Hitting the Big[ger] Time

Are you ready to level up? A top amateur coach offers the best advice for being ready to compete on a larger stage.

We’ve all heard about the big fish in a small pond. It’s an apt analogy for competing riders who are ready to level up and compete on a bigger stage. While it can be comfortable to keep collecting the wins at your local shows and events, if you’re an achiever, you probably want to set new goals and try your hand at a higher level of competition.

Jill Newcomb, based in beautiful San Marcos, California, with her partner, Murray Griggs, has spent her life horseback.

 She competed as a youth and amateur in AQHA all-around events and became an AQHA Professional to make training and showing horses and coaching amateur and youth riders her career. Together, Newcomb and Griggs have coached many AQHA and NSBA World Champions, but most notable is the work they do with riders to grow from beginner and local-level showmen to become stronger competitors on the biggest stages in the industry.

Here, Newcomb offers her best advice for taking your competitive career to the next level.

Find confidence from the work you’ve put in at home and get in sync with your horse prior to a show. Jennifer Paulson

Visit First

If possible, Newcomb likes for her customers to attend a major show to watch before competing there or at a show of similar scale and level of competition.

“We like for our riders to go watch and have a look around,” Newcomb shared. “Sometimes going to a big show like the All American Quarter Horse Congress or a world show can be quite overwhelming. There’s a lot of excitement and energy surrounding those big events, so it’s important for riders to experience it first and decide if it’s really something they want to dive into. It costs a lot of time and money, so be sure it’s where you want to be and that you’re ready to take on the new challenge.”

[More from the Rider’s Mindset: Back to Beginner]

All Shows Are the Same

“One of the biggest things is remembering a horse show is just a horse show,” Newcomb advised. “You can’t get overwhelmed if it’s a show 10 minutes from home or across the country. Don’t let the show’s name or location change your perspective.”

Newcomb suggested finding confidence from the work you’ve put in. Do the work to get in sync with your horse. Recognize that you’ve practiced and prepared at home. And, most important, learn from the experience.

“If you’re not the winner—you probably won’t be on your first outing—learn from other exhibitors what you like and don’t like,” she added. “Sit and watch, so you can pick out the details you can use and the negatives you want to avoid.”

Take your competitive career to the next level with help from AQHA Professional Jill Newcomb. Jennifer Paulson

Manage Your Expectations

No matter the level on which you compete nor your preparation, some days it just doesn’t go how you wanted it to. Managing your expectations from the beginning can help salvage your confidence and your competitive drive.

“When you go to the next level, be confident that you’ll be the best you can be on that day,” Newcomb said. “It might not be good enough that day, but that can’t be the end.”

Instead, recognize the opportunities afforded by not taking home the blue ribbon every time.

[More from the Rider’s Mindset: 4 Mindset Keys to Achieve Your Goals]

Develop a Checklist

A mental list of what you need to do in each pattern, broken down by one maneuver at a time, can help boost your confidence and help you feel ready to show.

“We even go so far as to write the checklist items on the pattern,” Newcomb explained. “For example, ‘At the cone, take a breath then turn a 360.’ Be sure to add in where to breathe! It’s something we all forget and makes a big difference.”

Learn, Learn, Learn

No matter where you end up on the judge’s card, there are always opportunities to learn and expand your knowledge. Newcomb’s clients make time to learn together.

“We all get together and watch the videos of our runs and discuss the scorecards,” she said. “We watch the videos in pieces and parts, noting what went right and what needs work. Discussing the runs together allows all of our riders to keep stepping up.”

Newcomb added that if you don’t work with a trainer full time, you can typically find one to watch your run with you and go over your scorecard. Take the feedback home, and work on the rough spots until your next show.