Better weather is on its way (or so we keep being told) and with spring and summer comes horse show season. And it doesn’t matter if you’re showing an A-circuit jumper, a bronze-level western dressage horse, or barrel racing at your local rodeo ‒ some riders lose their minds. Nerves, stress, pressure, it all adds up to you becoming your horse’s worst nightmare.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are seven tips to keeping your cool (and your sanity) while competing.
Prepack a Horse & Human Grooming Kit
Think of this as a first-aid kit for horse shows, only instead of band-aids you have brushes, hoof picks, braiding supplies … you get the idea. Keep this in its own separate box or bag so you don’t have to pack up your barn grooming kit before each show. You should also apply this principle to your own “human grooming kit.” Brush, hair elastics, hair nets, sunscreen, show gloves, hand mirror, you use it, you pack it, and keep it packed so you can grab and go. A handy train case works well for this. Both of these kits eliminate forgetting the one thing you need right before your class. It will also ensure you’re popular when your show neighbor forgets something.
Don’t Practice Too Much at Home
What??? You heard me. Whether it’s a dressage test or reining pattern, if you drill your horse too much it will anticipate in the ring, or become tense during the test, and trust me, it won’t go well. Instead, practice parts of a test or pattern or whatever type of event you’re doing and don’t ride the compete thing more than a couple of times. Master those bits and by the time you’re at the show you’ll be ready to put it all together.
Ask for Help
Whether it’s a parent, friend, or sibling, if you’re a nervous nelly, ask someone to help you at the show. Even if it’s just to hold your horse while you braid (or run to the bathroom), or carry your show jacket to the ring, having support will take the edge off. But make sure it’s someone who can handle you when you’re at your worst. Too many romantic relationships have been tested and failed at horse shows!
Plan Your Warmup
In the weeks leading up to the show really examine how long it takes for your horse to warm up and be where you want him to be – supple, relaxed, forward, etc. At the show he may need a bit longer to settle, but be cautious about lungeing too long or mounting too early; you don’t want a tired horse, either. Use some of that nervous energy – that you both have – for added presence and brilliance in the ring.
In the fox-hunting world they take what is known as a “cup of courage” before heading off into the field. This is actually alcohol, often brandy, to help ease nerves and help riders relax. We can’t encourage drinking at Horse Canada *wink wink* so instead, if your nerves are getting the better of you, try mindfulness meditation. It works. And remember, horses are highly sensitive and intuitive ‒ they will feel your anxiety and will react accordingly.
Everyone loves a winner, right? But no one loves an angry rider who takes out their frustrations on those around them. Don’t blame your horse if your ride doesn’t go as you dreamed. And don’t sulk, either. You may be training your heart out at home, but remember a show is a new environment and there will be things your horse may not react well to. Don’t arrive at the showgrounds expecting to win; rather, expect to learn something about your horse and yourself and embrace the challenge and the small victories (a nice comment from the judge, a relaxed canter, a personal best time). It’s just a show, remember? Speaking of which …
It’s a horse show, not a colonoscopy. If you find yourself fretting or overthinking what went wrong, go for a stroll. Graze your horse. Socialize with your friends. Watch a coach or trainer you admire. Watch others compete and cheer them on. Our show season can be short here in Canada, so enjoy it while you can.