Tips to Beat Horse Show Nerves

Take control of your pre-horse-show jitters and nerves with help from these seasoned professional and non-pro riders.

A competitor who says he or she has no horse show jitters either isn’t being honest with you or themselves. From the winningest riders to the greenest beginners, we care about our performances, and therefore we’ll feel anxious or nervous from time to time. We asked some experienced competitors—non pros and professionals from different disciplines—how they beat their horse show nerves. Learn from their techniques and employ them the next time you head to a horse show.

Laurel Walker Denton

We all get pre-run butterflies. I go off by myself and ride my pattern in my head. I mean really ride it; thinking about my legs, my hands, and how best to communicate with my horse. When you ride to the start cone, you’ll be thinking about riding your horse, not all the other things trying to force their way in. Lastly, take several deep breaths!

More with Laurel: Thoroughly Modern Cowgirl, Ranch Riding Presentation, Longeing Basics

Laurel Walker Denton cutting a cow on a sorrel cow horse
Horse show jitters are common for everyone—even the pros!
Photo by Mallory Beinborn

Dakin Allred

Everyone gets amped up when they are about to show. I make sure that I do everything possible at home and have put in the work, dedication, and preparation so I can 100% say I’ve done everything in my power to be ready. If you’ve done so you can honestly tell yourself, “What’s there to worry about? I’ve done the work; now let’s go show it off!”

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Brad Barkemeyer likes to run through his mental checklist every time he is getting ready to show.
Photo by Nichole Chirico

Brad Barkemeyer

I like to run through a checklist. Do I know the pattern? Is my number on? Are my bit and curb strap legal? Is my equipment adjusted properly and in good condition, cinch tight, hooves cleaned, and tail unbraided? Not only does this ensure that you’re show-pen ready, it occupies your mind. Then visualize the entire run with no mistakes while being conscious of taking slow, deep breaths.

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Leonard Berryhill

Second, use tunnel vision. It is only you and your horse in the arena. Concentrate! Finally, enjoy the journey that has brought you to the arena and have fun with it. That’s why we’re here, right?

Sheley Brien

If my heart rate has increased, I take 2 quick inhales to one long exhale. I may only need to do this two to four times before my heart rate calms. I learned it from Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscience professor at Stanford. I also like to focus on whatever maneuver I’m completing at that moment. Meaning if something happens, I let it go and stay focused on what I’m doing, trying to make that as best as I can. I find that when I break it down piece by piece, it’s a lot easier to stay in the present and earn as much credit as I can when showing.

Mike Berg

I have two things—one more involved and one easy tip. The best thing is learning how to visualize correctly. Learning to visualize a run was the biggest thing that helped me with pre-run nerves. It keeps you focused on what you want to happen and gets your mind off what could go wrong.  The easy thing that helps me is chewing gum in the make-up pen. It seems to be an outlet for my nervous or anxious energy.

More with Mike: Gain Speed Without Sacrificing Control, Crack the Rollback

Sharee Schartzenberger shares how she controls her pre-show jitters.

Sharee Schwartzenberger

When I get pre-run jitters, the first thing I do is focus on my breathing! Take long, deep breaths in and slowly release. By focusing and controlling my breathing, I become present and can focus on what’s happening here and now. Once I get my breathing under control, I take whatever anxiety or butterflies I have and channel that energy into talking my way through my pattern.

I focus on the routines that I develop when prepping for a show: make sure my horse is guiding and between the reins, he’s supple in his face and off my legs. I then go through starting my turns and making sure they are where I want them, stop and back my horse, and make sure he’s focused and listening. By focusing on what I can control, I can trust my preparation and trust my horses and go into the show pen present and confident.

Photo by Nichole Chirico

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Robyn Schiller

When I think about what might go wrong, I stop the thought and instead gave thanks and gratitude for what I’ve already accomplished (just being here, being able to show, my horse is sound and happy and prepared). I focused on my performance statement—focus, think slow, slow your hand down, smile! On the gratitude type of vibe, I repeat a couple of things in my mind. I pretended someone is interviewing me after and asking me how it went and my answer was, “We had the best run we’ve ever had and my horse was better than he’s ever been.”

Read More:
Work Through Competition Anxiety
Plan Your Ride
Compete at Your First Show

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