Handling Horse-Showing Nerves

Tips for managing your pre-competition jitters.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Don’t let nerves get the best of you in the horse-showing arena. Journal photo

The amount of pressure you perform 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 an event.

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. 

Endorphins are natural pain and stress fighters, and exercise releases them. AQHA's Fit to Ride e-book is packed with several workout regimens tailored just for equestrians.


  • 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.

Part of the key to winning is a positive mindset: Think like a winner, train like a winner, be a winner. Fitness is a crucial component, and AQHA’s Fit to Ride e-book offers 29 pages to show you how. 


  • 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.