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Veteran Advice for First Time Competitors at Level 1 Championships

Since 2012, AQHA has been hosting the Level 1 Championship show. This event allows novice and rookie competitors across the nation to feel the pressure of a higher level show while gaining experience for future success in the show pen.

For many competitors, this is one of the biggest shows they will compete in at the start of their show career. As expected, many feel apprehensive at a show of this level.

To get more insight on how to fight pre-Level 1 Championship jitters, we talked to Chelsea Carlson of Reds Show Horses in North Plains, Oregon and Cori Cansdale, who trains with Nancy Renfro of Finley, California.

With regard to preparation, we spoke with Jenn Wheeler, who trains all-around horses with her husband, Justin, in Hollister, California.

Finally, GoHorseShow talked with Sarah Finkel, who trains with David Busick in Pleasanton, California, about how not to be too hard on yourself.

Focus on the Rides

One of the most significant factors of horse showing, especially at a larger scale, is the anxiety riders experience. Keeping your composure at a big show could be the difference between enjoying yourself and regretting the entire experience.

Carlson states, “For my first-time competitors, I always tell my girls to relax and take it a class at a time. You have to keep in mind that everyone there is on the same playing field. Believe in the preparedness that brought you to this point and enjoy the rest.”

Being in the moment is an important factor in remaining focused, calm, and collected in the show pen. It’s best to focus on pleasure, if that’s your next class, instead of worrying about showmanship the next day.

Cansdale further expands on this by saying, “My advice for someone showing at their first Level 1 Championship show is to enjoy it. Don’t focus on the prize; focus on the experience. Competing on a large scale like this will give you nerves and focusing on the trophy will only give you more. Go out there and deliver your best pattern and have fun while doing it.”

It’s important to remember that while everyone wants to win the shiny trophies, having good rides is just as valuable. Being able to focus on the little achievements you make each ride, can make the entire show experience more enjoyable for you as the rider and the people who support you.

Getting Ride Time

A huge part of feeling confident at a show of this scale is feeling confident in your preparation. When preparing for a show like this, it’s imperative to utilize the resources available to you. Looking at the patterns ahead of time and practicing them is a great way to fight any nerves you may be feeling going into the show.

“The best preparation for an important show like Level 1 Championships would always be, in my opinion, to practice, practice, and more practice,” Wheeler stresses. “Strong riders know their horses like the back of their hands, and also know their strengths and weaknesses. The only way to truly be prepared for any big show or goal would be the time in the saddle and getting instruction.”

Seat time is one of the most significant factors to success. Being able to know how your horse is going to react and how to prepare for that is going to help you to be less afraid of the unexpected. There’s only so much you can control at a horse show, so work to make what you can control, the best it can be.

Looking the Part

At a big show, looking the part is a great confidence booster and can even help you gain a winning edge. Having the proper tack that fits you and your horse can not only improve your performance, but can help to present a polished package.

Wheeler states, “Clean your saddles and bits, make sure you have the right tools you need to do your best. Polish your silver and take pride in your appearance.”

And while your clothing doesn’t need to be the most expensive piece in the pen, making sure the fit is perfect and the colors work together for you and your horse is the most important thing.

“Make sure you ask your trainer about clothing and pad choices, a good first impression is important,” Wheeler says. “Make sure your clothing is pressed, clean, and organized. For girls, have a makeup kit and a hair net/pin set for easy preparation.”

Small details are going to set you apart from the rest, so it’s worth focusing on.

Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

Horse showing is something we do because we enjoy the atmosphere of the industry. Having regrets or beating yourself up over a small mistake will most likely cause you to cast a negative mindset around the entire show.

Sarah Finkel gives us a better understanding of how to deal with this issue. “At the end of day though, no matter how it went, you get to go to bed and wake up the next day and try again. It is like any other show, so ride your best and don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t go your way. We all make mistakes. It’s a huge part of showing horses,” Finkel shares. “It’s important to remember why we all do this…for fun. So when you attend your Level 1 Championship show, keep in mind that enjoying yourself is always the number one rule. Good luck!”

About the Author: Samantha Fox is a devoted equestrian, a freshman at CSU Stanislaus, and is majoring in business. She has been riding and competing for almost ten years and can’t imagine her life without her horses. Samantha’s favorite classes are showmanship, western pleasure, and trail. She is excited to tackle the western events in 2019 with Tys Good N Red, aka Boris.