Tips and Tricks to Calm Last Minute Jitters
The final preparations leading up to a show or significant event tend to be the most intense and stressful. Whether it’s a major event like the Congress or your first show, getting caught up in these last-minute nerves can prevent any competitor from putting their best foot forward when they step into the show pen. So how can they manage and avoid the pre-class jitters?
We spoke with three prominent trainers in the industry to get their advice on how to keep calm during the final moments before walking into the arena. Trainers Brent Maxwell, Lynne Puthoff, and Jeff Geiger – all well versed in coaching riders to high levels of success, offer us their perspective on this tricky question.
Choose the right place to show
One of the most common nerve-inducing mistakes that competitors make is to jump into the deeper competition than they are ready. Evaluating the level of a show in comparison to you or your client’s level of ability is vital to avoiding last minute nerves.
Ohio trainer Jeff Geiger agreed that strategically picking shows is necessary. He has found that “matching the level of the horse to the horse show and the level of competition to the rider,” helps with confidence building at each show that leads riders to advance to the next level.
AQHA Judge and Trainer Brent Maxwell spoke along similar lines, finding that, “if you keep your clients up to speed on the current capabilities of their horses, there are not any false expectations, and that makes me more comfortable,” he told us.
Don’t underestimate the importance of practice
There is truth to the phrase “practice makes perfect.” If you take the time to prepare yourself at home adequately, you will find yourself more comfortable with the situations in which you are asked to perform at the show.
Ohio-based Trainer Lynne Puthoff agreed, stressing the importance of practice. “Practice and preparation are key. There are always going to be things that happen out of our control, but I try to impress upon my riders that breathing deeply and talking yourself through each pattern and ride is a big help with nerves,” she told us. She continued, saying that “the more you prepare yourself, your horse and ask questions,” the more likely you are to have a successful experience.
Maxwell also told us about the strategies he uses to keep his clients focused on what they know well to avoid nerves. He has his riders perform a series of simple exercises that “allow them to test their horses for certain maneuvers in their patterns,” as well as to understand to what degree their horse is willing to perform on that day. These exercises keep both horse and rider busy with something familiar and keep riders from asking more of their horse than he or she is capable of just before they show. This mistake, he says, “usually creates an anxious horse and an unsettled rider.”
Don’t forget to have fun
While practicing is hugely beneficial, relaxing before and throughout the show day can be just as essential and helpful for soothing pre-class nerves. Focusing too hard for too long on the show itself can lead you to be overwhelmed with what may go wrong. Whether you leave the show altogether, or hang out with friends at the grounds, taking your mind off of the task at hand can prove highly beneficial in managing last-minute stress.
Geiger agreed with this idea, remembering a time when he utilized this strategy with his riders at the 2013 AQHA East Level 1 Championships. “It was the night before we were getting ready to show and we had everything down, everything was right. I told them to meet me at the stalls at eight o’clock, and when everyone was there, we loaded up and went to the go-kart track,” he told us.
Puthoff also touched on the idea of keeping a relaxed atmosphere among her clients at shows. “Our group is very family-oriented. We have great parents who keep us fed, and we try to make things fun and support each rider throughout the show,” she said.
No horse show will ever run perfectly, but keeping last-minute nerves at bay will undoubtedly help your day to run as smoothly as possible. Keeping realistic expectations, sticking with the familiarity of standard practices, and remembering not to become too serious are all helpful tips and tricks to calm yourself in the moments leading up to when you step into the show pen.
In the end, it all comes down to finding a strategy that works best for you in your pursuit of whatever goal you have in mind.