15 Tips for Relieving Show Ring Anxiety

By Shannon Fox

You’ve sent your entry in. You’ve been practicing for months. Now the show is just days away and the nervous flutters have set in. You have a case of show ring anxiety.

Whether this is your first show or you’ve been showing for years, it’s normal to experience some amount of nerves before a competition. You’ve spent a long time preparing for the show and you want to be successful. But you want to make sure you’re controlling your nerves and that they’re not controlling you.

Here are 15 tips for handling your show ring anxiety and getting back to a zen state so you and your horse can do your best!

1) Use a Checklist When You Pack

Use this show packing checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything and give yourself plenty of time to locate all your equipment and pack. There’s nothing worse for show ring nerves than packing at the last minute and feeling like you’ve forgotten something important. And if you need to replace something, you’ll have time to do it.

2) Bring Copies of Your Entry and Memberships

After I had the horror of my entire show entry being lost (but my check cashed!), I got in the habit of bringing a copy to the show of my entry form and all membership cards for myself, the horse’s owner, and the horse. That way even if something got lost or left off the entry, it can be dealt with. This is especially true when you’re traveling for a show and can’t go home and get your membership card. If you’re competing for a breed award or pony award, be sure to bring the documents that show you’re eligible. If you’re riding a dressage freestyle, bring extra copies of your CD and extra copies of the test that show you’re qualified to ride that freestyle.

3) Clear Your Schedule

This might not be possible for all riders, but as much as possible, clear your plate of extra responsibilities. Clean your house the previous weekend. Don’t make plans with your friends. Get help with your children. Find daycare for your dog if it’s going to stress you out to bring him with you. The more you can focus on the show, your horse, and yourself, the easier it will be to get to a place of calm.

4) Get There Early

The more time you give yourself, the less rushed you will feel. You can watch your barn mates ride, walk your horse, and most importantly, deal with any unforeseen issues that crop up. It’s always better to be sitting around then to be rushing to get ready and in the saddle.

5) Spend Time With Your Horse

I’ve always felt that I can get a good sense of how my horse will be when I pull him out to ride just by spending time with him. Is he antsy and pacing back and forth? He’s got a lot of excess energy I need to deal with. Is he drowsing in the back of the stall? I probably don’t need to warm him up for 45 minutes. Just as at home, your horse will tell you how he feels if you take time to listen.

6) Care For Your Horse Yourself

For some people, the thought of doing all the chores themselves creates almost as much anxiety as going into the show ring. If you have young children and you can’t get help with them for the weekend, this tip will probably hurt more than help. But if you’ve cleared your schedule and already planned to spend the whole weekend at the show, then why not? The more time you can spend with your horse, the better. The more hands on time you can get with him, the better it will be for the both of you. Braid his mane and tail if you can. Groom him yourself. Give him a bath after your ride. Feed him. Clean his stall. I’ve never met a horse that reacted negatively from extra attention from their rider. In time, you might create a horse that loves showing simply because of how much time he gets to spend with you!

7) Use Posture Prep

The Posture Prep Groomer was developed by Dr. Pat as a way to maximize our pre-ride warm-up. By improving your horse’s posture, his conformation and improve performance and longevity. The result? Your horse’s overall health and well being can be greatly improved as you learn the communication of your horse in just the time it takes to groom him!

8) Walk, Walk, Walk

At home, your horse probably doesn’t spend all day in his stall. He might getto go into some type of turn out, by himself or with friends. Maybe he gets to walk on a hot walker. Maybe he lives outside or has an in-and- out. But at a show, he’s stuck in his box. Walking is good not only for his nerves, but it also acclimates him to the sights and sounds of the show. Horses are meant to
move around all day while grazing, so you certainly won’t tire him out by taking him on lots of walks.

9) Visualize

There’s a reason why this technique is so popular among professional athletes. Visualization is an extremely powerful tool. Take time to visualize your ride. What does the course look like? What is your pattern? How does your horse feel in your hands? Around your leg? How do you feel? How does the sun feel on your face? What can your hear? The more details you can bring in and the more real you can make the experience feel, the better.

10) Watch The Pros

If you’ve ever watched the professionals ride, either in the warm-up ring or the show ring, you’ll notice something very powerful. They appear utterly relaxed, calm, and in control. They say hello and smile at people they know. They might even be laughing and joking on their way up to the show ring. Their faces aren’t screwed up with worry. Strive to emulate them.

eww11) Do Some Relaxing Exercises or Stretches

Do you practice yoga? Meditate? Stretch before you ride? Find a quiet place to do the same at the show. Make time to do whatever you need to do to get your body and mind prepared for your ride.

 12) Eat Healthy

Shows are notorious for not having good-for-you food. They often have chips and soda and hamburgers. Not the best food to fill your belly with before you sit the trot. Bring your own food and snacks with you in a cooler. Choose light, healthy foods like fruits, veggies, oatmeal, granola bars, and lots and lots of water. It’s important to keep eating, even if you lose your appetite to nerves. Your body needs fuel to function and so does your brain.

13) Have a Plan For Your Warm-Up

When you go out for a ride at home, chances are you have some plan of attack of what you want to work on that day. You should do the same at the show, but you also need to make this a positive experience for your horse. Now is not the time to train, now is the time to focus on what you need to do to get your horse and yourself ready to perform. What do you need to practice or school before your name is called? Be sure to give your horse lots of walk breaks so you don’t wear him out before it’s time to compete.

14) Believe in Yourself and Be Confident

You know what you’re doing. He knows what he’s doing. You’ve both been practicing. Be confident in your abilities. Wear your lucky 2KGrey breeches. Your horse is looking to you to be the leader anyway, so be there for him by being your most confident self. Whatever happens, you’ve done the best you can and prepared the best you can. All you can do is your best.

 15) Take a Breath and Relax

At the end of the day, it’s just a horse show. There will always be another. What’s important is the relationship between you and your horse, which means more than any ribbon ever could.

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