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Managing Competition Anxiety

Managing Competition Anxiety image courtesy SG Sports HorsesManaging Competition Anxiety image courtesy SG Sports Horses

Managing Competition Anxiety

How to Boost Competition Routine to Manage Rider Anxiety

Competition anxiety… a common scenario for horse riders happening throughout the country during competition season at all levels.

Picture the scene, you have been practising for months, the competition has arrived, you and your horse are feeling good and performing well, the moment arrives and it’s your turn to compete in to the main ring, but something changes as you are gripped with panic and fear and you realise that everybody is watching you. You lose focus and start to feel sick with nerves, your shoulders drop as your confidence is drained from your body…. You have already lost, destroying all the hard work previously accomplished.

Competition anxiety can trigger this kind of emotional and physical response. Some riders may even experience panic which is not helpful. So how do we deal with this in the context of a competition?

A Pre-Competition Routine (PCR) is made up of tools and strategies which are introduced during preparation. Elements of this will include warm ups, equipment and horse check etc however we will focus on how to become mentally prepared and competition ready by using goals, affirmations, visualisation and focus techniques.


Remind yourself of your goals. Have you written them down where you can see them? I cannot stress how important this process is. Research suggests that 97% of the population do not write down their goals, however evidence shows that you are 50% more likely to achieve them if you do. So what is a goal?

Goals can be broken down to three key areas and should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time oriented. (S.M.A.R.T.)

  1. Outcome” goals refer to a final result e.g. winning a show jumping competition and being rewarded with cups or rosettes, for example.
  1. Performance” goals are about your performance e.g. achieving your personal best or clearing each jump in turn. Achieving a performance goal will get you closer to your outcome goal. Performance goals are normally agreed between you and your coach/trainer.
  1. Process” goals relate to performance and actions e.g. achieving the prefect start at the bell, breaking down each jump or routine and building a strategy for optimal performance. (Your focus should be on your process goals during the competition, not your outcome goals).
Image courtesy SG Sports Horses

Competition Anxiety – Image courtesy SG Sports Horses


Visualise your performance, whatever the discipline…. show jumping, dressage or cross country. Set the scene and see the picture as clearly as you can, paying attention to your surroundings, taking notice of what you see, hear and smell. Imagine all the good feelings you are experiencing in that scene, really using all of your senses. See yourself achieving your goals and then play this scene over and over in your mind.

If there is a particular challenging element that you are struggling with, change the speed and see this in slow motion. Once you have played this over a few times you should begin to feel comfortable with seeing yourself completing it, then begin to speed it up.

See it over and over again and really bring it to life, with high definition colour. Our minds cannot distinguish between imagination and reality, so in practicing this routine you give yourself permission to imagine yourself experiencing success, how real it feels to be a calm and confident rider.

Image courtesy SG Sports Horses

Competition Anxiety – Image courtesy SG Sports Horses


Next choose an affirmation which has a personal meaning to you, for example “I am a calm, relaxed and confident horse rider”, then repeat this twenty times. This will help build your confidence and self-belief in your abilities.


There are the 4 main types of focus:

  • Broad-External: Different stimuli or sounds etc, crowds/announcers etc.
  • Broad-Internal: Whole body, feelings tension etc
  • Narrow-External: Outside as a single focus/plane, the course
  • Narrow-Internal: Self talk, breathing heart rate

My clients often mention that they are easily distracted by other competitors, the crowd or background noises, leaving them feeling anxious or nervous. It is fundamental to a horse rider to know where their focus is or more importantly where it should it.

By including these tools as part of your overall Pre-Competition Routine  it will help get you into the right mind set, reducing competition anxiety, enabling you to focus on the task ahead and compete to your full potential. This not exclusive to competitions as it can be used for daily riding if you are struggling with nerves or lack of confidence.

Barry Cridland

Dip: CBH Cert, Spts Hypno

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