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Overcoming the Fear of Failure in the Show Pen

We have all been there. As we walk into the show pen, our fear grips us, and we lose all ability to think. We are so afraid of failing that we freeze, and inevitably, we end up making the mistakes we swore we would never make.

In a way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; we focus so much on what can go wrong that we don’t take the time to think about, let alone create a positive outcome.

GoHorseShow sat down with veteran World and Congress Champion Troy Compton and newly crowned APHA World Champion Paige Wacker and asked for advice on overcoming the fear of failure in the show pen.

Both offered up great advice that we will break down into four main categories.

Simulate Your Ride

Getting rid of the anxiety, you feel when walking into the show pen is the best way to build your way toward a successful ride. Multiple World and Congress Champion trainer Troy Compton advised imagining and simulating your winning ride over and over in your head until it becomes second nature. “I remember using Congress as my model. I would imagine loping down that white wall and imagine every stride, every move that my horse would make. I would know exactly how close I wanted his front feet to be to the wall, exactly how I wanted to pass a horse, I would know every possible move my horse would make and how I would ride it to the best of its ability.”

By doing this, Compton said he would feel almost a sense of relief when he walked into the pen because he had done so much mental prep work leading up to it.

AQHA and APHA World Champion Paige Wacker remembered, “as a 9-year-old girl showing, my mom would stay out all night with me because I refused to go to bed until I had the pattern ‘perfect.’ Growing up, I’ve learned the importance of not staying up all night worrying about what was going to happen the next day I showed.”

Wacker learned to do her mental work of pattern placement much farther in advance. Simulating your run beforehand, frees up your mind to have a restful night’s sleep and wake up feeling ready to conquer the day.

Daily Routine

Another way to mitigate anxiety is to treat show day just like you would treat any regular practice day. “By creating a process from the moment you pull your horse out of your stall that continues all the way until you unsaddle and put them back into the stall, you can help to keep your nerves even keel,” Troy commented.

This allows your mind and body to work with your horse comfortably, which is almost second nature. This comfort level helps to reduce anxiety and mistakes because you are doing what comes naturally to you.

Paige reiterates this by adding, “Horses are so in tune with our energy, and the moment they feel our stress, they react exactly to how we’re feeling. Instead of using that fear as negative energy, I try to make positive energy with it. I do that by working extremely hard at home on all the maneuvers we will be expected to perform in the class.”

By doing the hard work at home, you will be ready for whatever they can ask you to perform when the big show day comes.

Block Out the Critics

The puzzle’s final piece to stomping out anxiety and failure in the show pen is to block out the critics, or in our case, the judges. The judges are there to give you an evaluation of what you present to them. They can only score what you show them, worrying about how they think won’t get you anywhere.

Troy enlightened us by sharing, “I use to tell myself that I needed to be so good that there was no way anyone could ever place me anything other than first. I couldn’t control where they did place me, but I could control the performance I put in front of them.”

This can be a huge weight to lift off your shoulders. This gives the power back to you as a rider – the run is in your hands, and you have the ability to make it be the best that it can be.

Believe In Yourself

Last but not least is believing in yourself. While this can sometimes seem impossible to do, it is one of the most important things to do for yourself. You have worked so hard before the moment that you walk into the show pen. Paige took us through how she overcame this and ended up becoming a multiple World Champion at the 2020 APHA World Championship Show.

“The 2020 Paint World was very stressful since this was my boyfriend’s (Alex Gryskiewicz) first big horse show to attend with his clients. Before the showmanship, I could feel myself want to give in to the fear of making a mistake like forgetting my pattern, stepping out of my pivot, him loping at the extended trot, etc. Alex stopped me and told me I’ve practiced everything I could, and do not fear going out there and making a mistake. But be excited to show off all the hard work we put in only having 45 days with my horse. I guess his advice was worth it.”

You have put hours into mental and physical preparation. Why not enjoy the moment when you finally get to share it with the world? You can do this.

Overcoming the fear of failure in the show pen can be so liberating. It is a process that will take practice but be well worth the time put in. Take these steps and put them into action as you take control of your next run. You might accomplish something great.

About the Author – Lauren Stanley is an avid AQHA competitor who is constantly inspired by her partner Extremely Good Stuff, also known as Rooster the Red Roany Pony. When Lauren isn’t riding or writing, she enjoys cooking and taking boxing classes.