Horse shows are fun, exciting and challenging tests of our skills and knowledge. Yet, if given the chance, those same positives can be reversed, and the show can become stressful and complicated with long lasting negative effects. But fear not. There are well-proven strategies to managing the stress for you and your horse at a show.
First, know the energy of the venue. Some are very intense and kinetic. Since horses are energetically sensitive, the potency of the energy needs to be part of your formula for ensuring a successful show. I was at a show venue that was next to a shooting range and train tracks. The layout was wide open and the wind was blasting. Take a moment to feel what that kind of energy does to you and possibly to your horse. This can make your horse spooky, restless and super distracted. And then imagine the impact this atmosphere will have on your ride.
If you and your horse are having a hard time at the show, dial yourself down and take your time. I see people over and over get mad at their horses because they’re ‘being bad,’ ‘won’t listen,’ ‘won’t go near a fence.’ Take time to show your horse the grounds. It’s in their nature as fight or flight animals to constantly surveying their surroundings. Let him. For example, I had a horse who was super afraid of a huge tower of bagged shavings. The sun glistened off the white plastic and the clear plastic surrounding the whole tower flapped in the wind. I kept my energy quiet, non-reactive and grounded. My horse and I would walk towards the tower until he stopped to map the tower. I would stand and simply wait till I could feel his energy soften or he walked towards the tower on his own. We did this same pattern until we were next to the tower and he was smelling it on his own. After that, he never spooked at it again.
Take more time in the beginning so you can succeed more later.
Secondly, remember that the world is full of distractions, especially a horse show. Tractors, water trucks, trainers coaching, horses everywhere and riders and spectators walking and running every which way. It takes time and practice to learn how to stay focused and grounded amidst the goings-on of a show. Usually riders have to attend many shows before they truly are able to focus at it. I know a few stables that have new riders attend shows with them, but not show. They come along to just help and familiarize themselves with the atmosphere and flow of a show.
Once a rider and a horse become familiar with shows, only then do they have the ability to focus on their ride. Otherwise, they are completely overwhelmed and literally can’t focus well enough to be effective.
Communication and compassion also are tools to surviving horse shows. Communicate to your trainer and friends how you are feeling and what you need. Have compassion for yourself, your horse and for your fellow attendees.
As hard as showing is, there is no right way to survive a show or manage stress. You have to find your own, personal way. You have to know your horse and help them succeed. Every rider and horse react differently to stress and nerves, and for that reason, the management of stress is individual. Keep seeking to understand what’s best for you and your horse.
Some riders become quiet and shut down; some get more kinetic and rowdier. Notice which one you are and create something to do or focus on when this happens. Horses have their own way as well. Some pace the stall. Some hide in the corner and don’t eat. Notice what your horse does and help them. Take them for walks around the show with another horse. Let them stand and watch the horses warming up or showing. Study what works and what doesn’t and why. Do this and you will reach the point where the stress is less and the enjoyment so much more for both you and your horse.