Tackling Show Nerves with Elyse Hart


Riding Warehouse is putting on a virtual show through Better Dressage Scores that benefits the Optimum Youth Equestrian Scholarship. As a mentor for OYES, this got Elyse Hart's attention! At first, she thought that she was entering the show out of support for OYES, but after riding in a virtual dressage show for the first time, Elyse has decided it's something she plans on doing a lot more often. Read on to hear why!

(Above) Photo credit: Leslie Lange Photos

With the many breaks I have taken from riding, I had not stepped foot in the show ring in over 17 years until less than a year ago. In the last year, I have ridden in three shows, and my performance anxiety has been a large issue for me at each one. As a sober equestrian, this kind of acute anxiety is something I am learning to face and function through. When I become overcome by my anxiety I get massive amounts of adrenaline going and seem to burn out JUST as the bell rings for me to begin my test. As you can imagine, this is not ideal! As well as very frustrating because my body seems to have more anxiety than my mind at times. It can feel like even when my mind is exhausted and over it, my body can't let it go. Trying to just think positive thoughts doesn't seem to cut it. All I can do is ride through it.

Being an equestrian is such a mental exercise as well as a physical sport. If I am off my game, my horse notices, wondering why the inflated anxiety? Is there something that he should be afraid of? Having anxiety is not something I can always control, but my perception of that anxiety and how I react to it, are 100% my responsibility. Sleepless nights before the show, and spinning in my mind when I'm in the warm-up before testing are just a few of the ways I've burned myself out. Part of the problem with my anxiety is that I assign so much pressure to each show. Nobody cares how it goes, but me! My trainer has told me several times she does not care what my scores are, but I am such a perfectionist that I block myself from success by generating so much anxiety within myself. Even when I am successful, I have worries that I'll never be able to do as well again, and even though I have met or surpassed goals anxiety is again at my door! You can see how this is exhausting! I want to be like the many people I see who seem to enjoy the competitive aspect of being an equestrian, but HOW?!


"Having anxiety is not something I can always control, but my perception of that anxiety and how I react to it, are 100% my responsibility."
Photo credit: Matt Woodman and Mia Rodier-Dawallo Photography

I felt that the virtual show was an opportunity to face this anxiety, examine it, and work through it. As I am a working student, I am usually busy during the day. My trainer Patty was kind enough to let me film in the middle of my workday, so time was limited. My anxiety was already starting to creep in. A breeze was picking up, distractions going on all around just as there would be on any show day. With all these things my anxiety was buzzing even more.

What I really liked about the virtual show was I was very unhappy with the first test, but I had the ability to start over and film for a second time. This brought me to a realization about my fears with showing in general. Even if you have a bad outing, you will always have another opportunity to get back in the ring at the next show and give it another go. This might seem obvious to others, but giving myself permission for this mindset was a big takeaway for me and something I can carry over into my confidence for in-person shows.


"Even if you have a bad outing, you will always have another opportunity to get back in the ring at the next show and give it another go."
Photo credit: Leslie Lange Photos

I will be keeping my eyes peeled for virtual shows! There are countless benefits. Showing from the comfort of home gave me just enough courage to where I felt I was able to make productive strides in relation to dealing with my anxiety. I was able to be with my feelings but also be with my horse more than I had been able to in the show environment before. These little stepping stones of confidence I think will all amount to helping me overcome anxiety at in-person shows as I do virtual shows more. It was a great way for me to meet and face my anxiety all without having to trailer or stable anywhere, making it much more cost-effective. I think if someone is trying a new level, a virtual show is also a great way to go because you have the ability to ride your test for judge's scores and see where you are before going to an in-person show. I think the more that I compete the better I will get at dealing with my performance anxiety and I love that with virtual shows that can happen much more than I can get out to show. Thank you to Better Dressage Scores and Riding Warehouse for providing this opportunity and putting on this show!

Watch Elyse's entry for the virtual show below! She is riding Third Level Test 1 on Baron.

Thank you for reading and don't forget to get your entries in for the Riding Warehouse virtual show by April 8th!
Check out Elyse's
blog to read more about her journey as a sober equestrian.
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