My Three Secrets to Overcoming Horse Show Nerves February 09 2015
We've all felt the pangs of horse show nerves minutes, hours, and even days before we have a performance coming up. Am I going to do OK? Will I make my trainers happy? Will I fall off and die? All thoughts that I myself have had before a show throughout my Junior Exhibitor and Amateur years in the Saddle Seat world. Here are three things that I found to truly help quiet the pre-show jitters... and when all else fails, breathing exercises!
Sure, this one seems pretty obvious, but knowing what you and your horse are capable of individually and as a team is a huge part of overcoming your nerves. When you're at a horse show, it's important that you feel like you aren’t doing anything you haven’t done before.
Of course, in a show environment, you never really know what is going to happen. For example, being in a large class may make your your horse a little more game than you've experienced before. Not knowing what’s to come in a horse show isn’t as big of a deal if you’ve practiced and become a team with your mount. Likewise, if you’re catch riding, or riding a horse you’ve only ridden once or twice before, knowing your personal strengths as a rider can help you play to them, even when the unexpected happens.
Find yourself a ritual. For me, it always means getting completely ready two hours before a show starts, no matter what time my class is. And I mean completely ready, not just dressed, but hair, makeup and jewelry all completely done. I could be riding in the last class of the day, and I will still be ready when the first ring drag is in progress.
For other riders it could be a lucky pair of socks that they wear for every class of the show (a little gross, sure, but you can't argue with results), or listening to a playlist of "Horse Show Pump Up Jams" every time they get ready. The point of these rituals is to help us feel comfort, familiarity and most importantly, control over a situation where we inevitably have very little.
All the practice and rituals in the world can go out the window when something goes wrong. You could be stuck in traffic and get to the show late, you could leave your lucky socks in the wash, or your phone could die, leaving your playlist out there in the ether. Don’t put so much stake into rituals that you'll be thrown off if they're disrupted.
Likewise, if a judge asks you to perform a pattern you’ve never done on a horse you’ve only ridden once, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to fail. Practice is as much about boosting your confidence and preparing you for new situations as it is about developing specific skills, so carry that confidence through to a class when new challenges arise.