The secret to conquoring show nerves
First, timing. Schedule your show while your mare is in heat. In a pinch, you can schedule it for when she is just coming out of heat—the important thing is that she be in heat while you are doing your final prep leading up to the show. You should go to bed the night before the show knowing the best you can hope for is to keep all four feet in the arena, although perhaps not on the ground at the same time.
Second, blow your warmup. I recommend bucking during every canter attempt, but anything that leaves you certain spectators will be cringing will do.
You are now ready to show.
It was amazing. I had no show nerves at all going into the ring.
To be fair to Ro here, other than throwing in some bucks at the canter, the warmup went really well. And despite the bucks, the canter in the warmup was much improved from the rides this week—still not straight and connected or anything like that, but at least moving in the right direction.
But somehow it all meant that I went into the ring completely unconcerned. Maybe because I had no illusions or expectations that we had to be perfect, since we were so clearly NOT going to be perfect? Whatever it was, I rode up the centerline confident that this was my horse, and I would be showing my horse, and whatever happened, happened.
The test was an honest reflection of where we are right now. I was underriding her just a touch, but it was so much more consistent and balanced than the tests we rode in April. She did NOT buck at the canter, and the canter was a little more balanced than the warmup canter. We were still not connected at the canter and she broke multiple times going to the right (so yay for my first “2” on a scoresheet, ever—who says judges don’t use the whole scale?!), but honestly—I was just so happy that we rode an honest test and that despite breaking neither one of us had a meltdown. We just picked up the canter again and went on.
I think we ended up with a 53% or so on that test, which was a fair score. The judge had some very nice comments (of course, my scoresheets are in my trailer, so I couldn’t tell you what those comments are right now), particularly one about the canter work just killing us, but that everything would improve as we sorted out the canter.
Incidentally, a huge shout out to schooling show judges. At both the shows I’ve been to this year, the judges have been so encouraging and made comments along the lines of “yes, you’re having this problem, but you’re on the right track, so keep working.” I think that is awesome, and I really appreciate both the honest assessment of our ride right at that moment and the encouragement to keep going forward.
I had about an hour between tests, and when I got back on Ro to warm her up again, I could tell neither one of us had much left in the tank. I decided to keep what we had left for the ring and just trotted her enough to get her moving again, then called it good.
The test was a little more inconsistent than the first test, in that Ro was definitely tapping out and would lose her balance and start rushing at points, especially during transitions. However, it was more active overall. And the canter work was better—I was less worried about bucking this time, so a little more proactive about the canter, and actually ended up tapping with the stick during the last canter a couple times when I felt like she was about to break. (I know there are people who would rather die than use their stick in the ring, but honestly—why carry it at all if you won’t use it? The judge’s comment on the rider score was “very tactful rider,” so clearly the judge was not phased by it.)
We ended up with a 56ish, I think, on this test. Again, an honest score with some nice remarks from the judge.
Overall, I am very happy with the way the day went. The biggest thing for me was the complete lack of show nerves. It was awesome to come out of the ring knowing that I’d ridden an honest test and any issues that showed up were training issues and not a result of my shutting down from nerves.
Ro was fabulous. Really, really fabulous. The canter warmup—no, not cool. I was not happy about that part of the day. But I was happy that she was all business when she went into the ring, and I think that as she gets more fit and we start focusing more on really improving the canter that is going to disappear.
Everything else, though—she handled herself so well and was so focused and responsive. I’m very, very happy with her.
With both of us, really. The only feeling that can top riding down the centerline with confidence is coming out of the ring with confidence, and we did that today.
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