Hilary Moore Hebert: The Secret to Show Nerves

Hilary Moore Herbert discusses that humans are wired to get boosts of adrenaline for "fight or flight" and the key to show nerves is to turn your response from flight into fight.

Do you get show nerves? Sometimes my stomach gets butterflies, my skin starts to tingle and I feel like I have a sharpened awareness of my surroundings.

© Amy K. Dragoo

What if I told you that this happens to me on random days when I am driving to the barn? The first time I recognized that this feeling was identical to how I felt at horse shows, it got me thinking. There was no reason I felt nervous about riding. I trust my horse, he never misbehaves. Our training program was on-track and no one was even at the barn to watch me. So, why was I nervous?

All I had to do was find the energy to get through it all and I would be fine. That was the key: finding the energy. After an exhausting show weekend, I was tired. So my body was kicking in the adrenaline I needed to ride my horse to the best of my ability. Hold the phone! I felt like this because my body was preparing to work hard?!?!

Cut to the next horse show. With butterflies in my stomach, I got on my horse without a care in the world.

Understanding that humans are wired to get boosts of adrenaline for “fight or flight” has been really important to understanding show nerves. When I first heard elite riders say that they didn’t get nervous at shows, I could not understand it. Now I appreciate that they might feel the same as a person riding in their first show season, but they don’t recognize the same feeling as show nerves. They recognize it as excitement, being “on their game” and/or positive energy. The key is to turn your response from flight into fight. By fight, I mean a positive energy that allows you to approach your dressage competition head-on with strength, stamina, confidence and clarity.

This will also help you realize that having the necessary level of preparation and fitness to pack/unpack, ride in multiple classes, wake up early, etc. are very important in lowering the likelihood that you are actually nervous (unprepared?) and cutting down on the amount of adrenaline you might need to complete your competition.

So, the next time you get butterflies in your stomach, thank your body for recognizing the extra energy you will need to perform the best sitting trot of your life, canter pirouette or square halt. With adrenaline pumping, go out and ride!