Everyone experiences horse show jitters at some point in their riding career. It is only natural to feel some anticipation and excitement before stepping into the show pen. In fact, it is the rush of showing that gets you out of bed at 4 a.m.
But if you are going to be truly competitive, you will have to learn to get a handle on your nerves. Acknowledging your nerves is the first step to overcoming your nerves. Here are some tips to help you master your nerves.
1. Focus on your performance. The number one mistake riders make is focusing on the win. Instead, focus on your performance with your horse. Concentrate your efforts on being the best rider you can be for your horse on that particular day. The best ride wins. Goal: lay out your best ride!
2. Stay on your game. Do not allow yourself to be psyched out by the other riders. Stick to your plan, the rituals that you use at home to have a good ride should be the same as those you employ at the show. The other competitor’s past accomplishments are just that – in the past. You are there to show off your horse and your talent. Stay focused on what you and your horse require to be confident and show well under the circumstance.
3. Focus only on the things you can control. You control how early you prepare, how clean your tack is, how much sleep you get the night before and when your horse gets fed, watered, clipped and bathed. You cannot control the draw order or who you follow so get on with it….deal with the things that you have control over.
4. Handle bumps with aplomb. The ability to stay cool under pressure is what makes great riders great. Winning riders prepare for every imaginable circumstance. In doing so, when the unexpected happens, the winning rider most likely has a tool to handle the snag. Often they correctly realize the potential for a problem before it happens and in so doing, are able to prevent the incident from becoming a problem.
If you get to the practice pen and thing “oh my gosh, I am so nervous!” your nerves will get the best of you. Instead, when you feel the nerves coming on, get ahold of your mind and refocus your attention on the task at hand, warming you and your horse up.
5. Accept your level of preparedness. Only you know how much time you have spent on preparation. If you are riding a three year old in the open division of Horsemanship, you know in your heart, your horse simply does not have the experience he will have when he is a five year old. Accepting your ability prevents you from putting unrealistic expectations on you or your horse.
6. Visualize your perfect ride. Picture yourself doing everything correctly through your entire ride. Don’t ignore the tough spots – imagine yourself in the show ring riding with precision and perfection. This is especially useful when done repeatedly and often.
7. Breathe. At last, inhale deeply and slowly. Learn to focus on your breathing as a technique to center and calm yourself. This is not just an exercise for the mind. With every breath you take, you release endorphins, natural pain killers, into your body. Taking deep breaths actually removes toxins from your body through the increased oxygen flow. Practice deep breathing techniques at night before sleep and you will also get a better night’s rest!
Show like you do not care if you win or lose. Relax and enjoy the ride. Take your partner and have a ride like never before – in perfect harmony. It is just you and your horse doing what you know you do well. Ride in the present. Do not relish in the past or put yourself in the winner’s circle before attaining a great ride. Most of all – have fun. Be grateful for the time you have at the horse show – there is no place more fun to experience life than on the back of a horse.