Frustrated that you never seem to ride at the shows or at a clinic like you can at home?
We as riders have long accepted the fact that you should expect to ride half as good at a show as you do when you are at home. It seem unrealistic to strive for higher than half. Although looking back I was lucky if I made it to half! Sometimes it felt like I barely knew how to ride….
We all know the reasons for why we don’t ride well:
Pressure at the show
Performance anxiety….blah, blah
I feel like I’ve known all of these points for years but somehow knowing this has never helped me conquer it. I’ve used some tools like breathing exercises which definitely help me slow myself down but I never seem to manage to be one of those riders who has nerves of steel. In fact,
the amount of pressure I put on myself at shows makes me not even enjoy the show at all. I’m really just relieved it’s over and that I had moderate success. I seem to be a great rider and analyzer after the fact. I like to go over what I did in the ring and how I could have handled the problems differently. It seems so much clearer once I can remove myself from the pressure. But at the time these skills seem to escape me during the actual show.
So after much thought I have come up with some handy tools that might help you conquer and actually enjoy the pressures of the shows and the clinics!
Tip Number One:
Focus on the horse.
I really mean focus your attention on your horse. Feel the movement, the rhythm, breathe, relax and just be with your horse.
Being with your horse is not as simple as it sounds. Pressure takes our focus away from our ride to how are we going to ride in our class, are the jumps too big? Can you answer the questions of the course? Are people watching you? And on and on…. and in no time your focus has been completely drawn away from your horse.
Focusing on the horse will obviously reap you many benefits. Not only will it settle you into the ride but it will get you closer to the rides you do at home. The rides at home have the focus entirely on the horse hence why they are more successful. The answer lies with you partnership with your horse so start and stay there. Let the pressures of the show have your secondary focus and this will allow you to relax and do what you love….ride your horse.
Tip Number Two:
I just realized after many, many years of showing and riding that I love the routine I have at home which is why it is so shocking to me that I have absolutely no routine at the horse shows. I rely on my routine at home to help me and my horses focus on what’s important and then I get to the horse show….and throw one of the things that helps me the most out the window….my routine! No surprise I find the shows difficult and more stressful.
Having a routine allows you to settle in and put very little energy and thought into what you are doing… a key component to settling yourself down and getting focused. When you have no routine you are spending a lot of thought and energy doing tasks that are taking away from your focus and energy off of riding, the main goal.
You need to develop a show routine and schedule that can help simulate your home time.
Your routine can start with the grooming process and then carry on to your ride. I would consciously be aware of what my routines are at home from the grooming process to cooling your horse down after the ride. This awareness will help you be aware of what routines are very helpful for you and the horse. Again just remember that you are trying let the routine help settle you and not expend energy on things you don’t need to.
Another simple example is to create yourself a warm up plan for the show that allows you to focus on your horse. Something simple and easy for both horse and rider.
Having no routine at the show is going to add a great deal of stress to you as a rider so make as many routines as you can. We all know our horses also love routines and it keeps their stress levels down…a key component to a successful show!
Tip Number Three:
Embrace Your Weaknesses
I always try to focus on what I want to accomplish in my riding rather than any external factors such as how I place or compare to other riders. This is a great time to remind yourself that the most growth comes with mistakes not by successes. So every mistake I make I just tell myself to feel good about it and embrace my learning path.
And on a side note, everyone is making mistakes. Your improvement will be very contingent on how you view your mistakes. If you are one of those riders who like to beat yourself up over simple mistakes STOP doing that. You are blocking your own learning and just so you know nobody cares that you make mistakes….we are all making them.
Create a mantra for yourself at the show: “I love that I’m trying and improving” or whatever works for you.
Tip Number Four:
Be Ok that you don’t know everything.
Sounds simple but we all know how hard it is to get settled into a new place or show. What ring are you allowed to ride in? Where can you lunge?
Ask questions and realize that you don’t have to know everything. Many people around you spend their whole lives showing….ask them to help you. You will be surprised how nice and willing riders are to help other riders! Take the pressure of yourself by trying to know everything or feeling like you should know everything. This is especially true for the riders that don’t get to show much.
And finally remember to breath and enjoy why you love riding horses. It is really easy to get focused on all of the competitions and accomplishments and forget why we all love to ride.
Winston Churchill’s quote always sits with me:
There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of man.