Here is a great article by #TeamDiO Member Cara Oprea! She shares her insights into the best ways to prepare mentally for your next event.
Mentally Preparing For a Competition Weekend.
The competition atmosphere can be completely different than the normal day-to-dayhacking and training you and your horse do at home. There's a several different sights,sounds, smells, and activity for your horse to get used to in a short amount of time.Sometimes these variables can affect riders even more so than our equine teammates. Asyou get more experienced and familiar with the competition atmosphere nerves may fadeaway and become less prominent or they may not be a problem for some individuals at all.For those riders who do get the competition jitters, these are some tips I’ve found over theyears to help you and your horse stay calm and focused when you enter the show ring.
1. Have a good grasp on your horse’s normal behaviors and routines before you set foot at ashow.
It's always a very good idea to be familiar with your horse and how they normally behave bothin everyday and in stressful situations. Knowing their behavior before you go off property canhelp anticipate how they may or may not act in a busy show atmosphere. Is your horse easilyspooked? Is he more up and excited or nervous when you ride in a different ring or outdoors?How does he interact when the arena is busy at home or with other horses he is not familiarwith? Horses are still independent spirits and we can never one-hundred-per-cent predict whatthey will do but having a good relationship and trust with your horse may help anticipate howthey will behave in different environments and help contain some nervous behavior.
2. If you are unsure how your horse may act at a show, arrive early.
Whether your teammate is a seasoned show horse or has never set foot off property it is agood idea to allow plenty of time to familiarize yourselves with the show grounds for thefirst several shows together. Many shows offer early trailer-ins before the main competitionbegins and If you are able to go a day or so early, do so. This will give you the chance toobserve how your horse behaves and interacts with you away from home and whether ornot he displays any signs of nervousness or anxiousness. Get him unloaded and set up in hisnew stall with plenty of water and hay from home to help keep him occupied and calm whileyou set up your barn area. Walk around the show grounds with him before hacking if heseems nervous and give him the chance to take in all the new sights and sounds. Use yourhack time to let him become familiarized with the schooling area and the show rings/jumpsas much as possible. Be attentive and listen to what he is saying, is he spooky or has hesettled in comfortably? Does he shy away at any particular thing in the arena or is he notfazed? Do the sounds and commotion seem to make him anxious? One possible solution tohelp desensitize your horse is the use of earplugs. The loudspeakers, crowds, other horseswalking by a riding, and general commotion of a show can all add up and be distracting to agreen or nervous horse; earplugs may help drown out these distractions and help your horsefocus on you more.
3. Know yourself and know how you react under stress at competition.
Whether you are a novice rider or a season competitor, the competition atmosphereimmerses us in a completely different environment than the comfort of our home barn andtakes away much of the familiarity of our routines at home. Developing a comfortable,familiar routine before, during, and after the competition can help ease nervousness andhelp make the atmosphere more like home. For myself personally, I make sure all my tack forboth myself and my horse is cleaned and ready to go before I ever leave for the show. This isone less thing I have to worry about before I ride and it lets me focus more on thecompetition in front of me. I always try to give myself plenty of time to get ready so I'm notrushing and have plenty of time to warm up before I head into the competition ring. Mylargest focus is getting prepared for my jumper courses and remembering my coursesthroughout the weekend. One of the first things I do when arriving at a show for the day isgo up to the show ring and study my course. I save a picture of it on my smartphone andwalk the course when possible. If not I am not able to walk the course I mentally go over it inmy head again and again and picture where I want to make my turns and how I am going tomake the strides in the various lines. I always learn one course at a time and only focus onhow I am going to ride that particular course to avoid confusion and distractions whilecompeting.
4 . Remember why you're showing in the first place.
Yes competitions can bring out a lot of nerves but it should be fun above all. You and yourhorse may have trained and put in the hard work at home to show what you can dotogether. I always try to remember that at the end of the day it's just the two of youtogether in the ring and it should be an enjoyable, bonding time. Whether you have a blueribbon round or knock every jump down, there's always opportunity to learn and grow frommistakes.