Beating Horse Show Nerves

Beating Horse Show Nerves: A Competitor's Top Tips

An amateur competitor surveyed top riders, querying their best tips to combat pre-show jitters. Here's what they had to say.

bay reining horse with a long mane and blue eye (Credit: Stacy Weatherly)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By David Etsell

In the off season, I use the time to not only hone my maneuvers, I also work on both my mental and physical games. I compete in reining, so not only do I work to perfect my stops, spins and circles, but to also create a winning warm-up plan.

Let me be honest: I have a history of not being on target in the first class at a show. I know my goals, I know my pattern and all the pieces, but I seem to present an effort that is less than the goal.

So, in the off season, I talked to several accomplished reiners, both open and non-pro, for advice on dealing with my pre-show jitters. I asked,

  • What do you do for a pre-show warm up?

  • How do you prepare the 10 minutes before showing?

  • What about habits, nerves, preparation?

Their answers were both helpful and entertaining! The top piece of advice that came out of each conversation was … be prepared.

  1. Know your horse. Be prepared to help him through his weak spots and help him shine in his strengths.

  2. Use the buddy system. Know where your buddy is. Have someone available to recite your pattern to, hold your coat, brush your horse’s tail or even to give you gum. And make sure to communicate to them what you might need so they can help you out.

  3. Visualize your pattern. Picture the pattern-book version of your ride, then picture how you want to do it, setting up each move and how to execute them. Remember to be realistic with your expectations: Ride the horse that you have today. Preview your pattern from start to finish – what to do with your hand, feet, legs, body. Where to look, how fast to go and how to set up changes. How you want to depart, start a turn around or perform a rollback. As one rider said, “Our horses have gauges like an airplane: They show signs of where they are and where they’re going. Be a good pilot, read the gauges and pilot accordingly.”

  4. You only get one chance for a first impression. Enter the show pen ready to go, focused but relaxed and show the judges that you are there to win a prize.

  5.  Everyone gets nervous. Nerves are not a bad thing; they show that you care. Use nervous energy to help you focus and stay motivated. Little things help calm the nerves and relax: gum, Altoids, chapstick, deep breathing. Before you show, take the time to walk the show pen area and look around at the lights, banners, bleachers, gates; take in all these things before you show so when you come into the pen, you can “calm your eyes” and not be looking around.

  6. Non-pros, listen to your trainer. When you enter the pen, they might say “look up,” “keep your hand down” or “go long.” Go in there and show them that you are listening. After all, you have likely paid them thousands of dollars for these tips!

  7.  You and your horse are only competing against yourself. Don’t be concerned with what the other guy did. Try to have fun and enjoy the ride. You and your horse are always learning, so be a good teacher. Every class is a teaching opportunity, a learning opportunity.

In conclusion, be prepared, do your homework and have fun! With all these great people there to help us along, we should all be showing to the best of our ability.

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