How to Shed Horse Show Jitters

Anyone who has participated in horse shows knows about it: performance jitters. This is not the normal edginess most riders feel before competition, but an undermining fear that erodes confidence, turns a soft body into a rigid lump, and turns the brain into panicked mush.

It's the kind of fear where the jumper who dazzled fellow students at the schooling barn with accurate courses, topples easy rails. Where the equitation rider who maintains a nice, relaxed pace and fluid transitions at home, sits stiffly and fumbles through transitions. Where the accurate barrel racer's timing is off in the show ring and the flawless dressage rider forgets the patterns.

Fear Affects Competition

Fear of performance can knock a good rider out of the competition in two different ways.

Where do these fears come from? Why does a rider who performs well at home fall apart in competition?

"A lot of the fear in competition comes from the fear of psychological harm – the fear that we're going to embarrass ourselves or make mistakes that make us look incompetent," says Dr. Janeane Reagan, a clinical psychologist who specializes in equine sports psychology. "In some cases, these fears come from perfectionist thinking; the individual tends to expect a great deal of perfection and can't allow themselves to make mistakes. Other fear sources may be from people around us who have extreme expectations of us."

Reign in Your Fears

"When you can say, 'So what? I'll get it next time,' you will be more relaxed and confident more likely you will get that correct lead. Look at the sport as a personal challenge and decrease the emphasis on competitive goals."