shook uncontrollably, and the crowd went wild. There is footage of him before concerts joking nervously about forgetting lyrics.   

No one is judging you, except for the judge!

While it feels like everyone has their eyes on you, they really don’t! They are busy worrying about their own rides.  Know that judges want to support you, give you good scores if possible, and to help you learn how to be a better rider and competitor.

Repetition is your friend.

Showing is a skill in itself, and there is no substitute for experience. The more you do it, the less anxious you will become.  


Turn down the adrenaline with the use of tactical breathing, a technique used by military and law enforcement to manage fear in high intensity situations and lower your heart rate. Avoid shallow breathing. It’s as simple as drawing, holding, and exhaling in four second counts.

Practice gratitude

Calm your brain by thinking how fortunate you are to have a horse, that you are doing what you love, and that you are at a show.  Thank your family, friends, and the hordes of people in your life that wish you well.

Take the pressure off YOU and focus on your HORSE.

Instead of worrying about you, as you ride your test, concentrate on what you can do to help your horse relax, stay supple, and perform the movements correctly.


Make sure that you have planned your show—start packing for the show a few days before, and make sure you allow yourself enough time at the show to braid, groom, and warm-up so you don’t feel rushed.

Your biggest competition is you! 

It’s impossible to compare yourself to anyone else because each horse/rider combination is unique.  You owe it to yourself to compete as if that is what you want to do.  Don’t let anxiety halt you before you even go down centerline. 

Peter O’Dwyer is very familiar with the challenges of riding dressage—thanks to his mom, Sally O’Dwyer, an avid amateur rider.  Peter writes to encourage, motivate, and educate others so that they can flourish.

Leave a Reply