Horse Show Nerves: The Best Strategies

Horse Show Nerves: The Best Strategies

These 22 tips will help you handle competition anxiety before and during a horse show.

showmanship exhibitor prepares to start her pattern at the AQHYA World Show (Credit: Journal)

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The amount of pressure an equestrian performs best under varies from person to person. When your nervousness exceeds your optimum levels, you lose focus and your skills suffer. Here are a few ways to manage that anxiety you feel before a horse show.

Plan Ahead

  • Make lists of the things you need to do, pack or clean before you leave.
  • Find necessary items ahead of time to avoid frantic last-minute searches.
  • Load your tack and clothes the day before so you can take a mental inventory and make sure you don’t forget anything.

Slow Down

  • Planning ahead allows you to avoid overwhelming stress and concentrate on the competition.
  • Rushing to get the horse or yourself ready only magnifies unproductive stress.


  • Working off your stress relaxes your muscles and helps you get a good night’s sleep.
  • Exercise speeds the flow of blood to your brain, allows you to think more clearly and releases endorphins into your bloodstream, giving you a sense of happiness and well-being. 


  • Use relaxation techniques at the event to help calm pre-performance jitters.
  • These will take your mind away from nervous feelings and reinforce your energy in a positive manner.
  • Tension prevents you from riding your best, so think about what part of your body becomes most tense before you perform.
  • To relieve physical tension: contract the tense muscles as tightly as possible, hold the tension for a few seconds, relax and then relax even more, to a state of complete relaxation.


  • When you’re nervous, the quality of breath you take is lower and shallower than usual.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling the tension leave your body.
  • The Sam Houston State University Counseling Center recommends thinking “I am” as you inhale and “calm” and you exhale.


  • Imagine a pleasant scene using all of your senses or imagine seeing all of your anxieties leave your body.
  • Rehearse your competition in your mind.

Friendly Faces

  • The company you keep at the event should encourage you to excel.
  • Your friends, family, trainer or whomever you socialize with can have a calming effect on your nerves or can increase your anxieties.
  • Surround yourself with encouraging, understanding individuals.


  • As the food you eat decreases in nutrition, so does the availability of nutrients that de-stress your body.
  • Eat foods low in fat and protein, and high in complex carbohydrates, like pasta, whole wheat bread and granola, for a calming effect.
  • Avoiding sugar alleviates the spike and crash of your energy level.

Use a variety of relaxation techniques in different situations and make a mental note of which ones work for you. Eventually, you will develop a pre-competition ritual that keeps nervousness from undermining your competitive edge.