Please see Amy's new blog! This doesn't just apply to dressage but all competitions :)
11 Tips to working better under pressure.
Failing to replicate your standard of training in a test, at a competition is a very common problem, and one that you will actually see in all sports, even non equestrian! Delivering that level of confidence in your skills, knowledge and horse, under pressure and at a specified time is definitely something that takes practice. But do you practice these things at home? Our job is to replicate the pressures of competition at home so that you can practice dealing with that situation, without it actually mattering like it would if you were out and about. External pressures may be spectators, the judge, the steward, other competitors or even time restraints. The question is how do you do this!? My top 11 tips for new ways to train yourself under pressure: 1 )Have a Warm up Plan – design one around your and your horses needs. Decide what the 3 most important things are to and your horse to be able to perform to your best, these are your 3 trigger words e.g Rhythm, Even Contact, Reactions. These 3 things are your check list for success, they help you design what needs to be in your plan, and help you adapt it if you need to on the day. 2) Time yourself warming up and go in at the correct time, for example if you are going to ride your test at 1.30pm, and you need 30 mins warm up, you get on at 1pm and warm up just like you would at a competition. Not only does this put you under pressure to be ready on time like a competition, but also tells you if the time you have allowed is correct. 3) Once you have the time that you need nailed - practice shortening it, and having too long. This might sound counter productive but is a fab way of practicing for that time you get lost and your running late, or they are running behind and you are on way too early. It's not what happens to us that decides the outcome but how we deal with it. 4) Get a friend to be the steward or set alarms when the steward may bother you, e.g when there are 2 before you (14 mins before your time) 1 before you (7 mins before your time) and when it is your time. Again this is something that can be the smallest of triggers but can interrupt your flow, we need to make sure we know where we want to be in our warm up at that time. 5) Ride a test in front of your coach. Sounds easy right!? But actually riding a test in front of someone you respect and admire can add quite a bit of pressure. However because they know you, it is actually quite a safe option as they can help you through the situation. 6)Get someone to watch you - If you want an easier option get a non horsey friend or partner to watch you. The chances are that they don't really care what you do or what you should be doing, but that's great! You probably don't need judgement at this stage, just the presence of somebody may be enough! 7)Ride with others more. We all avoid it if we can, after all what's more luxurious than the whole arena to yourself!? However we can become accustom to riding alone and when you go to a competition, it is then a shock how quickly you need to be thinking when there are 9 other riders! Train for this situation, test that you can still be productive when moving around others. 8) Film yourself. Something as small as filming yourself can put the upmost pressure on those perfectionists out there!! Remember you aren't filming yourself to get the best way of going, your are filming to practice reacting in the moment, and riding with feel under pressure. 9) Put yourself in new training environments. This might be a new venue, clinic or even a camp. these places offer plenty of practice under many of the pressures above but often with the guidance of a coach, which means it is only a small stretch, rather than doing it alone! 10) Only stretch the comfort zone by 1 notch. When practicing these techniques, stretch yourself by only choosing 1 thing to change. I know that sounds ridiculous, but by only changing 1 thing you are controlling the controllable, if you change 2 or 3 things your run the risk of over facing yourself and it becoming detrimental to your progress. 11) Test Riding at home – training at the marker. Last but certainly not least, a skill we know we should work on but how many of us do it enough!? Test riding at home can be a great reminder to ride to the marker. In a test, movements are usually put between or at a marker, in our training we tend to only do it in the right place when we are ready, but that doesn't help us on the competition day. Even if you don't do a whole test, practice stringing a few movements together, doing them at the right place and right time! Of course everyone is different, and certain activities will be more beneficial to some than others, but pick a couple of things this month to go and try. If nothing else the process will increase your awareness of the patterns, triggers and processes, that appear when you compete.