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How to Defy the Horse Show Jitters

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Summer is here and horse show season is beginning to get into its stride.

The horses look their best with bright eyes and shining coats, and you’re brushing off your show jacket and sprucing up the trailer. The kitchen table is littered with show schedules and you’re busy picking what classes to enter.

So far, so good.

Time goes on, and as the date of the show gets closer, you’ve been practicing day in and day out. You’re starting to get those pleasurable little shivers of anticipation when you think about loading up and taking your horse to the show. It’s going to be great!

Little by little, the “what if” thoughts begin to creep in.

What if I…?

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What if the horse…?

What if the other competitors…?

What if the judge…?

The more you think about those “what ifs”, the more those little shivers of anticipation turn to shudders of the horse show jitters.

As humans, we’re hard-wired to notice what might go wrong.

The good news is, we can train ourselves to think differently and override our natural tendency to focus on the negative.

It’s important to recognize that this process of running through potential pitfalls can have their place in your preparations. It’s good to be prepared; however, when these sensible preparations get out of perspective, it’s time to do something about it.

we can train ourselves to think differently and override our natural tendency to focus on the negative.

How can you start to fix the horse show jitters?

To begin, each time a “what if” thought you don’t want surfaces, squash it! Smash it, stomp on it, set fire to it, chop it up into little tiny pieces. However you do it, don’t allow yourself to think about it again. Replace that negative thought with a positive one. This can take a little practice, but with repetition, it becomes second nature. The more and more you squash a negative thought immediately, the weaker and less frequent it becomes.

Make sure that your preparation is thorough.

Have you done enough work on your horse’s weak areas of performance? Are your show clothes and tack clean, in good condition, and looking good? Have you sorted out transport and would it help to have a friend come with you to help on the day? Have you made a checklist of things to take with you? I once arrived on a showground to find I’d forgotten my saddle, so a list is a really useful thing to have. Making sure that all these things are planned and under control will help you to feel prepared and ready for your day.

Mentally run through your show in advance.

Imagine exactly how you want it to go. If any negative thoughts creep in, simply replace them with something that feels right to you. Run your mental image through your head several times a day. When you feel comfortable with it, you can introduce possible problems and rehearse dealing with them. Having rehearsed something means that, when it happens in real life, you’re prepared and your reaction is automatic.

The more you squash a negative thought immediately, the weaker and less frequent it becomes.

Remember why you’re at the horse show in the first place.

Showing what you and your horse can do is an opportunity to learn more about each other. You and your horse are doing the best that you can do on this day in these circumstances, even if it doesn’t reach your expectations this time. Treat this as a learning experience. Remind yourself of why you want to do this and – most of all – remember to make the preparation and the day itself fun for your horse. This way, you’ll squash the horse show jitters and it’ll be fun for you too.

About the author: Caroline Putus is an experienced confidence coach, homeopath, NLP practitioner, and lifelong horsewoman based in the UK.  She teaches very practical self-help confidence skills drawn from a wide range of approaches to help riders regain and maintain their life and riding confidence.

Originally published June 1, 2010. Updated July 5, 2020.

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