Although the Quarter Horse Congress is the largest AQHA show throughout the year, it is vital to treat it like any other show. Photo © Impulse Photography

How to Get Rid of Pre-Congress Jitters

Imagine yourself walking up to the cone for your showmanship class at the biggest quarter horse show of the year: The All American Quarter Horse Congress. While you wait for the judge to give you “the go,” you can’t help but feel your heart pounding in your chest, the nerves flowing through your body, yet still feeling excited. Knowing that you and over a hundred other competitors have one chance to catch the judge’s eye and impress them is something that can be rather nerve-wracking.

Pre-Congress jitters are something that most exhibitors face in the months leading up to Congress. However, having confidence in both yourself and your horse is critical when preparing for such a big show. By the time you have arrived at Congress, it is your time to be in the spotlight.

Although the Quarter Horse Congress is the largest AQHA show throughout the year, it is vital to treat it like any other show. Some of AQHA’s leading competitors have provided tips to get rid of “pre-Congress” jitters and offered some advice to stay cool, calm, and collected all while having fun.

Hillary Roberts – The Congress is my favorite show of the year, but it can be overwhelming. There’s so much to take up there because we are there for so long. Anyone who has been to the Congress knows that you have to pack a little of everything. The weather is pretty unpredictable. You could be wearing a t-shirt one day, and a sweater the next. The best advice I can give is to take it all in stride. There’s a lot of people, lots of horses, and lots to take in while you’re there. The cool weather isn’t always your ally when trying to get your horse ready for the show, so I like to make sure I do most of the preparation work at home.
 The Congress is such a one-of-a-kind experience – take advantage of all the fun things it has to offer. Try all the food stands, watch as much as you can, and enjoy the show.


Natalia DeVencenty – When preparing for a big show like the Congress or world show, I try to keep everything the same. Keep riding how you’ve been riding and prepare the same way as you would for any other show. When you get close to these large shows, it’s too late to make any significant changes anyway, so just stay confident in your horse, and have faith it will all work out. One thing I try to remember is that no matter what, there is always another horse show.



Sarah Finkel
– I always get nervous before I go into the pen at a big show, particularly at the Congress. Going into those big arenas and trying to win out of over 100 entries is always stressful. For me, I have to remind myself to slow down and break apart my pattern, whether it is trail, horsemanship, showmanship or equitation. Whatever class, I try to take a few minutes before I warm up to close my eyes and picture myself having a perfect ride. I just run it over and over in my head and then when I am out in the arena, I try to match what I saw in my mind. Visualizing the pattern helps me feel more confident.

Also, when I am waiting at the gate to go in, I always take some time to pet my horse – it calms us both down and makes me feel more connected to him, and we have better rides. It’s always good to remember that you guys are a team out there and neither could do it on their own. Good luck to everyone at the Congress this year. Hope everyone has great rides and most importantly, has fun.

Elizabeth Brown – There’s a saying that “with age comes wisdom.” I think as I’ve aged through the years the jitters have subsided, and excitement has taken its place. With that said, I always make sure that I feel prepared before my class. I like to watch a few exhibitors go before me and get a mental game plan of how my ride will go. Not that it always works out perfectly, but the thought was there. The best ride I can have that day is what I’m looking for. If that happens to bring a great placing or award, it’s just a bonus. The one area where I haven’t been so successful in controlling the anticipation is watching my daughter show. As a mother you always want your child to be the star and everything to go just as planned. I’m sure I will always feel that way no matter how old she is.  The best advice I can give to anyone showing, of any age, is to love the horse you show and have fun.


Bella Rosa – The All American Quarter Horse Congress is one of the more nerve-wracking shows for me. To not get too nervous when I’m showing, I practice a lot at home leading up to the show. Getting in extra practice helps me feel more comfortable with my horse and my horse more comfortable with me. Although we are practicing all year long, a little extra practice right before the show always helps me. Some advice I have would be not to let the competition intimidate you. A way to do this is to focus on having your personal best goes and not having necessarily a “better go” than someone. Focusing on having my own personal best run go always helps a lot of my nerves go away because I am not focusing on beating other people, but having my personal best.


Madison Nirenstein – I like to treat bigger shows, especially Congress and the World Show, like any other show. If you get caught up thinking about the level of competition or what’s at stake, you will most likely psych yourself out and hinder your performance–remember, it’s anyone’s game. Another tool I use is not to compare myself to other riders. I try not to worry about who is in the draw before or after me and focus on doing the best pattern (or rail work) I can do. I find when I focus on my personal goals, I almost always do better than when I worry about the competitors around me.


The nerves will never completely go away, whether this is your first Congress or not. However, controlling those nerves and jitters can help both you and your horse have the best ride. Shows such as Congress and world shows are known to be highly stressful and intense, but after hearing from some of the industry’s leading riders, you can gain tips on how calming your nerves can make your performance that much better.

Showing at Congress is a once in a lifetime experience. Although it can be hard, exhibitors should treat Congress like any other week or weekend show. Taking a moment before you step into the pen to just collect your thoughts and run through your pattern in your head one last time could help put your nerves to rest.

As Elizabeth Brown said, “Love the horse you show.” It is essential to trust your partner because you can’t reach your goals without them. Before walking into the pen, take a step back and be in the moment. Chances are, the people you are competing against are just as nervous as you are.

About the Author: Kinsey McDougald is a junior at Oklahoma State University where she is a part of the Equestrian Team. Originally from California, she grew up on a ranch and showed registered Hereford cattle and Quarter Horses. Since the day she was born, horses have always been a part of her life.