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Are You Psyched Out? I-canter part 1: Show Jumping Nerves and How To Cope.

Carolyn in action. Photo by kind permission of David Sellars Photography.

Carolyn Rowe    –
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There is a lot of twittering around about nerves in the show jumping phase of Eventing, from riders feeling sick and ill, to those who panic in the ring.

I am not necessarily going to be able to fix this in one article but it may be useful for all those suffering to consider this blog from a rider who has had to conquer nerves themself and who currently coaches riders of all levels, to give you a few ideas and insights into how you may improve your round and find it less stressful.

All competing is man made and it is not particularly the choice of the horse to be put in this position; that said, horses have competed for a long time with humans and some are most definitely easier than others in the SJ phase in particular.

Well produced horses also possibly enjoy the experience more than those who are less expertly produced, and it may be worth considering this when purchasing your horse or pony, or be aware that if you buy a young horse, you are responsible for its experiences which can be a very positive thing, done as correctly as you can (yes, we all make mistakes so do not be too hard on yourselves if you do!)

Many of our fears are learned and without psychoanalysing us individually, we are all on our own path and journey and have different experiences and opportunities in our lives; however, our thought processes can be improved with training, and together with good practice regimes “at home” plus guidance from a coach or trainer (or club system) who you trust and who is on your side.

There are THREE phases in Eventing so if possible you should be practicing all three, this means, flatwork, polework and hacking (plus a bit of XC schooling where appropriate) a sort of mini version to replicate the obstacles and going you might encounter on the day. This familiarises your horse or pony with what to expect in all 3 phases (more about this another time.)

Focussing on the SJ phase, you do not necessarily have to jump big fences at home all the time to feel good about your rhythm or balance or how you approach a fence. Also you can jump on grass occasionally (again does not have to be huge) as this is what you would do at a competition. Although classes are often on a surface, they may not be on the day so if that is all you do at home then your horse is already at a disadvantage and so are you!

Going back to the topic of this page, it is about nerves and fear on the day, ringing any bells?? If you are prepared as much as you can be then your stress will be lowered by knowing how to deal with terrain on the day, in the ring, and hence influence your results.

Here are some exercises I use to reduce competition stress:

Be comfortable walking your horse to warm up. If you rush over to the collecting ring and ride round and round for too long you are going to get stressed. Be cool.

Get used to giving him/her walking exercises so that you can communicate with them at a slow pace whilst assessing when and where you want to jump and who you might want to avoid (yes, there is usually one looney crashing around, make sure it isn’t you!)

If there is a long delay, leave the collecting ring and take a break outside, within earshot of stewards and helpers so you don’t miss your time or run out of time to warm up again.

Teach your horse to go from walk to canter happily so that you can jump easily when there is a space to get to the warm up fence. This is something you need to practice at home, not on the day.

Learn how long it takes to warm up your horse, practice it and leave enough time to warm up slowly; hurrying is stressful for them and they may need to have pee on the way over to the ring as they have been woken up early and don’t like doing it in the lorry, this is very important, or take them for a graze before or after the dressage to wind down so they are not being compromised by trying to jump whilst bursting (would you ?!) It is your responsibility to get to know this sort of thing and the likes and dislikes of your horse; this is where you reduce stress and give yourself a chance to compete at your very best.

I hope this helps, next time I will run through how to cope in the ring.


Carolyn Rowe began Eventing in 1984 with her pony club horse Raffles III. He reached Advanced level and won a long format 2* three day event as well as fulfilling his team obligations, standing at a mere 15hh he had to carry weights and gallop his little heart out and his training had to be geared to help him cope with all the distances involved.
Carolyn was fortunate to be introduced to a number of top International and Olympic riders and coaches and was invited to train with Peter Robeson, Warrren Wofford and Capt Mark Phillips amongst others, all of whom contributed to and have had great influence over how she now coaches and trains other riders today.
In 2012 with the backing of BE Training Carolyn began a pilot scheme called Pyramid Training for those aged 11 years to 18 years, as BE had opened up the age limits. This year 2 of those attendees were selected to compete at Mill Street in the Junior Europeans, 1 has been in the winning team at Frickley Park Championships, and of the 20 riders 10 are competing successfully, and have competed at over 30 x 1* Events since 2013. 
 Carolyn has retrained many ex-racehorses and is actively involved in ongoing clinics which support all horses out of Training. She was sponsored for 9 years by a veterinarian products company and teaches Pony Clubs wherever possible.
She will shortly be returning to Eventing with a catch ride in September and will be blogging about the efforts required to get back to fitness for this purpose!
Carolyn is based in Hampshire and has the Facebook page I-canter plus is planning to launch the branded website later in 2017.

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