Riding On Nerves: Tips to Boost Your Show Confidence

By Nadia Aslam

Photos by Avid Photography

Going to a horse show can be a nerve-wracking experience, and for some – those nerves can affect not only your performance, but how much fun you have.

I can say from personal experience that nerves are something that you CAN conquer, with a little hard work, determination and positive thinking you can be as confident as can be, leaving you to appreciate and enjoy every horse show!  We talked with pros Holly Hover, Charlie Cole, Jim Searles, and Bob Avila to see what pointers they had for managing those show ring jitters.

First Things First

You’re not feeling nervous, that funny feeling you have inside is sheer excitement – isn’t that nice to know! I bet you feel better already.

Everyone feels those butterflies, even multiple World Champions, in fact, Jim Searles let us in on a little secret

“If you watch a rider competing at the World Show, no matter how many times they’ve won or competed. Look closely, I bet you’ll see their hand shaking at some point in the pattern,” He points out “It’s at that time that you have to just take a deep breath, and remember that no matter what the outcome – you’re doing this for the love of it.”

Practice Makes Perfect

One of my Mum’s favourite sayings is “Practice makes perfect,” and it does indeed. I’m not talking about your riding or even your pattern; I’m talking about actually getting out there and competing.

It doesn’t have to be the World Show; it could even be an online show, the sheer act of competing on a more regular basis is guaranteed to boost your confidence when it’s time to step into the arena.

“Confidence is built through repetition. When I’m judging, and I see someone that’s nervous, It shows me that they care and that this is important to them” Holly Hover

Get Some Rest

Easier said than done I know! If you’re anything like me – the night before a show can consist of being wide awake, lying in bed, going through patterns.

Having a “Bedtime Routine” can work a treat, plan as relaxing an evening as you can – why not have a picnic dinner outside with a few friends? Followed by a bubble bath or reading your favourite book? Your body will soon get used to the pre-show night being “Pamper night” and let you nestle down into a relaxing slumber.

Worried You’ll Forget Your Pattern?

Sure, you need to know the pattern inside out but don’t ride it a hundred times, an excellent bit of advice from Charlie Cole of Highpoint Performance Horses.

“Practice for your horse – not for you” Charlie states “if you need to learn the pattern then read through it, heck – go on foot in the arena a hundred times – just don’t burn your horse out and have him anticipating the pattern,” he insists.

Tea With A Friend

I know, I know, I’m English and suggesting tea – but it works!

We all have those friends that are great at calming us down, or giving us that much-needed pep talk.

Sit down with them (or phone them if they’re not at the show) and just chat, it doesn’t have to be about the show, it can be about anything. After all, that’s what friends are for.

Scared Of The Judges?

This one is probably the silliest, and most common all at the same time!

We asked Holly Hover for her advice on being nervous…. about the judges!

“Everybody has nerves, but isn’t that why we do it? It’s that thrill!” she enthuses.  

“The only way to get over that is to keep on going. And If you think a judge would criticize you for being nervous – ABSOLUTELY NOT, remember, judges are nervous when they go in to judge too!” she admits.

Pre-Show Playlist

Before I show, I like to listen to the same three songs on repeat. I don’t know what it is exactly, but they just put me in the perfect state of mind to have fun and perform at my best. Why not put together a playlist to help you get in the zone?

Don’t Forget To Breathe

This one seems like it should go without saying, but I’d be willing to bet you a Scone with Jam and Cream that you’ve done this before! I know that I have.

Why not ask your trainer or a fellow competitor to remind you just before you go in the ring?

“Nerves come from people that want to do well” Bob notes, “You’re anticipating what you really want to do, and the only way to take care of that is just do it – and don’t forget to breathe.”

There you have it.  Just a few tips to try the next time you find your stomach flipping or hands shaking from the show ring excitement.  Do you have any tricks that you use to manage the jitters? T