Almost all of us have been involved in some type of competition. Whether it be in sports, or just hobbies, we have all experienced what it’s like to want to win, and most likely, what it feels like to lose. Most successful athletes would tell you that those losses are what taught them the most. Equine sports are no different. No matter how hard the loss feels at the time, it’s important to remember that you can only grow when you remain open to learning. This is why you’ll hear a lot of trainers and competitors tell you to always buy the video.
It doesn’t matter how poor your class went, how many barrels you hit, or even if your horse just flat out ran off with you, take time to watch that video and analyze every part of it. Does your horse normally walk in the pen calmly with a relaxed expression, but this time, they seemed nervous, sweaty or out of sorts? What happened earlier? Can you pinpoint anything about the warm up that was different than normal? Maybe you were stalled in a busy area, or visa versa, your horse couldn’t see any friends and got upset. Even something as simple as a change in feed, temperature, or the footing in the arena can change how your horse responds. Learn to notice these subtle changes in your horses’ behavior, and find out what you can do to help them adjust. One of the simplest things you can do to try to address some of these issues is to school or exhibition your horse at different locations. Exposing your horse to different conditions, and allowing them to become comfortable with the constant change can drastically help your experience when it comes time to show. Also, always have a few things that are consistent with your warm up, something your horse can rely on to stay the same.
Pre-race stretches, icing your horse’s legs, and any other preventative treatments you can give your horse are also great for their performance! Many show venues, especially the larger ones, will have someone set up offering the Nautilus Saltwater Spa! You want them to feel just as relaxed at a show as they do at home. If you do need to change their feed program, be sure to do so gradually, over a week or two so the horse has time to adjust and so you can see how the different feed may affect them. Don't wait until you get to the show to change their feed if at all possible. Having your veterinarian check your horse for ulcers may beneficial if you notice shows are overly stressful or they go off their feed.
Don’t forgot to check in on yourself as well! How were you feeling? Maybe work had you stressed more than normal, or you had an argument with your spouse. Granted, you can’t stop life events from happening, but you can learn how to channel it and turn it in to something positive time! Treat yourself just like you do your horse and make sure you are comfortable riding in different arenas, with different amounts of people. Riding in a warm up pen that is jam packed and chaotic can be intimidating, and in some cases, unsafe. If you become nervous, stressed or concerned in the pen, believe me, your horse is going to feel that!
You may just need to take a few minutes to walk out of the pen and try some deep breathing exercises, maybe even dismount and do a little stretching yourself. Anything that will help you relax and bring the focus back to just you and your horse. If nerves are something that get to you on a regular basis at the show, a great suggestion is to try a yoga class! Add this to your morning routine before a competition and reap all the benefits it has to offer. Grab a healthy breakfast on show day so you feel your best. Another great tip is to plan ahead! If you have a show outfit, set it out the night before, get your tack clean and inspect it for any problems before you load up. Little things like that can help prevent the frustration that comes with a cinch snapping when you’re 5 minutes away from competing, or when traffic is busy and you get to the show a little later than you expected.
When you get done watching that video of the bad run, be sure to go back and watch one of the great ones too and remind yourself of that feeling you got when you beat your personal best time, got through a pattern without any faults, or just felt down right good about how things went. That is the feeling you should aim for every time! It isn’t always about that blue ribbon, it’s about growing and improving each time you compete and truly enjoying your time. Being in the horse industry takes time, dedication and most of all, PASSION! Take the time to enjoy all those moments at the horse show- win, loss or just down right disaster, they will all contribute to your success.
Now go buy that video!