Learning to Calm our Nerves

By Patrick Shannahan

Trying to calm ones nerves at a trial is probably the most difficult obstacles to overcome. As we get experience, it does become easier. But for some, nerves are a hurdle that will always be difficult to conquer.

My friend Linda Tesdahl, put me on a great little book that has some great insight on nerves, and how we can learn to deal with them. The Nine Secrets of Perfect Horsemanship by Don Blazer is not a book that I would normally pick up and read. Since I don’t own a horse, it took Linda a while to convince me to find and purchase this book.

Don Blazer, the author, has great insight in performance animals. There are a few other books on sporting events with dogs or horses, but none seem to capture the essence of what makes a good competitor like this book.

One great example this book gives of how we can start to understand and conquer our nerves, is finding the reason we get nervous. Why do we get nervous? If you ask yourself, you might have a good answer. But the book tells us the rationale behind getting nervous is our ego. Our ego believes that it is extremely important that no one sees you in a foolish position. It is what drives us in front of others, and it controls the actions that we take.

But our ego is not our true self. It is a collection of negative ideas that we have about our selves, and about others. It is what creates anger, embarrassment, bewilderment and many other emotions that can cause our failure. The ego seeks two things; the approval of others and the control of others. So, when we can learn to control our ego, we can start to learn of the potential of ourselves.

As a young handler, I can remember going to the post and being quite nervous about my run. It wasn’t until later in my career, when I determined that I knew my dog was a good dog, and if he didn’t perform that way today, that he still was a good dog that I was able to let go of my nerves. As a beginner, we think that everyone is watching us, but if the truth is told, very few are watching as they have their own lives to live.

Don breaks down each of the secrets with a chapter. He explains how we must learn to work within our animals potential, whether it is limited physically or mentally. Another great chapter is learning to live your future now. My favorite, and probably the most relevant to sheep dog trialing, is learning to accept uncertainly.

Although this book is about horses, I think that you will find most everything about it is relevant to you and your dog. The author uses horses for examples, but I don’t think anyone of us would have a difficult substituting a dog for the same situation.

Learning to calm ones nerves is lifelong process for many of us. But understanding why we get nervous is the first step in learning to combat. If you have a chance, take a look at this book and see if it can’t help you grasp what is making you nervous.