Gee, that is a hard question to answer, isn't it. I guess I get kind of nervous - but do I get really nervous? More or less nervous than other people? Who knows.
And how much does the degree of nervousness I feel affect my performance?
Again - who knows.
Psychology Today says that nervousness comes from our fear of looking foolish in front of others, feeling vulnerable, or a fear of standing out inappropriately. I don't know if this is really what causes me problems at horse shows, because really, I am not particularly good at caring what other people think about what I say or do (which is a constant source of problems in my life, but on the bright side it does enable me to speak in front of large crowds without having to resort to picturing them naked. Most people are better imagined fully clothed).
That said, I do definitely think that my riding is affected enough by my "show nerves" that my horse is left wondering what the hell is wrong with me, and his or her performance or lack thereof reflects this. But I would say the net result of this nervousness is more of a jittery stressed out effect, than a gut-wrenching, "get thee to the porto-let" kind of thing.
You know what I mean - I am not a queasy, bumbling bag of worry - I can pretty much still eat overpriced stir-fry without any fear of vomiting. From the exterior, I look pretty much as normal as I ever do - people around me might not think that I am nervous at all.
But show nerves do sort of take away my edge. Not in a catastrophic way, but in a "drip-drip-drip" kind or erosion of any edge which I might have ever had. I am just not good at mentally dealing with all the stuff going on around me, all at the same time.
Kind of like the parent who is lugging 3 strollers and a car seat through security, while asking in a sugary sweet voice for little Lucas to "stop - stop now - don't do that to your sister... no, stop" like a spineless ninny. She is preoccupied with diaper bags and passports and liquids and gels, and so her parenting techniques are a little on the semi-flaccid side, leaving us all to wonder how on Earth she puts up with these kids 24/7 without killing them.
But really - you know that if she was in her own home, she would be calm. She would likely do something firm and decisive and non Super-Nanny approved, and Lucas would cut the crap, pronto. Kids aren't stupid - they know when to pick their battles, and the best time is when your opponent is slightly distracted and also doesn't want to look like a psycho-screaming childbeater in front of their peers. I try to tell myself this, and cut these parents some slack (while saying my prayers to god and allah and the aliens - whoever is listening - in hopes that they will not end up seated beside me on the plane).
Since horses are simple creatures, with simple reward-punishment type logic built into their noggins, doing something the easy way, (like a strung out running canter transition, or googling around at interesting things instead of staying focused and on the bit), and not getting corrected for it immediately, in the moment it is occurring equals ... good times! I never get to do this at home! Wheee!
I don't think I can really blame this on nerves, per se. I think it is actually called "bad riding".
Now, I am not the snappiest rider in the first place, which is exactly why I will never be a world-class equestrian - for example, I can ride all of the pieces of a test perfectly by themselves, but stringing them together is just too fricking difficult for me (and is why people who "school XX level" without ever having shown it are really kidding themselves if they think it is the same thing). When the littlest bit of nerves bump this lack of snappiness up to the "long moments of catatonic" level - well, things go off the rails fairly quickly. My brain just can't keep pace with the action.
|Shoulder-in left, volte left 8m. Half-pass to the left, on centreline, track left...
This is especially true when riding an overachiever of a horse. I think there were many times when Ms. V waited patiently for me to snap out of this catatonic state and give her an indication as to what was coming up...then eventually gave up on the waiting thing and made a decision all on her own as to what might be a good next step in our test. "Well, I like medium canter a lot, and there is the long side - why not". Only to be confused and frustrated when her rider finally came to her senses and yanked her onto a circle, or in some other direction that she did not anticipate, causing many a "disturbance - 2". And adding "some tension" to many squares on the scoresheet, as Ms. V pranced along thinking "what-what-WHAT?? WHAT DO I DO NEXT!" instead relaxing and waiting to get clear, confident messages from her rider.
Apparently, Psychology Today says that "yoga, combined with cognitive restructuring, which includes developing positive self-talk" can help to solve the problem of nerves. Who knows. Should I ever show a horse again, I think I am going to try "Bacardi, combined with Coca Cola, including a twist of lime". I don't really think either thing will make a difference.