Q: Tami, you've done so well this year-winning the Saltgrass Steak House rookie championship, and the Horse & Rider Rookie of the Year title at the NRHA Futurity-what do you do to get your horse and yourself ready for high stakes competition?
A: To get myself and my gelding, Crackerjac Sailor, in show gear, I work with my trainer daily before a big show. Our training sessions might not be long – an hour and a half a day – but we work on important pattern elements. I'm careful not to overwork my horse. We do a lot of walking and have bonding time. I never practice an entire pattern, but work on transitions between several maneuvers.
I like to arrive at big shows days before I'll compete. I want to practice in the show arena and make sure my horse is comfortable in his new surroundings. I make sure his feeding time is always the same and he gets plenty of rest. All the riding I do before a big show is the most important thing I do to prepare. When I'm comfortable with my horse, I know I'm ready to show.
I use visualization to memorize my show-day patterns. I visualize myself riding a perfect pattern, and force any negative thoughts out of my mind. I visualize myself riding at my trainer's facility and imagine her telling me what to do. I don't think of winning or losing, but having a good ride with no penalties.
The biggest tip I can share with others? Don't watch your competition in the warm up pen. While I might watch the first few patterns in my class to help me memorize the pattern, I don't watch them warm up. Focus on you and your horse – don't make yourself nervous by second-guessing your horse's abilities or thinking how great another horse looks. After your competition, reward yourself by watching the pros ride. I love to watch them – and see how I aspire to ride.
Tami Nelson and Crackerjac Sailor train with Shelly Reeves at Spin City Performance Horses in Whitesboro, Texas.