Now that the New Year is in full swing, it is time to look ahead to the most wonderful time of the year … horse show season! It is likely that your horse is working hard to bring his best to the show ring for the new season, and you should be, too.
One important piece of preparing for the upcoming season is the mental aspect. While it may seem strange to non-equestrians, every rider knows that preparing mentally for show season is a critical component to success in the ring, and that attitude and planning are key to competition. Here are just a few strategies that can be used to set yourself up to achieve show ring success in 2020.
When preparing for the new show year, it is first important to take a moment and reflect upon the previous season. Look back and assess which classes resulted in the best outcomes, which classes or shows were the most challenging and evaluate the internal and external factors that played a role in both the successes and challenges. Look at the season as a whole; did you meet your goals for the season or do some of those same goals need to carry over into the new season? Also recognize the achievements of last season and determine what techniques that led to success should be carried forward into the new year.
Now that you have a clear picture of where you’ve been, it is time to draw the road map for where you want to go. Determining where you will show is part of this plan. Having a target date for the first show allows you focus on a specific point to achieve your initial goals for the season.
For exhibitor Stacy Crickenberger it is a year full of new challenges. After Louisville, Stacy sold WC CH Kentucky Proud and purchased WCC Charmed Masterpiece. The challenge of moving from a Saddlebred horse under saddle to a Hackney driving pony has been a complete change of perspective for Stacy. It has led to reflection and goal setting for the upcoming season.
“Learning to drive is teaching me to be a good listener and to process the instructions I am given,” she said. “I don’t have the lifetime of experience in driving that I had under saddle. It’s a whole new learning experience, so my goals are different, broader. This year, one of my goals is to overcome the fear of doing something completely new. I am excited for it though.”
Develop a specific long-term goal for the entire season and a list of short term goals that, when accomplished, will lead to an overall sense of success while working toward the large goal. While some of these may be performance goals achieved with your horse, some may also be mental. It is important to visualize succeeding while working physically to develop the skills, and to always focus more on what you want to do and less on what you don’t want to.
In with the good, out with the bad
The new season is an ideal time to discard any habits that are holding you back. This is the time to focus on your own success and goals. Your goals are yours and no one else’s. Avoid negativity towards yourself and don’t compare yourself to other competitors.
Tammy Whitworth, riding for Boone’s Farm and Stables in Concord, N.C., shares her own perspective.
“I’m always my own best and worst competition,” she said. “Having not grown up showing, I lack the experience of many show ring stars. I just always try to enter the ring with my game face on and ride my best ride. Sometimes, it happens; other times, it doesn’t. It’s okay, though. I always have fun with my horse and realize how very blessed I am to get to show American Saddlebreds.”
A positive outlook and determination are key components to success. Avoid situations where negativity impacts your approach to riding. If someone is having a negative effect on your preparation, address the issue directly and work to resolve it.
Focus and goal setting are very different entities. Goals are specific, measurable and attainable. They are more literal. Focus is more of a mindset. When preparing for competition, focus relates to all factors, internal and external, that have a direct effect on how you perform.
Setting your focus before the season will help you mentally navigate stress throughout the year. Learning techniques that lead to better focus is critical. For those who suffer from pre-show anxiety, it is helpful to find some relaxation techniques for calming pre-show nerves. Learning breathing and muscle relaxation techniques now can be very useful when the season is in full swing.
Tammy, who shares her love of showing with her daughter, Anna Grace, shares the following pre-show activities that help the two relax and prepare prior to entering the show ring.
“Anna Grace and I have show afternoon rituals that include naps, makeup and hair meltdowns, re-watching last show rides,” Tammy said. “Everything has to go in the same order. AG wears the same socks every time she shows. I need to get dressed and have some quiet and alone time to concentrate and mentally prepare. Also, it always helps me when Anna Grace rides before me. I still get nervous when she shows!”
While this works well for reducing the nerves of this mother-daughter pair, you can find your own routine and rituals to help provide a sense of calm before shows. Even the simplest and most basic routine can be relaxing enough to take the edge off.
If it doesn’t, it is important to remember that you can ride well even when you’re nervous. Get to know your habits. What do you do when you’re nervous? Lean forward? Tighten up on the reins? Focus on not doing those things, despite how you may feel.
So what is the best mental preparation for your show season? Cultivating an attitude and focus that is based more on performance and improvement and less on achievement. And that is something you can begin working on now, even before your first show of the year.