The Rider’s Mind Podcast Episode 106: How Your Baseline Nervous System Impacts Your Nervousness


Being able to regulate your nervous system and being able to go between the parasympathetic and sympathetic are key to finding your ideal performance state. It’s important to be able to manage your nervous system and recognize how you’re showing up throughout the week. After listening to this episode, I hope you’ll be able to see how things outside of competition can impact your ability to show up for your horse. 

We all have a nervous system. The base wires are essentially laid out the same for everyone. There are different components of the nervous system. The two main parts are the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is our spinal cord and our brain. The peripheral nervous system is everything other than the brain and spinal cord.  The two systems aren’t separate, they’re connected. 

We all have the same basic nervous system components, but there will be some variations in the integrity based on previous traumas and whether we’ve naturally learned how to regulate our nervous system. 

Some people learn how to regulate our nervous system from watching parents and caregivers.  Some people have not had the chance to learn how to regulate their nervous system.

The part I want to hone in on is the autonomic nervous system, which is part of the peripheral nervous system. Within the autonomic nervous system we have the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. These aspects of the nervous system are part of what allows you to handle stress (or not). 

The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the flight or fight response. The parasympathetic is responsible for rest and digest or feed and breed.

These systems affect how you handle stress. 

Dr. Steven Porges studied the vagal nerve and suggested there are levels or dials for each part of the nervous system. It’s not an off or on type of thing. 

When your sympathetic nervous system is highly activated due to your work and home life, even before you get to an event, your baseline nervous system is already dialed up. If someone else has been attentive and mindful and learned to regulate their nervous system they might show up “dialed down”.

This could explain why you’re sometimes more nervous than other times, even though you’re riding the same horse at the same level of competition. 

If you’re already “dialed up” from work or home stress, your nervous system is activated before you add the stress of competition. This is why learning tools to regulate your nervous system all the time (not just in pre-competition) is helpful. It will have a ripple effect into other areas of your life as well.    

If you’re under long-term stress, you can get stuck in sympathetic nervous system activation. This puts you in the primal state of “fight or flight”. You have your guard up and are more suspicious. 

If you’re less stressed, you are activating the parasympathetic nervous system. You see people with an open-heart and with kindness. 

Your nervous system is the filter for how you see the world and respond to things. 

It’s worthwhile for you to learn tools to help regulate the nervous system. Things like exercise, yoga, breath work, talk therapy or energy healing can all be tools for regulating your nervous system. Learn the tools that work for you and use them to regulate your nervous system.

It begins with an awareness of your nervous system functioning so you can “dial it down”.  Learning to regulate your nervous system will help you in competition. 

In Stride, we study tools to regulate your nervous system. I add resources all the time that help you to learn to regulate your nervous system and make long lasting changes that seep into other areas of your life.  


Join the Conversation

Join the discussion in the The Rider’s Mind Community on Facebook. As a member of this community, you’ll also get tips and videos from me. 

Want to connect or ask me a question? Find me on Instagram or Facebook.

I’m on Clubhouse too!  Find me @michelleadavey

Learn with Me

If you’re looking to make changes to your mindset, be sure to sign up for my free Next-Level Mindset Mini Course.

You can also join Stride, my next-level barrel racing group. This group receives video training and coaching from me and Stride members have access to special guests. We work on becoming mindful barrel racers so we can show up, be present and perform with great partnership.

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