Show season is finally here! In the midst of scheduling, practicing, planning, budgeting and purchasing show apparel you have likely been anticipating show season as much as me! The preparation is sometimes just as thrilling as the actual horse showing. And usually the excitement is accompanied by show ring nerves when you finally arrive at the show.
As avid equestrians we put so much pressure on ourselves to not only succeed but to make sure we are having fun since our hobby is so expensive. With that, comes mental preparedness. Having a strategy for handling show ring nerves ahead of time is crucial. That’s right, you can practice handling the pressure at home!
Here are my best tips on how to manage show ring nerves and feel more confident in the ring. All of these tips are tried and true. Trust me, even after 25+ years in the show pen, I still get butterflies. I’m not saying you’ll never feel anxious or inadequate ever again. But here are some effective ways to put aside your anxiety and have a great ride!
Keep Breathing To Keep Functioning
You might be thinking, “duh!” Wow, how original to suggest breathing when nervous. I get it, it’s obvious and straight forward but hear me out.
Breathing is not only essential to survive literally anything in life but also to sustain life. And for some reason, it’s one of the most difficult things to do, unless you do it intentionally. Whether you are flat out scared, stressed or just excited, breathing can be a challenge.
Not only is breathing important for you, but it’s also important for your horse. Horses feed off of our energy, so if you are holding your breath, you are probably also riding with tense forearms and gripping your legs.
Not to mention that horses can hear our heart beat, so if your heart rate is up, your horse will likely know to suspect danger. Remember, your horse doesn’t know why you are tense. Or that you might be afraid of them. All your equine partner knows is, the person he looks to for direction and security is scared. That is a signal that he should be scared too!
Are you just getting started showing horses? Want more horse showing tips? Check out these helpful resources!
When You Can’t Breath, Count
Counting is one of the best ways to help you relax and there are multiple benefits to this technique. Not only can it distract your mind and give you something simple to focus on, it can help you regulate your breathing.
Secondly, when we freeze up and panic we stop riding. Counting will you help you maintain a steady rhythm while riding. Let’s say you’re in the middle of jumping a course and start to panic. One of the best things you can do is maintain a steady pace to help you get through the course safely. If you lose the ability to see your distances, counting will help you get back on track and keep your horse consistent.
Some people tend to pull on their horse’s mouths a lot when they get tense, or maybe dig with their legs and send the horse into a tense and frantic rhythm. Keeping a steady rhythm by counting can help to mitigate the negative influence of your tense and abrupt movements to your horse.
Set Appropriate Expectations For The Show
Let’s talk about the pressure we put on ourselves for a minute. Are we being realistic? Maybe you’re putting pressure on yourself for the wrong reasons. For example, are you focusing on the placing you receive on the quality of your ride?
Now, I won’t sit here and tell you not to have any focus on points, placings and ribbons, we all love the thrill of success especially when there is a big, beautiful rosette attached to it. However, we don’t achieve winning by focusing on the prizes. And, I certainly won’t advise you to lower your expectations.
I’m merely suggesting that our expectations and goals are aligned with what should be the priority instead of setting ourselves up for disappointment and failure. If you’re creating expectations that you will have a flawless ride with no mistakes, the chances are slim. By the same token, if you expect that you will outride the competition with little effort, the chances are slim.
Not to get all preachy, but we should focus on the quality of our ride and the progress we make with our horse. The quality of movements, the accuracy of how we execute technically challenging maneuvers or obstacles, the way in which we communicate with our horses. At the end of the day, this is what it’s all about. When you fell in love with horses is was because of the bond you share with them, not the prizes. Horse showing is about the journey, not just the end result.
Strategize With Your Trainer
Having a game plan in the show ring is crucial. The saying “hope for the best, plan for the worst” is applicable because being prepared for anything can keep you safe!
Whether you’re strategizing on how to get seen in the pen in a large class and avoid getting buried traffic on the rail or counting strides between fences. Often times, things don’t go exactly how we plan. Preparing for how you’ll react in various scenarios can you help the rider stay in the moment and remain focused when things aren’t working out.
Want more tips on setting goals and actually achieving them?
Download your FREE Equestrian Goals Worksheet and start achieving your goals today!
Over Preparing For Show Ring Nerves At Home
Preparing at home doesn’t just mean working on the skills you know you’ll be tested on at the show. There are many ways to prepare for the questions you may be asked in a show. One way is to practice the basics of correct riding in your respective discipline. Paying very close attention to the minute details that could have a large impact on your ride. Simple exercises like transitions in between gaits or within a gait can help you identify gaps.
Similarly, you may also want to practice much more challenging and difficult exercises at home to help get you and your horse to the next level. By pushing yourself to ride at a higher level at home, you’ll lessen the pressure and anxiety you feel at a show.
The best way to feel confident when it comes time to compete is to be prepared. Over preparing will ensure you are sufficiently prepared.
Control Your Reactions Instead Of Your Nerves
While in attendance at a John Lyon’s clinic many years ago, John advised the crowd that you can’t tell a horse not to be afraid. However, you can teach him how to react when he feels afraid. The same applies to people.
You can’t force yourself not to feel fear and anxiety, but you can teach yourself how to react. Over preparing for the competition, visualization, strategizing with your trainer and breathing will help you manage your fear. You don’t have to learn not to be anxious, you just have to learn how to focus and function instead of freezing.
I hope this article will help you out this season! If you’ve found success using any of the suggestions in this article or have others you want to share, leave a comment and share this post with your friends!