How to Beat Horse Show Nerves

Nervousness hindering your performance? World-champion pro and coach Carol Metcalf helps you kick those horse show jitters and nerves to the curb.
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Nervousness hindering your performance? World-champion pro and coach Carol Metcalf helps you kick those horse show jitters and nerves to the curb.

In the July 2009 issue of Horse & Rider magazine, Team Horse & Rider's Carol Metcalf gives our reader a six-point strategy to keep her show nerves under control. As Carol points out in the July article, even pros get nervous before showing--here, she offers some essential advice for first-timers, and some general show-better tips for experienced and amateur competitors.

Attend several local and at least one of the larger shows to get a feel for what the show environment is really like; and especially make sure to watch the classes in which you

Attend several local and at least one of the larger shows to get a feel for what the show environment is really like; and especially make sure to watch the classes in which you

Nerve Management for First-Timers
Here, I'm going to provide some tips for first-time competitors to help prepare you for that first big show. Even the pros understand that showing in the upper levels of competition can be unnerving, but showing well is learned by doing. First, I suggest you review the tips I provided in the July '09 issue of Horse & Rider, as most of them are applicable to competitors of all levels. Then utilize the following suggestions:

Attend several local shows (or larger ones, if possible) to get a feel for the scene. Soak up the show environment by watching the classes (especially those you're interested in competing in), walking through the barns and stall areas and keeping your eyes and ears open to get a feel for the real-deal.

Talk to friends, trainers or acquaintances who show in the upper levels. Getting honest feedback from those you trust can help you decide if showing is something you want to pursue.

Arrange to trailer your horse to one of the big shows. Once you've decided you want to show, first introduce your horse to the show scene before you're actually there to compete. Just let him hang out. Stall him for some of the time; walk him around the showgrounds; let him watch the other horse-and-rider teams in the warm-up pen. This will give you the opportunity to predict how your horse will handle the stress of showing.

Work with a reputable trainer. To show at the upper levels, you need to work with an experienced trainer to help you progress and prepare for the classes in which you'll be competing. Even if you consider yourself an experienced rider, a pro's guidance is essential for this level of showing. Good trainers are expensive, so if money is tight, do some research and talk to several trainers before you decide on one. You might be able to work off some of your training fees in exchange for helping around the barn or taking care of other horses. Get creative!

Tack, show clothes, etc. As you probably know, these items can cost you big bucks. The good news? There are numerous ways to get show clothing and tack at bargain prices. (Note: For great tips on showing well on a tight budget, see Showing on a Shoestring).

Show-Better Tips for All
Experienced, amateur, novice, old, young, man, woman, teen, child--all of the following tips apply to you. These may seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many competitors don't practice them. Not only do these tips promote a healthy lifestyle in general, but I guarantee they'll help take the edge off your nerves and give you more energy to show your best.

  • Eliminate or significantly decrease your caffeine intake (caffeine will only amp up your already jittery nerves).
  • Get plenty of sleep. You'll be more mentally alert; thus, more apt to remember your patterns and maintain your composure, which all add up to less stress, anxiety, and nervousness.
  • Do your best to eat healthy foods--even if it's only during shows. The better nutrients that go into your body, the better you're going to feel, and the better you'll be able to rationalize, maintain your energy, stabilize your nerves, and perform. Think fruits, veggies, nuts (and other healthy sources of protein), whole grains and lots of water.
  • BREATHE! We all do it--hold our breath when we're on-course or running a pattern. Take slow, deep breaths while you're waiting for your run, so they'll become second nature when you're in the show ring. Lack of oxygen isn't going to help calm your nerves, help your horse or sharpen your brain.