It’s Labor day weekend, the unofficial mark of Fall! College football isn’t the only thing just getting started–the equine world is already gearing up for a busy fall show season. With MegFord III just last weekend, the Hunter/Jumper Classic this weekend, and Pony Club finishing out the month, now seems like a good time to talk about how to settle your show nerves.
Like most things in life, horse showing holds true to the 80/20 rule. 80% of the battle is just conquering your mental state (psych out anyone?), while 20% is physical, where you are actually in the ring, in the saddle, being judged. The 80% controls the 20%. Never vice-versa. So how does one maintain a bit of zen while waiting to be called into the ring? Here’s a few tips.
1. Forget about the ribbons.
No, seriously. Push the thought of placing completely out of your mind.
I know what you’re thinking: But that’s counter-intuitive! Why compete, if not to win ribbons? And the answer to that is, if you came expecting ribbons, you’re better off going home. The reason for competing isn’t to win ribbons. It’s to put all of those hours practicing at home into perspective. Competing allows you to take you and your horse out of your comfort zone, combine all of the skills you’ve worked so hard to learn and hone, and put them on display. In doing so, you’ll learn new things about you and your equine partner: where your strengths are, where you could use improvement, and where you can go in the future.
That’s your reward for showing. Not a five dollar ribbon.
2. Go with a goal.
Have a clear, attainable goal when you go to a show. Do you struggle with keeping your heels down over a jump? Make it your goal that you will sit up tall and keep your weight in your heels on the approach, take off, and landing. Do you forget to breath during a course? Make it your goal to sing a song to your horse from start to finish on your course.
Your goal can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. But it needs to be realistic (based on your current skills) and it needs to be something you can achieve. Because when you walk out of the ring, knowing that you met the goal you set for yourself–even if it was just one or twice–the triumph is better than any blue ribbon.
3. Communicate with your team.
Communication with your mount is always important, but sometimes so is communicating with others. Just like no man is an island, most equestrians don’t show in a vacuum. There are people there with you to support you: your trainer, your friends, etc. If you’re having trouble memorizing the course, ask one of them to help you. If you’re having doubts about something, express them. Utilize your support system to help you feel as confident in the show ring as you do practicing in the ring at home.
Getting in the ring is stressful enough. Add nerves to the mix, and suddenly everything in the arena has been magnified by two. The jumps are twice as tall. The striding is twice as big. Your mount’s momentum is twice as fast.
Know that it’s okay to take a step down and do what your more comfortable with. If you normally jump 2’3” at home, you know that you’ve mastered 2”, so sign up for the 2” course. If you know you haven’t quite mastered the ability to hold a canter through a whole course, trot in your jumps. If you have a problem steering in large crowds, don’t feel compelled to do the flat classes just because they’re part of your division.
Know your limits and accept them.
5. Don’t compete.
Horse shows are crazy. There are more riders, more horses, more people watching, more rings… There’s just more. Of everything. And it can be overwhelming, to both you and your horse. If the prospect of getting in the ring fills you with fear, know that it’s okay not to. School with your trainer instead. Hack your horse to get both of you desensitized to the sounds and smell and chaos. Learn to feel more relaxed in such a high-pace environment.
Because when you’re relaxed, your horse will be too. And that will make the next time you step into the ring, that much better.