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Posted by Rebecca Griffin, Equestrian mind coach on 31/05/2018.

MENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM | Manage Pre-competition Nerves

We all know what it is like to get butterflies in the tummy before a competition, some of us even know what it is like to have bats flying around in there!  Why does this happen and what can we do to minimise the negative effects of nerves and anxiety.  

The Fear of the unknown or “ what if “ triggers off thoughts of possible negative outcomes, thus the body goes into fight or flight mode.

As equestrians we all know what it is like to be out of our comfort mode at times.  Let's learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

Strategies to minimise nerves

Breathing exercises – guided meditation 

Increases oxygen to the blood flow thus helping muscles to work at full capacity 

  • Find a quiet place, out some music, listen to a guided meditation (Free apps exist like Insight Timer).
  • Place your hands on your belly and feel the rise and fall.
  • Breath in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Recall your best performances and think of the positive feelings that you experienced.


This can be done with breathing focus and then think of the happy quiet place you enjoy the most eg beach .. green field..  cantering through a green field.

Goal setting

Gives athletes a meaningful direction to focus. Gives purpose

Positive self-talk / NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming)  

A positive mind creates a balanced approach to competition thus improves your chance of success. Channelling your brain towards being confident and self-belief.

How do we become confident? We must set ourself up for success with correct training and self-management. Dealing with setbacks and obstacles, embracing flexibility, positive statements eg “I have done this before and I can do it again”!

Emotional control

Recognise the situations that cause anxiety eg running late, forgetting gear etc.

Label your emotions like a traffic light:

  • GREEN – happy stress-free and can think clearly.
  • YELLOW – a little stressed and anxious and thoughts have been affected.
  • RED – means out of control, thoughts are completely irrational, feelings of anger, frustration or disappointment.

Keep using your emotional thermometer BEFORE, DURING and AFTER comp … using strategies to help minimise anxiety.  

Thought redirection

Keep oneself distracted. Eg. clean gear, reading, meditation, go through lists and tick off, visualisation.

ONCE YOU CAN MANAGE THE ANXIETY THEN IMPLEMENT channelling nerves instead of completely eradicating them. 

  • Understand the positive intention behind the nerves.  Why?  Are you concerned for your safety? Your horses safety? Peer pressure?  If you recognise "why" then your body doesn't press the red alert button.  
  • Identity the causes 
  • Take the word nervous out of your vocabulary and replace with excitement. Your brain will adapt.
  • Keep yourself in the moment, the present, the NOW!! "WHAT IF"people love catastrophe and drama
  • Keep your body relaxed – breathe slowly low and behind bellybutton,     Talk slowly- count … maintain rhythm in breathing and talking
  • Soften jaw – if your jaw is tight so will your body.  Open your mouth slightly.. floppy jaw.  Practice this at night.

REHEARSAL OF POSITIVE OUTCOMES – go through eg tests over and over, watch DVDs of other elite riders and even your own good performances.


On top of all of this get good sleep, good nutrition, have a positive network of friends and peers, find your belonging… ditch negative people and environments, use your professional resources … we love to do our job and help YOU!  Remember you have done the training and hard work, keep enjoying the accomplishments and ticking off your goals.

Happy Horsing! 

Rebecca Griffin, Equestrian Mind-Coach

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Rebecca Griffin is a qualified EA level 1 coach (general). Using her studies and training in mindset coaching and sports science, she is not only skilled at advancing the physical training of horse and riders but also their mental strength.


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