Ever feel like you are well-prepared for a horse show, but your nerves get the best of you? We’ve all been there. After months of training with Herin, we entered our first event together and I thought I was going to die. Unfortunately, my nerves used to be so out of control that I could not even think about eating anything until the day was over. However, as riders, we need our strength, and we need our mind clear to give our horses a positive experience in the show ring. After all, if we are nervous, they are going to feel like something is wrong. In turn, both horse and rider are not going to perform their best. Over the last few years my nerves have improved greatly. Let’s talk about ways you can improve your nerves as well.
Being well rested and energized will give you more confidence in your riding. There have been a few pre-show evenings where I’ve laid awake for the entire night. This results in a very tired and cranky Maria the next day. Try your best to go to bed early and get as much sleep as possible. Remember, horse shows are notorious for early wake up calls!
Eat a Healthy Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you are so nervous that you cannot stomach food at the show, having a good base of eggs and toast (or whatever you like) will help you stay strong throughout the day. For an added boost of energy without eating a full meal, you can try a protein pouch, typically used for cycling. These are great as they have proteins, nutrients, and energy in a small pouch that you can suck down as you tack up. You can find them at your local outdoors store.
Keep Your Equipment Organized
This is something that you can do in preparation that will give you confidence and cut down on your nerves and potential headaches on the day of the show. When you are trying to focus on your course, but are frantically throwing everything you own out of the trailer looking for your bell boots, you are not going to be concentrating on what truly matters that day.
No matter the discipline, it is important to give yourself time to get lost, get stuck in traffic, park the trailer, find the water, and check in. The last thing you want to do is trot your horse up to warmup and jump right into the ring. You have spent a decent amount of money to be here, there is no sense in throwing it away by being late and rushed. Your horse also deserves time to get used to his new surroundings for the day. Hand walking and grazing around the showgrounds is a great tip for a young or green horse as well.
When our bodies are stressed, our heart rate and blood pressure increases, our muscles are tense, and blood flow to the brain decreases. By being so nervous that we induce stress on our bodies, the horse can feel these changes and will feel like something is wrong. Can you blame them? I would be scared to jump with a trembling rider on my back as well! Deep breaths are key here. Take long, deep breaths when you feel incredibly nervous. By the fifth breath, your body relaxes just a little bit. You can practice deep breathing at home as well. When our bodies start to calm down through deep breathing, the heart rate will slow, breathing will become deeper, blood pressure will drop, and more blood will flow to the brain. We need our brains to remember the course!
Trust Your Riding
Remember why you are here. You are ready, you have practiced, and it is fun! It is easy to forget why you are at the show when you feel like you are going to be sick off the side of your horse. Trust that all the hours you have put in have sufficiently prepared you for this moment.
The more shows you attend, the better your nerves become. The first few events I had with Herin I was extremely nervous. Though I still get nervous (especially before cross country), my nerves are leaps and bounds better than they once were. I just remember that I want to be there, we’ve worked hard, and I love doing it!
From one horse crazed human to another – Maria Holman