dressage, dressage competition, dressage training, Heather Oleson Dressage, show nerves

Ride Like a Pro: Become Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

For some people, showing is fun. It’s not for me. Yet.
After a seven year hiatus, I’m back in the show ring, coping with show nerves and a limited ability to focus, knowing the judge is watching my every move.
I want to know how seasoned competitors do it. How do they maintain that laser-like focus throughout each ride? How do they manage to enjoy the process?
My solution? Go ask them. In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing dressage professionals, begging them to share their secrets.

Seasoned competitors like Heather Oleson, pictured here warming up Victor at the San Juan Capistrano CDI, make it look easy. Photo by Siggi Wolff

Seasoned competitors like Heather Oleson, pictured here warming up Victor, make it look easy.

First up, a discussion with Grand Prix trainer/competitor Heather Oleson from Eagle, ID.
Heather generously shared her thoughts, which I outline in detail in the September issue of Flying Changes magazine (you can read the entire article online at www.flyingchanges.com). I’ve summarized the highlights for you here.
My favorite quote from Heather: “The first thing any competitor needs to do is become comfortable with being uncomfortable at home.”

In short, quit avoiding the things that distract you and use them as training tools: the dog sleeping at the end of the arena, blustery wind, or that woman with the naughty horse. You and your horse need to learn to keep your focus through thick, thin, and feeding time at home — so you’re better able to do so in the show ring, when you’re performing under pressure. If you only ride your horse when conditions are perfect, you won’t have the skill set needed to deal with distraction.
Heather also emphasizes putting a healthy dose of Realistic Expectations in your tack trunk. “I always say, if you can’t do it at home with at least 80% reliability, chances are you won’t get it at the show,” Heather said.
Heather and Victor warm up at Dressage at Devonwood. Photo by Zoe Anne Arrington

Heather and Victor warm up at Dressage at Devonwood. Photo by Zoe Anne Arrington

Don’t pressure yourself or your horse to put in a perfect performance. Go for the best possible performance given your training and the circumstances of each day.
Heather advises riders to look at each class as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your horse. If you bring home a ribbon, all the better — but don’t make it your only goal.
(For more information about Heather Oleson go to www.heather-oleson.com or follow her on Facebook. She and her horse, Victor, have been invited to compete against the top 15 Grand Prix horses in the country at the Festival of Champions in Wellington, FL)