Any advice for coping with pre-show nerves?

As some of you may remember, I have a (brand) new horse and just started showing again recently after a long break. I’m having a really difficult time coping with my nerves. I know most of us do get nervous, and we do so because we care about our riding and want to do the best job possible with our horses. But, I have a show coming up this month, have some idea of who/what my competition is, and am hyper-ventilating already. I know that must sound really silly to some of you. I’ve even worried that maybe buying this horse for myself was not such a bright idea and that maybe I shouldn’t have tried showing again… Any kind words out there that might help me or at least contain me for the moment? Thanks!

25 Responses to Any advice for coping with pre-show nerves?

  1. JC says:

    Denu- I have been where you are. Your toughest competition is you, so clear your head (got an ipod for the wait before the class?) and set one goal in each class. Mine was to remember to breathe in my first class and for my second class to not mess up my canter lead. If you meet your goal, you win. If you happen to mess up, so what! Everybody has at some point.

    I applaud your choice to continue to play throughout your life. Have a great time with your new Morgan! There is no better partner in the world of show horses.

  2. lilracheyB says:

    I am from the nsh half arabian world, but ride morgans now (not an exhibitor yet) and I find Russ Vento (an “amateur” in the Arab world who writes great articles about the amateur point of view) Granted his companion is a top trainer and Mr Vento rides like a pro (and has many national titles to boot), but the tips in this particular article always struck a chord with me. :) I hope you enjoy and remember to breath and enjoy your ride. My mantra is to “ride the best for ME”!! You need to forget about everyone else and concentrate on you and your ride. I like to ride the class somewhat in my head before hand. What helped me too was to watch every class I could and then I knew what to expect and saw how different riders dealt with various challeges. Pick what works for you. :) Good Luck!!! :)Rach

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  3. Em says:

    As handling nerves is one of my biggest problems in the show ring, I found the article very useful. Thank you for posting it!

    Does anyone have any special strategies that they use for conquering their nerves before a class?

  4. colwilrin says:

    First, Denu, welcome back to the fold…and LilracheyB, welcome to MORGANS!!! Glad to have two more out there to play with.

    I have been showing almost every season, since I was about 6 years old. The nerves can be controlled, but they never do go away (at least for me, and many other amateurs and even professionals I have talked with). A certain amount of anxiety is a good thing, it keeps you sharp.

    A positive mind set is key. You have to believe you are just as competative as the other entries, and belong out there.

    No one is pointing and laughing. If you completely blow your entire class, and think you are the biggest loser in the Morgan world, and that no one will ever forget that the steward kicked you out of the class…you are wrong. I know from personal experience. By the next show or the next season, no one remembers or even really cares.

    Everyone… and I do mean EVERYONE…has had bad classes. Fellow exhibitors feel your pain, and can sympathize with your nerves. Talk to other people at the shows, you will find out you are not alone in your anxiety and will make new friends to laugh about it with.

    Each class is a new opportunity to improve.

    I like the idea from JC about setting small goals and giving yourself a pat on the back for those achievements.

    You already deserve one for getting back out there again!

  5. bella92290 says:

    Kudos to you for doing what you love! I never showed until I was an adult, and nerves are not even the word for what I get. Assuming you are over 21 try what I did, a glass of wine!!!!! My barn finally decided I needed to chill out as I think I was stressing everyone else out. I have “retired” from the show ring to support my daughter now,,,but we still laugh about it at barn gatherings from time to time. Or when we are coaching a newbie about nerves.

  6. Jan says:

    Here are some ideas:…First of all, figure out what you are afraid of? Do you trust the horse? Do you fear not getting the canter lead?, etc. Once you can figure that out, you may be more able to figure out what you can control and “fix” and what is out of your control. Those things you can fix, you won’t be able to do in one class or one show. That is a long process of practice and showing.(and sometimes once you think you’ve fixed something, it only works a short itme and then it’s back to the drawing board!) Secondly,for each show or class, find one thing you are going to focus on in the ring. Maybe ring position, speed control or simply just holding your hands correctly. Let that be your goal and not the good ribbon. You may come in dead last but if your hands were correct–that’s great! This will be much more managable than expecting yourself to do it all. After a while of working on all these little things, they will come together for a better overall performance. But like all things we don’t do naturally–it takes time and practice. Thirdly, be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for what you are capable of doing and the effort you have put in, so far. In any given class, there are those of us exhibitors who have been doing this for years,those with a moderate level of experience and those who are just starting. Even at that, we sometimes get new horses and start all over again.

  7. Em says:

    Does anyone have any tips for focusing before a big class?

  8. colwilrin says:

    If its a really big class, like OKC…you have to try and not let it get overwhelming.

    The bigger the class, the more I try to picture it as schooling back at my trainer’s barn. You can psych yourself out completely if you get too fixated on it being a “big class”.

    If any of you has ever seen the movie the Birdcage, there is a wonderful scene where Nathan Lane is trying to spread jam on some toast. The toast breaks and he falls to pieces in hysterics. In an attempt to put it all into perspective and calm him, Robin Williams says to him, “It’s just toast and you can always get more toast.”

    Showing is like that, you will always have a next show, next year, next horse, next ride…

    You can always get more toast!

  9. KarenL says:

    I like “mental practice”- it is very easy to get hung up on all the things that can (and very likely might!) go wrong in a class! I try to make sure that I have 10 minutes of quiet to myself to just sit, close my eyes, breathe deeply & ride, in my head, the perfect class on my horse. I make an effort to feel the entry to the ring, seeing where I’m going to put myself on the rail, riding beautifully balanced, cadenced gaits, perfectly smooth and seamless transitions, etc. It can be hard to NOT mentally practice the icky canter transition that you’ve been struggling with at home, but send those negative thoughts on vacation & ride your perfect ride in your head. Good luck! (plus, make sure that you’ve eaten something healthy, but make sure it was a while before you actually need to ride!)

  10. Jan says:

    It might help to visualize your self riding the class. Think of the sounds, smells, sights, etc. Mentally picture yourself riding through the ingate, taking your first pass in front of the judge, passing the ingate with other horses entering, then coming down to the walk. Proceed on to the canter and the remainder of the class. Say the same things in your head you do on the rail, such as what you do when you make each transition. Picture yourself managing a particular problem your horse typically may have, such as needing to get more energy at the end of the class, or not breaking. As you “mentally” manage these issues, you are embedding a mental image of what to do that eventually becomes more of an automatic response than one you have to mechanically “think” yourself through. This can be a good distraction so that you are not focusing on “what ifs”….

  11. colwilrin says:


    Good advice on eating healthy! I just would like to add a reminder to drink plenty of water or gatorade. It is very easy to become dehydrated at shows, and that causes mental confusion and fatigue.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I ALWAYS drink a full bottle of gatorade before a class. I eat breakfast too, it really helps keep your energy up. And as for nerves- just have fun! I know it’s easier said than done to just relax and have a good time but just pretend there is no pressure- it’s just you and your horse out there & you’re loving every second. Sometimes I like to think of a fun song that I really like and play it in my head while I’m riding.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thank you EVERYONE for all your great tips! I’m starting to feel a *little* better about life in the big ring… No, I’m not afraid my horse will do anything wrong or blow a lead—she’s a wonderful mare. Yes, I’m well over 18 and almost eligible for the Masters classes :) I guess I’m afraid of disappointing others first and myself second because I really went out on a limb to get myself this horse earlier in the year and feel the need to succeed. I like what colwilrin said about always being able to get more toast! I will remember that…thanks!

  14. denu220 says:

    Oh, sorry, I didn’t know my moniker wouldn’t show up (blush). Thanks again…

  15. Malissa says:

    Shot of whiskey and a valium! JK!

  16. kmk93 says:

    my trainer has always told us to set a goal for each gate, the in-gate and the out-gate. it could be goals such as rate my speed, look up at the traffic in front of me, or check my horse’s headset. i have found that really helps!

  17. Em says:

    My trainer tells me that too but the annoying thing is that whenever I actually get in a class (depending on how nervous I am) I either blank out or am too concentrated on the class to remember my goals. Does anyone else get like that?

  18. Black Eye Beth says:

    I actually do the reverse… I remember my goals but forget everything else like finishing the rail, looking around me to check my position, how to back up… Maybe if we consolidated our brains we would be one heck of a rider!!

    One thing that I have noticed about myself is that I actually “key” into the voices that I know (trainers and friends) and don’t hear all the other stuff going on (sometimes the announcer-haha!)

  19. KMK93 – Are you who I think you are? Am I the trainer of whom you speak? ;-)

    I do think this trick helps a lot, and I use it regularly for my kids. KMK is generally a very relaxed rider who can really let her training take over any nerves she may have. I have another student who used to get incredibly nervous and frozen in the ring. She needs to take a very brisk 15-25 minutes walk about an hour before her class. This seems to burn off the nervous energy and help her focus when her turn comes. To make it better, her stablemate (KMK) goes with her and builds her up without being obvious about it. Having a “mentor” is helpful as well.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I’ve noticed that remembering to keep my head and eyes up in the ring really helps my confidence. I don’t know what it is but you just feel so much more in control & I think your horse feels more confident too when you are looking ahead and know where you’re going.

  21. Em says:

    I agree with anonymous. I’ve noticed that even at home looking up improves my whole posture and just makes it easier to ride. Plus is makes me less paranoid about what my horse is doing and gives him time to do his job!

  22. Em says:

    BEB, once again I think we have almost opposite problems! When I get really nervous I kind of go into a bubble, but not the kind that you want. It’s kind of like a deer in headlights sort of thing where I shut out just about everything… Except for the announcer!

  23. kmk93 says:

    you are the trainer of whom i speak, alicia! haha. i think another thing that can help everybody is to have barnmates around the ring to help with traffic. these people can just say, “you have a pack behind you,” or “you are clear for this whole rail”. i have found that this really helps, espcially in the hunter classes.

  24. anonymous says:

    Over the years I have found that getting ready in plenty of time so you are not rushed at the last minute. Getting hair and makeup done an hour or so ahead of time, making sure you have everything you need laid out. Then get dressed slowly and carefully while you think about your class. Then most importantly, sit quietly and go over your gameplan without any distractions.
    Sometimes this is hard when friends and family hover and distract you, even if they don’t mean to it is distracting.
    How do other barns handle this?

  25. colwilrin says:


    You bring up a really good point about getting ready in time. This is not only important for the rider to remain calm, but some horses as well. I have one horse who does not like to be rushed. He will feed off the anxiety of people scurrying about him. From the time he leaves the stall, we walk slowly and move calmly…as if we had all day to get to the ring. He would rather stand out in the middle of the warm-up ring watching the world go by, patiently waiting.

    OTOH, we have two others in the barn that can’t stand to wait around, and you need to time it so they go right from the ready-stall, into a warm-up just one class (or 1/2 class ahead) then zip into the ring. They don’t care if they are rushed…just don’t try to make them “patiently wait”!

    This relates to the posts on training about having a “good eye.” It is crucial to know your horse’s personality, quirks, and needs. Each Morgan has their own HUGE personality and there are minor adjustments we (as simple humans) can make to keep these equine Divas happy and performing at their best. The tricky part is figuring out just what makes your Diva tick!

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