“Why do I do this to myself?”

This shouldn’t be a question a 16 year old asks herself after a horse show that’s supposed to be fun. Yet here I am.

I might have an okay day, too. Maybe my dressage test had a few mistakes, but it didn’t score horribly. Maybe I had clear jumping rounds, but I felt like I didn’t have complete control. I might’ve even placed.

But at the end of the day I still find myself upset if I didn’t ride as well as I could’ve or if my rounds weren’t improvements from last time. Sometimes even to the point of tears.

Please keep in mind that it’s never ever because I’m upset with my horse, my trainers, my parents, the judges, or my placing. I’m upset with myself.

The walk feels like forever up to the jumping phases, and it only gives me more time to get distracted thinking about what could happen. Photo by: Susan Gorham

I don’t understand why I am like this. I don’t understand why I can’t just go to a horse show and have fun like a normal kid. I don’t understand why no matter what I do to calm my nerves, they just won’t go away.

I have dealt with my nerves for as long as I can remember competing, even when I was doing the cross rails division on my saint of a pony.

Competing is so much of a mental struggle for me. I spend as much time mentally preparing before an event as I do actually riding. I literally repeat over and over in my head “you do this for fun” until my brain seems to understand it. I have to constantly remind myself that it is just another ride, just another day, and it will be over before I know it. I tell myself that I cannot show my nerves; I have to have confidence, because Murphy is relying on me. And I think this is where I start to ask “why do I do this to myself?”

The drive to the show is probably the worst of all. Just sitting with nothing to do, my mind gets the best of me. I slip away, and before I know, it I’m psyching myself out all over again, thinking of everything that could go wrong. And then I have to start mentally preparing myself all over again.

My schedule is always posted on the door to keep me on track. Photo by: Susan Gorham

My down to the minute schedule helps to keep my nerves at bay during a show, and my friends distract me from overthinking. But heading into the ring or out on cross country, it’s like I freeze up no matter how much I try to convince myself that it’s just another ride.

It’s gotten much better over the years. Or maybe I’ve just gotten better at masking it.

So why don’t I just stop competing if it makes me so nervous?

I don’t think I ever could. Because despite it all, I love competing. I love how I subconsciously break out into a smile after that one perfect canter transition in my dressage test. I love how precise I have to be in show jumping, how in tune I am with my horse, the tiny adjustments I have spent countless hours perfecting. And most of all I love the wind in my face on cross country, looking through the pricked ears of my horse focused on the next jump.

This is where my struggle comes in. I just don’t know what to do. When I get as nervous as I do and put as much pressure on myself as I do, competing just loses all the fun. And it’s not anyone else’s fault, only mine. And I don’t know how to fix it.

2 thoughts on “Pressure

  1. Karen Buck

    Truly successful people, in sports or business, have a healthy amount of fear/nervousness. It keeps you on your toes and constantly striving for a higher level – reaching for perfection. Those that are complacent do not achieve their goals or if they are lucky enough to achieve a minor amount of success, never get anywhere near their potential. Always remember life is about the journey. We are all our own biggest critics and that is ok if you use it to keep improving.

    You have a God-given talent. Enjoy the ride!

    Liked by 1 person

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