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Tips to Help Nervous Riders at Shows – with Nancy Cahill

Every rider feels nervous from time-to-time. Nerves can kick in, especially when stretching out of comfort zones. Feeling anxious is not always bad since it allows exhibitors to experience that substantial high and feeling of accomplishment when the task is completed.

However, it can often impact how riders progress and prevent some from achieving goals. All individuals have their unique way of feeling when nervous.

GoHorseShow talked to professional horsewoman Nancy Cahill, from Madisonville, Texas, about different exercises to help calm nerves before showing.

Cahill has coached the U.S. team for the Youth Quarter Horse World Cup 15 times, both in the U.S. and abroad. She has also trained and shown multiple AQHA World and Congress Champions and National High Point Champions.

Additionally, Nancy has been awarded the AQHA Professional Horsewoman of the Year and the Most Valuable Professional awards. Most recently, Cahill was honored at the American Quarter Horse Convention with the Merle Wood Humanitarian Award.

Be Prepared

Nancy described that one of the biggest reasons riders get nervous before a class is being unprepared. Additionally, if riders compare themselves to other exhibitors with more experience or those who are at a higher level, this can cause anxiety.

An exhibitor must be prepared to ride with their current skill level and ride their horse to the best of its abilities. Cahill stated, “Riders get nervous because they care. Swallow your pride and ride to the best of your ability. Stay focused on what you and your horse require to be confident and show well under the circumstance.”

Know Your Patterns

Nancy suggested several tips to prepare for a show or class and reduce stress. First, if patterns are provided before the show, take advantage of this opportunity. The practice arena at shows can be overly crowded, complicating practicing a full-sized pattern while every other exhibitor is riding.

Therefore, run through the pattern at home and commit the pattern to memory in preparation for the show. To avoid the horse anticipating maneuvers, practice the pattern in pieces but don’t overdo it. It’s imperative to know the pattern well before going into the class.

Make A Plan

Next, the Texas native stated that she has her exhibitors talk through the pattern aloud or say it to themselves; this helps exhibitors envision the pattern, so they don’t forget when entering the show pen.

Additionally, observe other riders, and determine the best plan for maneuvers and transition placement in the arena. This can help the rider utilize the arena to the fullest and exhibit a high level of pattern precision.

Finally, Cahill suggests, “Draw your road map of the pattern, find markers in the arena, such as banners, to determine where to perform maneuvers.” Planning allows the exhibitor to avoid overwhelming stress and concentrate on the performance.

Relax Your Body 

A rider’s nerves can also influence how the horse performs. Body tension can prevent an exhibitor from riding their best, so think about what part of the body becomes most tense before the pattern. Cahill described, “the horse can feel the rider’s nerves, act differently than at home, and destroy the rider’s confidence.”

The rider must be the horse’s support system and focus on the things that can be controlled. Easier said than done, but it’s crucial to have a warmup routine to keep the horse quiet, and the rider must have control over oneself, suggested Cahill.

Lastly, Cahill emphasized “remember why you’re doing this” to help riders dealing with extra anxiety or nerves. Shows are meant to be fun, and as important as the class seems in the moment, it’s not that significant in the grand scheme of things.

Showing allows riders to identify what needs to be worked on at home or in practice. Cahill emphasizes to her clients that they can always go to another show and fix issues.

Additionally, socializing with friendly faces can have a calming effect on the nerves and decrease anxiety. Exhibitors should try to surround themselves with welcoming, encouraging, and understanding individuals.

Anxiety is an unfortunate reality for many riders, but nerves don’t have to ruin the experience for riders. Riding should be something to look forward to, enjoy, and something you can’t wait to do again. If your nerves are making showing difficult, always remember that this is supposed to be fun, and there is always another horse show around the corner.

bout 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.