How to Get Over Your Horse Show Nerves

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After months of work, your trainer thinks you’re ready to compete in a horse show at a nearby equestrian center. But thanks to a combination of performance anxiety and fear of riding away from home you’re not sure you want to go.

Jennifer Moshier is a clinician and horse show judge for hunters, western dressage and ranch horses, among others. According to Moshier, pre-show jitters due to the prospect of putting their skills under a judge’s critical eye are common among riders, and especially to those who are new to competition.

Trail Class

“Everybody has some kind of anxiety before a show, but riders who are new to horse shows are most likely to be held back by it,” Moshier says.
The good news is is that while it may be impossible to do away with horse show-related anxiety altogether, there are things riders can do to make that first time horse show experience a good one.

Here’s what Moshier suggests.

Choose the Right Show

Large horse shows where the competition is likely to be fierce are probably not the best venue for first time show riders. Instead, choose to take part in a show that is geographically closer to home, and where the competition is likely to be less intimidating. Smaller schooling shows may be the perfect option, Moshier says.

“Schooling shows provide novice riders with tips from judges that are intended to improve your skills and your success at future shows,” Moshier says. “In those shows, choose classes so that you ride to your skill level.”

Practice

In the weeks or even months before the show, use ring time at home to practice tests or patterns until both you and your horse are comfortable with them.

“People need to know what is expected of them,” Moshier says. “Most patterns (for various disciplines) are available online, so they are not difficult to get; download them and then work on them for a couple of weeks at home to avoid feeling ill-prepared.”

Plan Ahead

With the practice done and the show just 24-hours away, it’s a good idea to ready yourself and your equipment for the event. Get saddles, bridles, saddle pads and grooming supplies in order. Prepare hay nets and water buckets and place them, along with tack, together or in your trailer. At home, make sure show clothes are ready, too.

“Learn to manage your time,” Moshier advises. “People become anxious ad stressed when they’re under pressure.”

Bring a Friend

Most riders attend shows with other members of the barn families. And while that’s a plus, it’s also a good idea to bring along someone to support just you.

“Take someone with you to hold your hand, to encourage you, even if that person is not a horse person, even if that person just holds your coat before you ride,” Moshier recommend. “Have as much help with you as you can.”

Don’t Fear Judges

Though riders may dread putting their skills under serious scrutiny, Moshier reminds them that most judges don’t focus on what riders do wrong. Instead, most like to point out what riders do right, and then they make comments intended to help competitors improve and better their chances for success at future shows.

“Judging has changed a lot in recent years and judges want to help riders to improve,” Moshier says. “So how are you going to improve if all (riders) get back is negativity?”

Ride Your Best

Just before entering the show ring, Moshier recommends reviewing the pattern, taking a deep breath, then aiming for a personal best.

“You should always be riding your personal best,” Moshier says. “Remember, judging is about just one person’s opinion about how you ride at that particular time on that particular day.”

Have Fun

Finally, Moshier says riders should always remember that participating in horse shows is not about accumulating awards. It is instead about being having a good time, achieving old goals and setting new ones.

“Blue ribbon, green ribbon, no ribbon, it does not make any difference,” Moshier says. “When it’s over, ask yourself ‘Have you met your goals? Have your goals changed? Have you had a good time?’ That’s what really matters.”

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