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How to Relax Before Participating in a Horse Show

Updated on April 8, 2013

When I began showing, I was lucky that my mother helped me through every step; registering me for classes, packing grooming supplies, bathing the horse, rising at ungodly hours of the morning to help me braid my horse, trailering me to the grounds, and holding my horse in the warm up arena as I made multiple pilgrimages to the porta potty. Yes, we are all familiar with the stinky, sweaty porta-john; sometimes blue, sometimes aquamarine, usually with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, sometimes without.

Pre-show nervousness can cause:

  • upset stomach
  • tension in the rider's seat and position
  • a tense and nervous horse.

Everyone deals with stress differently: some teens snap at their mothers, some women become quiet, others make jokes, and others take frequent visits to the bathroom. However, there are many ways to relax before the horse show to make your experience more enjoyable, and improve your performance in the show.


Preparation and training for the big day can significantly affect your stress level and your performance. Part of your preparation should be reading the guidelines for your division and the specific show.

1. Practice and Training

  • You should enter the show at least one level below what you are comfortable riding at home.
  • Make sure that you and your horse are in full condition for the show.
  • Try trailering to another barn and performing your test as a sort of mock show. Act as if it is the real show, and let your horse see all the scary things that he might encounter at the show, such as fake flowers, dogs, chickens, goats (I went to a show once where there were goats near the warm-up arena, and it turned out that my usually bomb-proof horse was terrified of goats) judges box, and who knows what else.

Stanley 037025H 50 Gallon Mobile Chest
Stanley 037025H 50 Gallon Mobile Chest

A trunk such as this is a great way to organize and move your horse's equipment. It also keeps contents clean and hay free!


2. Organize

Waiting until the last minute, forgetting things, and general disorganization simply brings more stress on show days.

At least a week before the show,

  • make a list of what you'll need to pack,
  • and what you'll need to do before the show.
  • Make sure that you pack as much as possible before the day of the show, and avoid waiting until the night before.
  • Make sure that your tack is cleaned and organized in a timely matter.


3. Sleep

I know that it can be impossible to force yourself to sleep, especially if you are nervous or excited for the following morning. That being said, it is very important to try to sleep for a full eight hours.

Research proves that a lack of sleep:

  • compromises mood
  • performance,
  • and alertness.

4. Watch What You Do, or Don't, Eat

Getting up early and trailering to a horse show throws off your regular morning routine. Many times, competitors don't have time for breakfast, or are too nervous to eat. This leaves the rider ravishingly hungry by mid-morning, and she eats whatever she can get her hands on. This is usually not something she is accustomed to eating; McDonald's, for instance, or Dunkin Donuts coffee. My mother always gets an upset stomach when she drinks coffee, and I get an upset stomach when I drink orange juice, but for some reason, we both order these things when we have had an early, stressful morning!

At least have some toast and water in the morning. Toast doesn't take long to make, it gives you some carbs to begin your day, and it won't upset your stomach. The water will help get your digestive system start normally, and it will begin to keep you hydrated in case you forget to keep drinking throughout the day.


Controlling Nerves

Even after following all of the practical suggestion above, you still may experience anxiety before, or the morning of, the show. This is normal, and some anticipation and excitement may be a good thing, because it can heighten your senses and enthusiasm. But focus and confidence will improve your confidence, so below are some exercises for managing stress and anxiety.

For most people, shows become less stressful after the first few show seasons. Once you know what to expect and realize that some shows go better than others, and that there is no use worrying, the horse show experience becomes much more relaxed. However, if you find that, after a time your horse show nerves are inhibitive to your performance and goal achievements, you may want to consider talking to a therapist, or a sport psychologist.

Adress why you feel nervous. Are you afraid of your horse misbehaving? If so, ask a trusted trainer to accompany you to the show. Not only can the trainer help with the misbehavior, but she could likely provide moral support for you, the rider.

Mind Gym : An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence
Mind Gym : An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence

"Mind Gym" offers practical mental exercises to calm nerves and hone concentration. Written by a sport psychology consultant.



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