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Five Tips to Boost Confidence on Show Day – with Jamie Dowdy and Jenna Tolson


In showing horses, we are participating in a sport defined by the five words, “you are now being judged.” When exhibitors step into the arena, they are subjecting themselves to the assessment of the judges, their fellow exhibitors, and spectators. It is an inherently vulnerable sport that requires a certain sense of self-confidence.

However, it’s only natural that we struggle from time-to-time to trust ourselves, our appearance, and our abilities to be satisfactory in the show pen.

GoHorseShow had the opportunity to sit down with non-pro exhibitor and fitness coach Jenna Tolson and AQHA Judge and Professional Horsewoman Jamie Dowdy to discuss five tips to help boost your confidence when feeling insecure.

Embrace It

APHA exhibitor Jenna Tolson, the founder and head coach of Ride Fit Life, said that one of the keys to overcoming insecurity is to embrace the parts of yourself that you feel most insecure about.

“Everybody has some element of their body that they are insecure about,” Tolson said. “Part of it is just accepting what it is, and what your body does for you, and not getting bogged down in the details of trying to pick yourself apart, because that doesn’t solve anything.”

Learning to love your body the way it is, is no easy task. But embracing your true self rather than expressing self-criticisms or wishing for a different “look” will help you be able to channel a sense of confidence when you’re feeling down.

Look Good To Feel Good

Horse shows offer exhibitors a chance to flaunt their favorite outfits and accessories in what can sometimes seem to be a horseback fashion show. Jamie Dowdy said that when she is feeling unsure of herself, she finds that dressing her best helps to boost her confidence.

“When I feel like I’m being extra scattered that day, or I’m not feeling myself, I might put on my favorite shirt, I might put on my favorite shade of lipstick,” Dowdy said. “I’m trying to make myself look better, so I feel better.”

Improving your appearance, whether through make-up, your favorite shirt, or your lucky earrings, can help you feel dressed for success in the show pen. When you think that you look good, you will feel less insecure entering the arena.

Just Keep Showing

Like many other sports, performance anxiety is commonplace in the horse show industry. Last-minute doubts about an exhibitor’s abilities can leave them without the necessary sense of confidence as they step up to the first cone or jog through the gate.

“I think it’s a pervasive part of the human experience always to feel insecure and a little bit of imposter syndrome about what you’re getting ready to do,” Tolson said. “I was someone who hated feeling anxious. It was almost debilitating until I heard one time somebody say, ‘it’s okay to be anxious, it’s okay to be unconfident, to think you’re not ready to do this, and then do it anyway.’”

Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable will help you work through your insecurities. Tolson recommended thinking of your time in the show pen as an opportunity to “play a character” to help channel confidence when it may not come naturally. Over time, you’ll likely become more like your show pen identity and encounter fewer insecure moments.

Set Goals

“I feel like our whole industry is a little built up on insecurities,” Dowdy said. “We walk in there, and we’re basing how well we do on the few people in the middle of the pen. When you look at it solely like that, I think several insecurities are built.”

Goal setting is a critical practice to keep yourself accountable in day-to-day life. Still, in showing horses, Dowdy says that it also helps to combat insecurities before they take root by giving a rider something to work towards.

Similarly, Tolson said that focusing on “the in-between” will help make the experience of showing less intimidating.

“Rather than focusing on the result, if you just focus on being one step better than the last time you showed, eventually, over time, you’ll look back and realize you’ve made so much progress,” Tolson said. “It’s less daunting and overwhelming to think about where you want to get to.”

Setting goals for yourself and your horse gives riders an additional standard against which they can assess themselves and inspires a growth mindset that helps combat insecurities caused by a judgment-based sport.

Find What Works Best For You

Ultimately, overcoming insecurity comes down to finding the best method for you.

Dowdy explained that for her, the most effective way to boost her confidence is through practicing yoga.

“I do a little yoga and stretching to start my morning. That’s the physical practice that helps me get in touch with myself so that I can be better in touch with the horses,” Dowdy said.

She also explained that if she is feeling particularly out-of-touch with herself, she will take time to focus on breathing and slowing her mind down to help center herself on what she can control.

Tolson said that she has come up with a personal method of dealing with the emotions that accompany horse shows.

“One rule that I have adopted for me is that I will let myself be emotional about it for 24 hours because feelings are feelings, and they are compelling at the moment, but they are not always a reflection of reality,” Tolson said. “So, I’ll let myself be miserable and feel the feelings, and then after 24 hours, it’s back to the drawing board.”

While horse showing may be intimidating at times, learning methods to face your personal doubts head-on will help you manage the negative emotions without letting them hinder your performance. Taking the time to work on overcoming insecurities will create a more positive personal environment for exhibitors as we participate in the sport we all enjoy.



About the Author- Kassidy Lammers is junior studying history and communication at the University of Dayton from Delaware, Ohio. She currently maintains and shows her gelding, KM Best Man, in the western all-around events on the AQHA circuit.

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