Top five tips for handling horse show jitters

A few deep breaths and these tips and you’ll be ready for the show pen in no time!

How many times has it happened to you? You enter the show ring to perform a horsemanship or equitation pattern and you freeze up. Questions start to buzz through your head. “Which side of the cone are you supposed to start on again?” “Was it left lead or right lead?” Suddenly you’re a jumbled ball of nerves and your horse starts dancing at the first cone, only adding to your nervousness. Maybe it isn’t always this extreme, but it happens more often than needed. Horse showing is supposed to be fun, but when nerves get in the way it’s hard for patterns to be fun.

Here are five ways to keep your show jitters at bay.

  1. Practice your pattern on foot. The pattern doesn’t need to be done to scale, but by using water bottles or brushes as your markers or cones, it gives you a better visual of how to perform the pattern with your horse and helps you remember the pattern.
  2. Wait to head to the starting cone until the exhibitor before you is almost done with their pattern. If you head to the starting cone as soon as the exhibitor before you begins their pattern, the longer you must make your horse stand at the cone, anticipating the start of your pattern.
  3. Take a deep breath between maneuvers. Don’t anticipate each maneuver. Anticipating can result in a rushed performance with sloppy transitions. Instead, take a quick deep breath to keep your nerves calm, gain composure and think about your execution. This momentary pause can result in a pattern with crisper transitions and more clearly defined maneuvers.
  4. If you make a mistake, keep going. Don’t panic if you mess up—no one is perfect! If you keep showing, you have a better chance of not messing up the rest of the pattern. Often times the exhibitors that are taking home the blue ribbons and champion trophies don’t have error-free rides, they just better handle the errors that are thrown their way.
  5. Riding a horse during a showGo out there with the goal to have fun. Horse showing is supposed to be fun! Take a deep breath, relax and have the ride of your life with your horse doing what you love best. If you have a great ride, accomplish a goal or even get recognition from the judge, that’s all just icing on the cake.

Nerves happen, and as human beings it’s natural for us to get nervous and excited when doing something we enjoy and care a great deal about. In this sport, we are constantly judged and exhibiting in front of a crowd of people and our peers. Don’t let your nerves get in the way of having fun doing what you love. Just go out in the ring, do your best, have fun and enjoy the ride.

For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the Michigan State University Extension Science and Engineering webpage. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

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