How To: Reduce stress at a horse show

Do you suffer from show nerves? Lila Gendal prescribes a chill-pill via these helpful tips for lowering competition anxiety.From Lila:

Do you feel nauseous when you arrive at a competition? Maybe you can’t you eat a thing during a horse show because you are too nervous, or you’re prone to biting off the heads of friends and family because you are on high alert.

Many competitors experience a certain level of anxiety or stress when at a show. This is not uncommon, or anything to be ashamed of, but the more relaxed and comfortable you are while competing, the more likely you are to have a successful ride!

Today, I would like to offer some tips on how to reduce stress at a horse show:

  • 1)      Be on time!

I cannot tell you how many times I have almost missed dressage or had about five minutes to warm up my horse because I was late. Maybe my horse wouldn’t load, or maybe my friend’s horse wouldn’t load, or there were truck problems, or trailer problems, or somebody’s alarm clock never went off. Arriving late to a show only adds stress to your already stressful day.

I hate being late. I would rather be three hours early than arrive 10 minutes before my first ride. So, think ahead. Make sure everything on your truck and trailer is working correctly. Have everything packed the night before. Make sure your horse can load. If you are someone who is easily stressed at a show, then you ought to always give yourself extra time, no matter what!


  • 2)      Be prepared.

Make sure you and your horse are 100% ready for the level at which you are competing. Feeling overwhelmed or nervous about a course that looks to be beyond your abilities is an awful feeling. I would rather have something feel too easy or be overly prepared than not prepared enough.

For instance, if you are eventing at training level, you should feel very comfortable jumping 3’3” show jumping courses, and probably higher. You should feel comfortable with coffins, trakehners, and A/B questions on cross-country. You should feel comfortable with asking your horse to go forwards and back in the trot and canter, and be able to do 15 meter circles. These are all normal training level questions. In other words, do your homework and practice all you need to at home so that you feel more prepared when you arrive at a show!


  • 3)      Be patient.

Whether you are going to a dressage show, a jumper show or an event, being patient is key. These are horses we are dealing with, not tractors, therefore we need to stay calm, keep cool and kick on! The more calm and relaxed we are, the more our horses are going to feel the same. Conversely, the more anxious and nervous we are, the worse our horses could become.


  • 4)      COMPETE!

My last bit of advice is to compete more frequently, so it starts to seem like less of a big deal. They don’t all have to be expensive, recognized competitions–small schooling shows are great for rehearsing your horse-show strategies in a relaxed environment.

I used to be terrified of public speaking and giving oral presentations in middle school. I would feel hot and sweaty, and my voice would be shaky. By the time I graduated college I could actually speak in front of hundreds of students and some faculty members. The only way I got over this stage fright was to literally put myself in that situation more frequently. Same goes with competing: If you are the type who becomes short-tempered, anxious, nervous or extremely stressed out at shows, then you need to go to LOTS of shows!

Video: Lila and Denny Emerson’s Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker looking cool as a cucumber on the cross-country course at Hitching Post Farm Schooling Horse Trials yesterday.

Unfortunately there’s no special milkshake we can drink in the morning in order to alleviate show stress… or at least I don’t think there is! We all get stressed and overwhelmed sometimes. We can only do as well as we can do that day, on that horse, under those circumstances. If we can minimize our stress levels and just have fun while still taking the show seriously, we will ultimately become better riders, better trainers and better competitors!


About the Author

My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.


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