How to Deal with Horse Show Performance Anxiety and Nerves

Are you nervous when you enter the ring for a horse show or competitive event of any kind?  Are you suffering from horse show performance anxiety?

Are you afraid of failing?  Afraid of being “embarrassed?”

Well, I feel your pain.  What’s the phrase?  “Been there.  Done that.”

How about embarrassment?  Forget the jitters and nervousness.  Even fear may be better than embarrassment.  Bad enough when you’re nervous and scared that you will not do well.  Have you ever been EMBARASSED?   You know … humiliated in front of a lot of people?  Like … A LOT a lot of people.

I have.

Horse Show Performance Anxiety

Horse Show Performance Anxiety

If we are to be successful with our horses we must learn how to deal with horse show performance anxiety.

Oh, and by the way, I do not simply mean success in terms of winning a “place” or a “ribbon” or an  “event” on a given day; I mean the simple success of proper prepardness and just “showing your horse to the best of your ability ON THAT GIVEN DAY.

That’s all.

When I worked in the horse industry I primarily considered myself a clinician and specifically performed “problem solving” clinics.  (I hate the phrase “Horse Whisperer”).  At one point in my career however, I piddled around a bit with reining horses.

One summer I was riding in a huge  national show.   The designated pattern that day began with a run into the ring, followed by a sliding stop, a spin and then a canter departure and circles (big fast and small slow) followed by a lead change of direction and well;  you get the picture.

My horse entered the ring and did everything correct except one extra HALF spin after the initial sliding stop.  The maneuver  put me in a position facing the wrong direction.

I ran the whole pattern BACKWARDS  in front of about 300 people.

Everybody pointed and some even laughed; thankfully not all of them did both at the same time; laughed and pointed that is.

Embarrassed?  Not at all.  I wasn’t embarrassed; not one little bit … I shrugged it off as if nothing had happened; just as soon as I got through digging that hole in the middle of the ring that I subsequently crawled into.

Nerves?  I get it.  I believe I threw up before every show for the next half dozen shows but (here’s the best part); I got over it.

So can you.

While we’re enjoying a little “story time” let me tell you another one; a good one.  This one occurred before my own personal debacle and the memory of it actually helped me get myself back on track.

I had shared a facility with a very famous hunter jumper trainer.  This trainer worked with junior riders and adult amateurs and also rode  as a professional and is now a famous judge.

He had bought a rather spectacular but very green hunter prospect and was competing with the horse.  One day he arrived back at the barn a bit early after a show, unloaded the horse, put the animal up in his stall and walked back up the aisle.

“How did you do?” I approached and asked.

“It was great; really really great.” He grinned and nodded.  “It was a goddam miracle.”  He stepped forward, leaned in close as if he were going to whisper and share some guarded secret, nodded, and wagged his finger at me.  “I didn’t …”  There was a dramatic pause before he winked. “ … fall off.”

He turned away.  “Didn’t fall off.  Yessir … a goddam miracle.”  He nodded emphatically.  “… miracle.”

That remark, obviously spoken in jest and (more importantly) some good natured self-deprecation has stuck with me for many years; illustrating several axioms that should be at the top of every competitor’s list.

Contrary to the famous phrase, NOBODY  REALLY dies from embarrassment.

My friend was embarrassed but he did NOT fall off … or die.  Okay, he had a bad run but  “bottom line”; he was able to walk his horse out of the show ring, come home, and could now begin to prepare himself and his horse  to go out and compete again.  He enjoyed a healthy laugh and then he moved on for the next horse show.

Get up, dust yourself off, and move on.  Talk to yourself.  Say that  singularly all important word; “Next!!!”

In fact, when you think about it, my friend HAD to move on.  After all, he is a professional; someone paid to train and ride horses.  It was his JOB to move on.

Yours too.

When in doubt; laugh!!!

My friend chose the absolute best first course of action.  He laughed.  He made “little” out of the event as opposed to making “a lot” out of it.  He “diminished” its importance.

I recall a completely unrelated incident from from my college days.  A small group of friends; myself included, had gone down to an area off campus referred to as “the bluffs”.  I am sure you have seen this location depicted a million times on television and in films.  It was a swimming hole under some vertically cut hills with trees and overhanging branches and; you guessed it; a tire swing.  The object of course is to swing off and drop into the water except … when it was my turn, I did not coordinate it very well.  I did not time the lift off and trajectory for the proper “launch” into the water; somehow got stuck in the tire and swung back into the hill where I crashed; finally fell out and onto the beach.

Thud!!!

My friends all leaned over to look in horror.  I had really been flung back hard against the hill and had landed even harder on the beach.

“Are you all right,” they called out.

“I think so,” I answered.

“Good,” one of my friends grinned.  “Because man, you looked really funny and now we can laugh.”

And we did.  All of us.  Together.

Embarassment is just a single moment.  Not forever.

Embarrassment is a little bit like fear; with a small “qualifying statement.”  Fear does not exist in the “present”.  Fear always exists BECAUSE of the past or IN the future.  Unless a mountain lion or a train or a bear is bearing down on us full speed, fear is largely imaginary.  When I was a little boy and I was scared my dad used to instruct me to “pinch yourself”.  I did.

“Are you all right?” he would ask.

I would offer a quizzical look.

“Right now … this minute, standing here,”  My father would question again.  “Are you all right.

I would nod.

“Well then,” he would smile.  “Why are you afraid, if you’re all right?”

Similarly .. not exactly the same … but similarly … embarrassment is ONLY a moment. It is an action or event; an instance that may be uncomfortable but … then the moment is over.  Gone.  There is a saying in baseball, it’s one pitch.  Not a career.

Unless we really did dig a hole and crawl in … we have no choice but to get up and get on with it; whatever “it” may be.  In this case a horse show or event.

Fight … play … another day!!!

It is said that Demosthenes who would go on to become a great statesman and orator; once fought as an infantryman for Athens in a battle against the Macedonians; a battle wherein 3000 Athenians were killed.  Demosthenes ran away to escape the slaughter.  When he was criticized for his seeming cowardice, Demosthenes responded to critics with the undeniable reasoning that “… the man who runs away may fight again” from which the modern version, “”He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day” has derived.

Love what you do more than you fear the consequences!!!

Not only did my friend have no choice in his reaction because that’s what he does for a living.  He’s a horse trainer.  He’s a professional.  He shows horses for a living but  there’s another VERY important part; his MOTIVATION.  He loves what he does; the wins, the losses, the good, the bad, the ugly and yes; even the embarrassing moments.

They are all; all of them … part of what he does and who he is.

What makes any of us do what we do?   What makes us show horses.  Well frankly I have NEVER met anyone who shows horses who does not love the animals.  And of course not JUST the animals but … well, the “life.”  So let’s start with that.  The human mind does not have enough space to allow room for two thoughts or emotions and obviously if our “love of the sport” and “love of the animals”“love of the life” occupies that space then there is no room for the fear.

Secondarily as stated; fear does not exist in the moment at hand.  When you are standing there at the end gate there is NO ONE beside you with a gun.  You are not “at risk” for any real danger.  The only danger is that of embarrassment which DOES exist in the moment.

But the moment goes away.

Finally and most importantly there is no failure.  Just new information which can be used to make you better.  (I was not, for example, going to fall out of that swing again).

Until the day you quit or retire there will always be ANOTHER horse show; another opportunity to learn and grow; another opportunity to perform to your potential.

Performance equals Potential Minus Interference.  Your jitters; the embarrassment are just interference.

Everything in competition as in life is “process”.  Prepare.  Perform.  Adjust.

Repeat.

Next time you get the jitters, remember these stories.  Oh, and by the way … your horse is counting on you.

Stay tuned.  More to come.

The process works when we work the process.

Sometimes it is difficult to ask for help. 

All of us could improve something with our mental approach to our game.  Sometimes we need help but don’t know who to ask … or how.  Contact me and I can explain my sports mental toughness programs and you can learn how to quickly and easily improve your own mental game or that of your son/daughter or the players you coach.

I work with athletes and their families from all over the world using ZOOM over the internet!!!

CLICK HERE FOR FREE CONSULTATION  (203) 252-0395

 

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply: