“If you ain’t first, you’re last. You can’t have two number ones.”

I don’t know about you, but I was born with a major competitive streak. While age and experience have allowed me some self-control, my friends try to ply me with offerings of wine or chocolate before engaging in what is supposed to be fun night of cards or board games. This tactic has varying degrees of success for them; typically, though, I can’t resist taking vicious pleasure in trumping them – and believe me, if it involves strategy, I will (see what I mean??) – And this is why we don’t play board games with Gillian.

We don’t need to be psychologists to rightfully assume that my competitiveness can be a double edged sword to my well-being. While having a desire to succeed is an excellent quality, competitive people sometimes don’t know when to stop. Win the argument, lose the friend. Win the race before you are ready, deal with the injury after. We tend to place immense pressure on ourselves to perform, and don’t always understand when we’ve pushed ourselves past the threshold of usefulness.

That being said, competitive people also do tend to, well, win, because they are willing to make the sacrifices they need to get to the top. Time, money, brainpower – all of the resources we put into something, we tend to get back.

I’m not sure why I have this powerful instinct to win at life, and while I mostly treasure this personality trait – for it has afforded me a LOT of success for someone my age – there are indeed some pitfalls. Not only from the outside, to the people who have to put up with this ego fest, but on the inside as well. No one is as hard on me as I am to myself, and I walk a tight rope between brazen over-confidence and crippling self-doubt on a daily basis.

Oh, and I’m also an equestrian. So, who else gets to deal with this Jekyll and Hyde? My horse and my coach do. And, though I am an amateur rider with a career outside of the industry, I work hard to better my riding skills and perform at the local shows.

Well, I do now. Due to life and the inevitable roller coaster of horse ownership, I took a 6 year hiatus from horse showing and am just getting back into the competitive side of riding. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, money isn’t everything in equestrian sport, but it certainly is a reality we have to deal with. And that meant having a solid career.

Our horses need stabling, veterinary care, and we all need training. At least we competitive types do; if I’m not working on getting better, I’m wasting time, thank you!
So, I took those 6 years off of showing to build my career. I continued to ride, but it was just practicing at home, on a baby horse fixing my flatwork at a dressage barn. Once my career and life was established, and I was fully adulting, I planned to get back into the show ring. It wouldn’t be a problem, I thought; I used to be quite successful at my level in local shows, and never had to worry about performance nerves.

But, like Ricky Bobby, I came back… different.

I didn’t have an accident and catch on fire. I had no reason to feel anxiety, so why did I nearly throw up from nerves at my first show back? I went to another show, and the same thing happened yet again. I had a green horse at the time, which certainly did not help. Our nerves began to play off of each other and before I knew it, we were “that” pair that couldn’t get around. On a young horse that loved to jump, I had scared her. (Mares can actually read your mind, I swear) Something had changed, but what? I am no less competitive as a person, certainly. Walking that tight rope between ego and crippling self-doubt, though, I had lost my balance and was listing dangerously to the side of self-doubt. What had changed, indeed?

It took some time, but between my trainer’s sport psychology and some horse trading to get me on an older, more experienced mount who could handle my newfound bundle of nerves (no fair to sensitive babies), we got to work this season. My young mare went to a grand prix trainer so she could develop sans Clammy Ammy clinging to her back in terror. I knew I had a lot of ground to cover to fix my newfound show nerves, and that meant I had to make that difficult choice, and move away from the flashy young stock to a more sensible older horse. It was a choice that was the epitome of adulting!

Fast forward to spring and our first horse show arrived. I was quite ready to tackle this head on – our practices at home were going stellar, and I felt ready. Ariel, my new horse, was sporting a fancy new bridle to prove our show readiness. I just knew with the right horse I was going to go home with all the ribbons. I was going to shake and bake like I used to!

Like Ricky Bobby, I came back with a false sense of over confidence. I had not addressed the root of my show nerves – I had only addressed a symptom.

And, guess what I learned: experienced mares are even BETTER at reading your mind.

Here is our dialogue as we entered the show ring:

Me: “Oh wow. Ohhhhh wow. There is a roaring in my ears. I can literally feel the blood pumping in my veins. I’m going to die of sheer terror. Why am I so terrified? These jumps are tiny. There are three people in my class. (I must beat them) I better clamp on to this tiny horse like a terrified barnacle”.

Ariel: “Don’t worry lady; I’ve got your back. These 2’6 jumps shall be well cleared, and I shall ensure we have more than enough gallop to get through this course you think is scary.” (Enthusiastically explodes into canter)

Me: “STAP. STAAAAHP. Too fast. Too fast! The judge can see us!! SHE IS LOOKING RIGHT AT US. WITNESSING ALL OF THIS.”

Ariel: “We are in a ring with jumps, if you do not select a jump, I shall have to select one for you. Silly human, I obviously need to train you.” (Meanwhile, with the bit in her teeth, doing tempi changes to ensure she is ready to jump anything I even look at, at a full gallop).


Hunter Judge:
Luckily, I have an amazing support system, and a coach who took the time to study what creates show nerves, and how to get rid of them. And no, she did not make me ride my horse with a mountain lion chasing after us. More on how she fixed me and got my guts back in Shake and Bake: Equestrian Edition Pt. 2!