Ritual Will Cure Your Horse-Show Jitters

A pre-show ritual can do more than just cure your horse-show jitters; this one enables you to be focused, energized, and eager to perform.
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Select a catchphrase that encourages you and provides key reminders, then link it over time to a confident posture, a feeling of relaxation, and a visualization of performing at your absolute best.   

Do you get nervous before competing at an event? Most people do. Fortunately, there’s a way not only to calm your horse-show jitters, but also to prepare you to perform your very best.

To give that blue-ribbon effort, you must call up a state of mind, body, and emotion that enables you to be calm, focused, and confident. And energized! This means you’re eager to perform, with just the right amount of muscle tension to be ready but not tense, and able to access the skills you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

In other words, you must be in the zone. What puts you there? A mental ritual you’ve practiced in advance until it’s second nature. Then, when you do it right before your class, you feel that calm, clear, let’s-go feeling settle over you.

I’m going to explain how to develop that mental ritual and deploy it in order to compete at your true level of talent and skill—and have fun doing it.

How It Works

Your pre-show ritual will consist of an anchoring phrase, correct breathing for relaxation, a confident posture, and a visualization of success. You’ll link all these together by frequent practice beforehand at home and at your barn.

Then, no matter how frazzled you’re feeling before your class, performing the ritual will trigger the calm and confidence you’ve conditioned into it. You’ll be able to focus at the start of your ride, plus have a way to keep yourself grounded throughout it.

How to Do It

First, choose a catchphrase that both coaches and encourages you. It must prepare you for those first daunting moments when you walk into the competitive arena. For example, I might say: “OK, Barb, stay cool—everything’s good. Breathe! You can do this! Chin up, shoulders back, let’s go!”

Next, link this catchphrase to a confident posture, a feeling of poised relaxation, and a visualization of you and your horse performing at your best. Start at home, in a chair. Sit as you would in the saddle, with your upper body erect, your shoulders back, your chin up. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths, exhaling each time longer than the inhale. Say your catchphrase to yourself and visualize yourself at the in gate, about to enter a class. Feel yourself confident, relaxed, yet energized, eager to perform. Then visualize the beginning of your ride going smoothly, perfectly.

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Practice your catchphrase ritual often—sitting in a chair at home or at the barn.  

Keep Practicing

Repeat this process often, throughout the day at home, at work, or at the barn. This part is critical, because without enough practice over time, your ritual won’t become internalized.

So rehearse it on work breaks and at lunchtime, plus while riding the bus or riding your horse. Set up a real-world scenario by pausing at the gate before entering your arena at home or at your trainer’s. Pretend you’re about to enter a class and practice your ritual before riding in.

Eventually, whenever you pull your shoulders back, breathe deeply, and think of your catchphrase, you’ll automatically begin to feel confident and relaxed-yet-energized.

The Payoff

On show day, use your ritual the morning of, then as you prepare for your class, and finally at the in gate, before each class. Then, as you ride your pattern, course, or class, bring yourself back to focused confidence whenever necessary by squaring your shoulders, inhaling deeply, and using your catchphrase.

It sounds too good to be true, but it actually isn’t—if you practice it diligently enough. Do so, and your ritual will work like a charm when you need it most.

Barbra Schulte, Brenham, Texas, is a trainer, speaker, coach, clinician, author, and publisher of online programs. An honoree in the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Shulte is driven to help riders grow their confidence (barbraschulte.com). 

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