Calming Competitive Jitters
You have prepared for the day of competition; hours of practice, sore muscles (you and your horse), sweat, dirt, dedication to perfection, changed habits that were difficult to undo in order to be the best. Your horse is groomed and shinny like a new penny. His mane is pulled and braided, tail is snarl free. You saddle up and check last minute details. As you mount your horse to be placed "on deck," your boots are wiped from dust for the last time before you enter the show arena. Your heart pounds as you hear your name announced, your blood drains and your body tenses. "Show shock" has taken over and there is no place to go but forward. Your class is like a blur. As you exit the arena, you regain composure and "you" are back, wondering why you let this affect you in such a negative way.
Don't feel bad. You are not alone.
"Show shock" happens to many riders who tell no one about their fears. The good news is that there are many preplanned steps that you can take to actually make your showing experience fun. The key word, however, is "preplanning". This simple action can take weight off of your shoulders and allow you and your horse to do your best. As you know, you and your horse are a team. Your horse is such a close friend, and the bond is incredible. He can sense your fears and courage. So, by following these simple steps, you will help to bring yourself and your horse to a new level of composure, and regain that fun competitive edge.
Visualization is an overlooked technique.
It has been proven to increase winning for sports teams around the world. I also feel that your horse can sense the preplanned results by the way you respond to the challenge. Prior to showing, visualize the result you want from your lessons down to your trainer telling you how well you have done. See yourself going through the steps of a difficult habit you have been trying to change. See yourself doing it the right way, step-by-step, and actually feel happy about the results. Amazingly, you will start to see changes your attitude, and your riding will change for the better.
Practice your visualization through your ride.
Go to the thoughts you had before you were on your horse, and put them together with your ride. Grab the feeling you had during visualization, which was good, and ride through your preplanned thoughts. Breathe, and make sure your eyes are not set on one thing, but gaze on the whole area you’re working within. Be as balanced as you have ever been. Practice this.
Listen to music.
You may not be able to do this all the time, but music can help calm even the best horses, and us, too. It takes our minds away from the task at hand and allows you to enjoy what you are doing. If you can use music while you are schooling, find a good tape or CD that has the rhythm you need to ride with. You can actually go into the show ring and hum the tune to yourself, keeping your horse consistent to the rhythm. I have found this to be most helpful. Believe it or not, my tune is Yankee Doodle, suggested by a good friend, and it works!
Eat and sleep, two of the most important rules when you are in competition.
Eat good foods that will give you energy, not junk foods. And, get the sleep that you need to be your best. These are two simple things to check if all is not going well.
At the show, walk the ring (inside and/or out); see yourself having the best ride ever.
If watching others ride makes you nervous, then preplan to read a book or listen to music (CD and tape walkmans are great), or work on a simple project.
Be ready with plan B if plan A does not work.
That means double checking tack, clothing, and any appointments for schooling or grooming, whatever you have set up. Writing down a list is not silly. Keep it in your pocket and follow it. That small paper takes a lot of worry out of your day.
Have a support person on the side rail if it helps you.
Sometimes having that one person on the rail that you can spot gives comfort and encouragement. If you are focused and "into" your visualization, you may not need this.
Give yourself credit for where you are today.
It takes great discipline and time to accomplish even small improvements. Remember that you have accomplished something that most people never get a chance to experience, and it is a privilege in life to even have a horse. Enjoy your ride, have fun, and go for the blue.
Debbie has over 45 years experience with horses and equine-related businesses. She has owned, trained, boarded horses and run stables at various times in her career. She is a certified fence installer, has given balanced riding lessons, and has shown horses in Western, Western Pleasure, Trail, English, Hunter/Jumper, Fox Hunting, Hunter Trials, Dressage and driving classes. Debbie has been involved in foaling, and just about every aspect of horse ownership possible, and she welcomes your questions and comments. If you are interested in using any articles by Debbie, please send her an email.
RAMM Fence Systems, Inc. makes every effort to provide reliable and useful information on horse health, care and products. The statements made on this website are based on years of experience with horses, however, they are based on generalized situations and should not replace diagnosis or treatment by a veterinarian or consultation by a professional. RAMM Fence Systems, Inc. does not assume any legal responsibility. Readers should always consult qualified health care providers for specific diagnosis and treatment.