Five Tips to Overcome Horse Show Stage Fright
If you have ever suffered from horse show stage fright, you are well aware of the stress and pressure that begins to appear as you make your way up to the show pen.
With the Select World Show currently going on and other major shows coming up, this problem tends to rear its ugly head at the most inconvenient times, during the most pressure and anxiety induced shows of the year.
Stage fright is not reserved specifically for horse show competitors, but it also haunts many notable performers in pop culture as well. Adele, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga are just a few of the top celebrities in today’s music industry who have admitted to suffering from performance anxiety.
Fortunately, if you are one of the unlucky exhibitors who tend to crack under pressure, here are some tips and tricks that we have adapted to the horse show world from professionals who specialize in solving these issues every day.
One way to remain calm when it comes down to crunch time is to give yourself plenty of time beforehand. Being rushed and feeling overwhelmed is never a good combination, especially when horse show nerves come into play. Having a plan and being on top of your game will make everything else come naturally. Psychologist, Ken Tamplin suggests practicing to the point where you are so “ready,” that your maneuvers start to become second nature. Once you are confident that you know when and where to execute your transitions, you may move on to embedding the steps into your brain. Try repeating small combinations of the pattern instead of the entire thing so that your horse doesn’t begin to second-guess your next move.
Anxiety coaches would conclude that the fear of shame and regret is one of the biggest reasons why people suffer from stage fright. When points are involved in horse showing, it is easier to worry that you will not make the cut or the split, leading to regret. However, taking horse showing too seriously can lead to severe burnout. Often, we reflect on past rides and worry about what we could have done better. Sometimes, keeping the mentality where every ride could be your last helps to savor the moment. Don’t pressure yourself into thinking about what you could do differently, instead, focus on performing what you know and ride with confidence.
When it comes to show anxiety, many riders share similar fears. What if I forget my pattern? What if my horse blows up halfway through? These questions can quickly build up and become endless as you realize how many ways there are to fail rather than succeed. Instead, think on the brighter side and only allow yourself to channel positive questions. For example, instead of thinking I will forget my pattern, I will reflect on how I will nail my turn and the back up at the end. Instead of waiting on my horse to anticipate his flying lead change, I will envision the best-case scenario of executing a credit-earning transition.
Just like in any activity, repetition is key. The more time you spend showing off to the judges, the more comfortable, you will naturally become with the process in general. Keeping the mindset of, “it’s just another horse show,” helps take the pressure off when you are performing at a higher caliber event as well. Many riders get more nervous at the larger shows because they know that there are more eyes watching them and bigger prizes to be won. However, the more often that you compete, the less stressed you will be when the stakes are raised.
Remember, judges, are not watching you perform and hoping that you will fail. Also, your pattern is just one of hundreds of rides that they will judge that day. Allow yourself to work through your anxiety and calmly approach the cone with the mindset of positivity. Pay attention to your performance and hit your marks just as you would in the practice ring. All in all, being accepting of your stage fright and working with your nerves can be more helpful than trying to block out your feelings and replace them with negative thoughts or self-doubt.
Lastly, finding what tips and tricks work best for you can be the best remedy. Some riders will find solace in drawing out their patterns by hand to ensure that they have a visual representation of their ride. Others will pick a physical marker in the arena to focus on so that they can block out the fear that they will not hit their marks. Many will seek to be reassured that they are on the right track with their trainers, family, and friends.
All in all, requesting help for stage fright issues is a far better solution than trying to hide your fears and hoping that they disappear. Everyone either knows someone who suffers from horse show anxiety or they have struggled with it themselves and seeking out a solution can often be the best medicine.
About Samantha- Samantha Armbruster is a 23-year-old competitor from Sunbury, Ohio who is currently working in the mortgage lending industry. She now shows her Quarter Horse gelding, Oops I Am Good, also known as “Hudson,” on the Quarter Horse circuit. Samantha loves being involved in the industry from lending a hand to the younger kids to learning from the top professionals. In 2016, Sam and her horse Hudson won a NSBA World Championship in Trail as well as a Quarter Horse Congress Championship in Showmanship. Though Sam primarily shows the all around events, she also has experience with World Champion halter horses as well as working alongside some of the top performance stallions in the nation.