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Ways to Relieve Stress Before the Big Shows


Dealing with nervousness and stress can make you feel shaky and nauseous before you step into a class or attend a big show. Stress can even cause a lack of focus and concentration. Nervousness is normal, but the key to success is to control your stress before walking into the show pen. It would help if you learned to use nervousness as energy and embrace the unsteadiness to propel you to improved performance.

Skyler Muff, Performance Athlete Mental Training Coach

Skyler Muff from Mental Training Coach for performance athletes (Train My Mental Game) provided her thoughts on preparing for a stressful event or show. Muff suggests, “Create a pre-show routine for yourself and your horse that you know works. Getting your mindset into a preferred zone and being in the present moment eliminates the monkey mind that can happen before a competition. Letting your mind wander into the future or think about the past is where anxiety lives. So be fully present by sticking to a 5-10 minute routine that gets you into that confident mental zone right before the competition.”

Be self-aware and understand where your nerves or anxiety may be stemming from. Muff suggests journaling your feelings and thoughts. She also states meditation and breathing techniques are great for creating self-awareness.

Lastly, visualize your performance. Muff states, “Your mind can’t do anything before it sees it first. When you see yourself accomplishing a set goal, your subconscious mind learns that it is safe. So many times, our bodies react to uncomfortable stimuli that have not been seen before to keep us safe. The more you train your mind to see your goals, the less stress you are putting on your mind and body.”

Alyse Roberts, Alyse Roberts Performance Horses

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Alyse Roberts of Purcell, Oklahoma, explained her favorite methods for relieving stress before and during shows. Finding a relaxing area to unwind before leaving for large, stressful shows can be a great way to prepare. Roberts enjoys relaxing in her backyard and patio area to decompress.

Alyse says, “I like to go out to the pastures and watch the mares and babies and yearlings play. This beauty reminds me of why I do what I do and how much I truly love horses, no matter the outcome of a big show.”

Dealing with the stress at large shows is crucial for Roberts as she does most of the work herself. Roberts chooses to deal with stress and anxiety head-on. Embracing the symptoms of stress can make them work to your advantage. Roberts uses that energy to push through and reminds herself to work harder to succeed in the long run.

Jenna Tolson, Online Fitness Coach, Exhibitor

Jenna Tolson, owner of Ride Fit Life, an online fitness coaching platform for equestrians of all levels, describes how she manages stress and anxiety. Performance anxiety can be the largest source of stress when preparing for a big show.

Tolson states, “The best bet to help with performance anxiety is to prepare, prepare, prepare. I prepare mentally by doing mindset work, physically by getting plenty of sleep, and skillfully by putting in quality practice time with my horse.”

Jenna highly recommends creating lists when packing and preparing all the items needed for each class. She clarifies, “There’s something about having it physically written down that allows your brain to quit ruminating over it constantly. I’ve done a little work with a mindset coach for performance. She told me the brain could only remember three major things during an acutely stressful period. She has encouraged me to write down three key things to remember for each class/maneuver/transition/etc. I’ll make these lists and then read over them.”

Tolson chooses to view stress, anxiety, and nervous energy as a positive, rather than a negative. Stress comes from the desire to do well. Tolson explains, “We have to focus on controlling the controllable and not spend mental energy on things we can’t control.”

Lastly, an adequate amount of sleep and good nutrition can positively influence your mood. According to Tolson, “Everything in life is much harder if we’re short on sleep or “hangry,” so I try to sleep well before the show starts and have a plan for nourishing food while at the show. Beyond that, a great deep tissue massage always helps me relax for a bit if I’m feeling stressed out!”

When you’re feeling stressed, make mindful decisions about preparing for the show and choose helpful coping strategies to help you be your best. These strategies can help you boost your well-being and make sure you enter the show pen ready to do your best.


About the Author- Celsey Crabtree is a devoted APHA competitor and enjoys showing in the all-around events with her horse SmoothChocolateScotch. Celsey teaches at Kansas State University and is a Ph.D. student. When not riding, Celsey enjoys being outdoors, CrossFit, and playing with her dogs.

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