Battling Show Nerves

Battling Show Nerves

Even though I’ve actually shown a lot in my life, since 2008 s I’ve been to a grand total of three shows and all of those were in the past 12 months.  Even though I thought I had conquered my show nerves in the past, they have returned with a vengeance.

I know this is something a lot of riders struggle with.  For me, it’s all about mixing exposure and attitude.  Go to a lot of shows.  Go to a lot of shows with the right attitude.


Still, there are little tricks and ideologies I have developed over time to help battle my nerves.

Visualizing Your Course

When I was a kid, I was a competitive figure skater and somewhere down that road I talked with a sports psychologist.  The only psychology I remember from that is her telling me to visualize my programs before I went to bed at night.  Now with riding, the few nights before a show if I can’t show I will visualize hunter courses.  You’d be surprised that if you’re nervous/anxious about something you will actually visualize yourself failing!  As I gain more confidence that rarely happens, but I still enjoy thinking about the “feeling” of a great course and somehow mentally doing it a few times in my head proves to me that I can do it on show day.  Power of the subconscious yo!


Being Prepared

Nobody likes running late, being stressed, and running around like a chicken with their head cut off before a show.  Try on and lay out your show clothes days in advance.  Make a list of “to dos” and try to tackle them so the night before the show all you have to do is polish your boots and bridle 🙂  You can’t possibly go into the ring relaxed when you’ve been trying to get shit together like a crazy person for the past 24 hours.


Don’t Over School

This is quite recent advice from my trainer in less direct words.  We had a fantastic lesson last night.  We’ve been working hard.  We’re as ready as we’re going to be this week.  No need to lesson every day or make a mountain out of a mole hill.


Don’t Change Your Plan the Morning at the Show

My absolute worst show nerves symptom is getting at the show and trying to change my way of riding the morning of.  Something about seeing everyone else doing things differently makes me question everything about what I do.  This nervous habit has gotten much better as I get older and have a lot of faith in my trainer, but just remember (especially if you are going to shows sans trainer) to just stick to your plan.  You’re not going to fix any problems the day of the show.  Do the best you can with the horse you have that day and that’s good enough!


Remember this Advice…

One of the trainers at my old barn told me something that helps settle my nerves at the show.  She basically said that no matter what I do, someone has done that before and everyone has seen it.  So remember, the most embarrassing moment you could possibly do at the show… someone else has already done it!

How many of you battle show nerves?  Do you have any tricks to calm yourself down?


20 thoughts on “Battling Show Nerves

  1. I have shown pretty consistently since I was about 10. And guess what? I only recently, about two events ago, went in no nerves! I was very proud of myself- it was the first show where I did all three events with no nerves, and instead actually THOUGHT through the tests and the problems. It was an amazing feeling 🙂 – but it took forever to get there! My first xc run with Wizard I just about threw up, true story!

    I too love the visualization technique. About a week before a show, I do the same thing- visualize over and over the dressage test I want to ride, the stadium round I want to ride (I just use an old course), and the xc I want to ride. I REALLY think it helps.

    And I also like your last point- it’s really easy to get there and think OMG I NEED TO BE PERFECT I NEED TO DO THIS THIS THIS and then stress yourself out. My mentality this year has been- we are where we are, we’re not going to fix anything in the show ring. So instead of going in and stressing about my position, I might choose ONE thing to really focus on that ride. Like, last dressage test it was just about being steady and having a half-halt before every transitions- sure enough, we got a remark about how nice and steady our test was! Sure, my left hand was doing something funky sometimes, and I was still leaning forward, but that is HOMEWORK. That is something you go home and work on so that when you get to the show it’s natural and you don’t have to think about it. I’ve found that trying to really focus on total position at shows back-fires. Instead just think of one thing- like sit up, sit up, sit up, etc.

    Anyway- you’re going to do awesome this weekend!

  2. My show nerves have gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. A couple of years ago, I was headed to a very low-key, fun hunter pace with a friend. I spent the entire drive there freaking the hell out about…well, nothing much. I had all these irrational worries about the hosting group being upset we were a little late, or my horse throwing me, or the floor falling out of the trailer. I calmed down once we arrived, but not before my friend threatened to shove a Xanax down my throat.

    Subsequent hunter paces and dressage shows have been much less dramatic- the more I get out, the less anxious I am.

  3. I definitely use the visualization technique at a show. Otherwise, being in the practice of laughing at yourself makes things better- you know even if you do the dumbest thing you’ll be able to tell a funny story later. Otherwise, if I get nervous while actually riding, I sing! (under my breath, or hum) Focusing on lyrics and breathing really helps rid myself of any tension and it works!

  4. I took a hiatus from showing for a few years, and when I came back, I had show nerves pretty bad. I would stiffen up like a board and not breathe the entire course. My remedy was just go to more shows… the more I do it, the less nervous I am. But of course I still get some when things change: new venue, different class, different horse, etc.

    I really like the last piece of advice you have about not worrying about how you look because it’s been done before — that is definitely reassuring to me!

  5. All great tips! I also review the rulebook each evening before showing so that I feel more prepared should a question or situation arise. I write day-plans for myself to help me stay focused and on-track, and ensure I’m not rushing around or stressing out wondering when I need to do A, B or C. Meal planning is very important – gotta fuel your body to be your best (and help combat stress). Finally, smile. Smile all day long. Smile at everyone you see. It really does help!

  6. Don’t forget to have fun! It’s just a show. I have gone off course, crashed, been thrown, rode like crap, etc and instead of being mortified I try to laugh. It’s just a show. If I chip a distance you will hear me say “oops!” The big money classes give me some butterflies and when I walk in the ring I tell myself I’m just riding in the ring at home. Ride no different. We do this because it’s supposed to be fun! Develop a plan, ride the plan, and tell yourself you are going to nail it. No negative thoughts and no catastrophizing allowed! Show as often as possible and do this every show.

  7. I’m pretty lucky. I’m all nerves before I get on my horse. During my last mini trial I spent the morning trying to keep myself from throwing up, but the moment I got on my horse I calmed down significantly. And then, the moment I entered the ring or starting box, all fears vanished and I did my job with my mind only on getting through it to the best of my ability. This same sort of feeling carries over into my real life – interviews, tests, etc. Leading up to it, I’m nervous as can be, but once it starts – nerves of steel. No idea how I do it, but I would be a wreck if I didn’t have this skill!

  8. Great post!

    I am always a ball of nerves for the first course and then I get in my grove and don’t feel like I am going to die. Something about the first course gets me… I have to remind myself to breath through the whole course and then take deep breaths cause I swear im going to puke lol!

    Thankfully I am over the nerves on the flat!

  9. Good post! I’m lucky that I don’t have a lot of show nerves, but I haven’t shown in a while. I’m the type of “wing it” kind of person. 🙂

  10. My biggest trick is time management. I ALWAYS try to get to a comp at least an hour earlier than I have to do. Most of the time I’ll get to sit down before going to warm-up and just chill out. The horse gets to chill out too, so we’re a much more relaxed team!

  11. I have pretty awful show nerves too. They are getting better in terms of dressage and even stadium I feel but XC… No way. I will always be a bottle of nerves for that I think. The start box is like a timer of anxiety!

  12. I’ll admit I still have some level of show nerves, but mine are more about not meeting my own expectations. I hate to let Speedy down, which happens if I get caught up in “beating” other riders. I am still struggling with showing Sydney because his nerves are far worse than mine. :0) Getting out there a ton is probably the best way to get rid of nerves. :0)

  13. I watched a Daniel Stewart clinic that my trainer rode in a couple of years ago and took away a couple things from it. #1 was the three C’s. I have three words that begin with C that I chant over and over especially when I find my thoughts heading towards negative places. C words can be something like “I am confident, cool and collected” etc. #2 was visualization. Not just visualizing your course which is a great tool but also visualizing something specific that will help you with a specific habit you want to change. He used the example of a girl who kept jumping up her horse’s neck. He had her visualize her horse’s mane as a bunch of spike’s that would impale her if she got too close. There were several others but I can’t think of them off the top of my head. The clinic was really fun to watch and if you ever get a chance to attend one I’d highly recommend it.

  14. I have always been a worrisome person, and as you know, my last horse show was the lowest of the low. I’m trying to go to more shows, to gain more experience, but with finances being tight, and schoolwork overflowing, I don’t exactly know when I’ll have the chance.

    I tend to get over anxious about what people outside the ring are thinking. Who cares right? Me, this girl, right here…. Its a work in progress!

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