10 Tips for Championship-Show Competitors

It’s important to keep things in perspective when competing at a championship horse show.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

The most important achievement in any judged event has to be your performance and your horse’s performance – a personal best. Journal photo.

Championship show season is upon us, starting July 31 with the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show. Whether you’re competing in Oklahoma City this week or at another big show this fall, it begs the question, what does it take to see success at that level?

  1. Remember that the perfect horse with the perfect rider is an illusion. Below the surface of our visual perception lie two top performance secrets. The first is the rider’s ability to remain focused in the moment. The second secret is a rider’s ability to respond to the horse from moment to moment and make appropriate adjustments.
  2. If you aspire to be a world-class competitor, you have to think of yourself as an athlete. It’s really no different than a skater or gymnast. You have to be healthy, get enough sleep, eat right and feel good.
  3. Set realistic goals. First, take a good long look at your horse – and set your target accordingly. Generally, any individual can grow into a good exhibitor, but, as most professional will tell you, you need a caliber of horse that is going to be capable of doing what the exhibitor wants to do with it.
  4. Think objectively. As a competitor, you should be able to say, “I know exactly what happened there – I missed the cone or I was a stride late.” But also be able to look at your competitors and appreciate their performances. For instance, “Wow, she nailed it. She should have won it. I have to raise the bar for myself.” Really, it’s about developing the right kind of professional attitude.
  5. Leave your stress and nerves at the barn. Compete with optimism! If you give off any negative energy, your horse will know and tense up during the class. Turn phrases like “I’ll try” or “What if” into “I will” or “My horse will do well.”
  6. Keep in mind that you have a teammate. Sometimes all of the stress of horse-showing is transferred to your horse. When that happens, it will show up in your performance, making it hard to be the harmonious team that you need to be in the show pen.
  7. Know that everyone trying to improve their riding can benefit from applying sports psychology. Sports psychology is mental training: Just as athletes go through physical training, and people put their horses through specific training, you can train your mind to perform at its best.
  8. Horse shows should be about fun. Going to a horse show with a must-win attitude isn’t a winner. Remember, horse shows are about creating friendships with other exhibitors and sharing the entire experience, too.
  9. It’s about you and your horse. The most important achievement in any judged event has to be your performance and your horse’s performance – a personal best. Always respect your horse, and never sacrifice him for the performance.
  10. Remember, every champion was once an unknown. And every champion was once nervous about going up against really tough competition. How they overcome it is by doing the best job that they’re capable of and concentrating on their own performance – not on the competition.

Click the links above to read more on each topic.