Is fear ruining your show experience?

Do you ever feel like you’re the only competitor at the horse show who is pooping their pants? 

Everyone else seems to have their shit together, entering the ring looking confident, collected, and calm.  

But not you … Nope. Every time you even think about entering the ring you feel physically ill. Those nerves creep up and roll around in the pit of your stomach. Your breath is short. Your head swims. You get nauseated to the point you question why you put yourself through horse showing in the first place.  

As someone who is extremely in touch with, and open about my journey as a ‘nervous equestrian’ I can honestly tell you that you are not alone. Through my social media and even in person at shows, people have always come to me to share their stories of fear, anxiety, and stress around riding and showing experiences.   

That energy that fills the air on show day – that’s not just excitement, my friend, that is the charge of nerves.  

All those riders who you thought were fearless are dealing with their fears and nervousness in their own way and guess what – you can too

I, myself, get extreme show anxiety and there is nothing I want more after a 3 year showing hiatus, than to step back into that show ring feeling strong and confident. But just thinking about going back into the show environment as a competitor again, already has my stomach fluttering with butterflies (like actually as I write this sentence I can feel them). But that’s okay, it just means that I have to start my mental preparation now.  

How nervous you or I feel on show day doesn’t have to determine if we ride or how we ride.   

The first step to battling those show jitters is acknowledging them.  

Just allowing yourself to feel the nerves and understand what is causing them is a huge step. It might not even be the show itself that is making you nervous. Is it the people watching, fear of judgment, fear of failure, or the fear of hurting yourself?  For me, it’s the jumping, being hurt (again), but most of all, the fear of failure. I don’t want to disappoint myself…again. But, first I need to get the jitters under control. Being aware of why these fears are coming up will let you take the next steps to rid those nerves and enjoy riding in the show ring.  

Imagine a day at the horse show. From the night before preparations, to exiting the show ring. Instead of hoping those fears and nerves don’t show up, imagine those emotions taking over, but also imagine how you are going to respond so that you don’t let them control you. 

You control the experience that you have. 

Nerves Getting Ready 

It’s the morning of the show and everyone is chatting while they take care of their horses. Tack gets a final look over, boots are wiped off, and ring side bags are double checked. You know that it’s only a matter of time before you need to walk up to the warm up ring and that’s when the nerves creep up.   

Acknowledge those jitters but ABSOLUTELY DO NOT let yourself go down the fear rabbit hole. 

  1. Concentrate on what you need to do to get yourself ready. Try writing down what you need to do. 1. Brush your horse. 2. Clean their socks. 3. Brush any bedding out of their tail. … you get the picture. And then, get the satisfaction of checking each of those things off your list. Each one of those check marks is a little win.  
  1. Work on your breathing. Deep breaths signal your nervous system to chill out and it gets oxygen to your brain, muscles, and organs. This is so important to help you make logical decisions, and do well in the ring.  
  1. Most importantly, take advantage of the people around you. You are not the only one nervous. Your teammates understand. You might make them feel better too by talking about your nerves, and letting them know that they are not alone. When we talk about how we feel, it helps us understand our emotions and make them seem not quite so big and scary. 

Nerves in the Warm Up Ring 

You got past your nerves getting ready and you’ve made it to the warm up ring. You have got this! 

You start your warm up, trying to calm the butterflies that have annoyingly reappeared. Use these little mind tricks to get into the right mindset and push those nerves aside. 

  1.  Have a warm up plan. As you navigate your way around the ring have a plan that doesn’t involved getting run over. How long are you going to walk, trot, canter? Are you going to stretch with some lateral work? Or do some circles? 
  1. Focus your energy on gauging the type of horse you have under you today. Are they stiff? Nervous? Quiet? Excitable? How do you need to show up today to help them out? 
  1.  Check in with yourself. How do you feel physically? (Not mentally, we already know we’re all a little on the nervous side.) Are you stiff? How does your position feel? Are your hands steady? Is there anything you can correct now before heading to the big ring? 

Congrats! You’ve survived the warm up ring by keeping your mind on what you physically have to do. Time to head to the ring. 

Nerves on Deck 

Your coach lets you know that your flight is up, and it’s time to head out and wait your turn. Regardless of how your warm up went, you made it this far. You are ready (despite the possibility of some intrusive thoughts). You are ready to show yourself, your coach, and others all the hard work you and your horse have done for this moment. 

This is your opportunity to visualize yourself successfully completing the course.  

When it comes to competition time, I’m all about visualization. I need to visualize myself going through the course from the moment I walk through the gate to the moment I walk out. That is a huge positive step for me. If I can visualize myself having a great round, I can do it. Sure, things might not go according to the vision, but that’s okay because I’ve already started my positive train of thoughts. If you imagine only the many ways that the ride can go wrong you are priming your body to be tense and for something to go wrong. Visualize how awesome you are going to be completing each part of the course. 

It’s your turn, the nerves might feel like they could burst out of your stomach at any given moment. You have a quick second thought of “oh God”.  

JUST DO IT 

You enter the ring and the silence is deafening. You immediately feel stressed. Everyone is watching you. The judge is already noting how you entered the ring, their general impression of you and your horse.  

But, this – this is  the moment that you have been working towards. The ultimate test of all your hours spent in the saddle. 

There is a moment where you have to decide. Despite having nervous thoughts lingering in the back of your mind, you want to do this…. 

So you pick up your canter and approach the first fence; there’s no turning back now.  

After the Round 

Now, what if you hadn’t made it over the first jump? What if the nerves had gotten the best of you? What if you were excused from the ring all together? 

You would probably be disappointed, upset, and maybe just a little pissed off at yourself. These are all valid feelings to feel. BUT… how would you have felt if you hadn’t entered the ring at all. I’m going to guess disappointed, upset, and really pissed off at yourself. Every time you enter the ring you’re going to get a little more used to it and a little less nervous. Why not take a chance that you’re not going to feel those negative emotions, then letting your nerves talk you out of entering the ring and guaranteeing that you do feel miserable.  

Conclusion: 

It doesn’t matter what type of shows you go to, what level you are at or if this is your first, or hundredth show, Every competitor experiences some nerves.  

The hunter/ jumper world is such a mental sport, so don’t be so hard on yourself. 

Use the tools that work best for you (breathing, visualizing, talking to teammates, routines) to manage those nerves so they can’t manage you!  

Just accept those pre-show jitters as what they are – a sign that you are doing something that is pushing your comfort zone, and making you a better person.Yay you! From having the best round, to not even making it around at all, just remind yourself that you are trying and YOU CAN DO THIS! 

I post a lot about my newest journey with a greener horse (a chestnut mare named Fiona!) and how I am learning to be more confident for her. Check it out at strides_of_improvement.eq and drop a comment to say hello! I love hearing how riders are getting past their nerves, fears, and jitters and are experiencing their best horse girl lives.  

❤ The Nervous Equestrian 

PS . Just because you’re pooping your pants at the horse show doesn’t mean you can’t reach those riding goals along your journey.  

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