Q: I've just started showing my horse in Western pleasure, but find that my nerves get the best of me at show time. My tension makes my horse tense, and we both get rattled. What can I do to help control my anxiety?
A: To gain control of your mind, take time to prepare yourself mentally to show. Here are some tips.
- Create a mock show day: Recreate a show atmosphere at your barn. Dress in your show togs and make every move or action as though you are truly at a show. Visualize the spectators, the judge and other competitors. Practice processing the emotions those images bring you, from the tension in your stomach to a fear that your horse might miss a lead. When you hit the in-gate, you'll be better equipped to deal with stress, as you'll have had practice processing those feelings.
- Pick your victories: You don't need to win a blue ribbon to have a positive show-ring experience. After an "unsuccessful" class, focus on a positive aspect of your horse's performance, thus turning defeat into victory.
- Avoid being a critic: Don't pick on yourself, your horse, other competitors, or the judge. A critical mind-set creates barriers to success.
- Establish a show-day routine: Routine breeds familiarity, which translates into stress reduction. Use lists to help you find a system that works for you, and allow plenty of time for each necessary task.
- Roll with it: When you get frustrated, take a deep breath, refocus, and surround yourself with positive people. Above all, remember to have fun -ultimately, that's what it's all about.
AQHA judge Gary Reynolds is based in Millsap, Texas.This article first appeared in the January, 1999 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.