SmartPak Monday Morning Feed: Handling Horse Show Nerves

Riding should be fun! Read how SmartPaker Kelcie handled going from hunter ring nerves to jumper ring jitters.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Kelcie Griffith

I’ve always had nerves before a horse show – sometimes those anxious feelings even kick in the night before. I always have asked my fellow barn mates how so many of them “seem so calm and collected” and what I’ve learned is that everyone deals with their show jitters differently. Having this feeling before a show is completely normal – you’re about to go into the ring and show everyone how hard you’ve been working. Sometimes it goes your way and other times it doesn’t, it’s the nature of riding horses.

For the first few years I owned my current horse, we competed in the hunters. My worries at the time were “am I going to find the perfect distance? Are we going to get the lead change? What the heck could possibly be in the woods that might scare her?” Most of the time I went in quite tense, but a pep-talk from my trainer and a recap of our plan usually helped me relax before trotting in. Once I was done with my course, I had some time to breath before the results were announced. At that point, I could reflect on my ride and better prepare myself for the next course. My competitive nature usually helped me get around because I was always determined to show off my horse as best as I could.

About two year ago, my horse and I made the switch from the hunter ring to the jumper ring. That’s all about going fast right? There’s no pressure when it comes to leads and the only judge I have is the clock – I have nothing to worry about! Well, I was very wrong.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Kelcie Griffith

I found myself facing a whole new set of nerves. Coming right out of the ring and knowing your time meant you could follow the placings as the class went on, and I hated that. In fact, it made me MORE nervous for my next class, along with a whole new set of internal questions – “what style of jumper class am I even going in? What if a rail come downs and I must change my plan? What if I forget my jump off course?” I also learned the hard way one time that leads CAN impact your round – I neglected to fix my lead going around the corner (because I was so nervous) and my horse had an uncharacteristic rail, and it was 100-percent rider error.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Kelcie Griffith

As we moved up in fence height, I knew that I needed to get ahold of my nerves because my horse was so sensitive to them, and I needed to give her the most confident rides possible. Taking a page out of my college playbook (thanks coach!), I’ve found talking – and sometimes singing – to my horse while on course is the best coping mechanism for my nervousness. It gives her something to focus on and, by talking, it means I’m breathing and using my mindset for good.

I have a tendency to not eat before shows (again, because of nerves) so I always keep a travel size container of tums in my riding backpack – and, I’m also very lucky to have barn friends and horse show parents that know about my nerves and get me to eat fruit or something healthy before I ride. We’re all athletes, and our bodies need fuel to perform at its best. Aside from that, I also have a routine that I follow every night before a show while packing, so that I have less to worry about and know exactly where everything is the day I need it.

I’ve also found that managing horse show nerves starts with training at home. I use my lessons to think about improving my skills – i.e. rollbacks and stride length – working toward more efficient time without a clock, so that when we’re at the show and cross the timers, the results are much less scary. The best cure for any nerves of course, is having an awesome group of friends, trainers, and horses around you who continue to make showing enjoyable and support each other through it all.

You can find this and more on the SmartPak blog. Go SmartPak and go riding!