Set goals for each competition and the show season. Identify why you are competing. Do you want the accolades? The ribbons? The feedback from judges? To help you assess your training? Are you there for the social group? The comradery of hanging out at the showgrounds and supporting your fellow competitors? Are you striving for a specific award or recognition? There are lots of reasons to compete and you may be doing it for all of them or have a single goal. Once you identify your goals, you need to figure out the actions you will take to reach your goals. Identifying your goals and actions, will enable you to measure your own success at the end of each individual competition and the show season
My goal this competition season was to simply gain show experience to improve my ability to ride a test well in the show setting. I tend to get more tense than usual at shows, which inhibits my ability to focus, ride effectively, and enjoy the experience. Tension is not necessarily a result of just being in a show setting. Stress from different sources can contribute to overall tension. I identified my stressors as not just worrying about the usual things like forgetting my test, but also show expenses, the commitment of time (since I am a single mother), and placing too much importance on my performance riding one test, on one day, at one moment in time.
I went to 6 shows, recognized competitions and one schooling show. In order to help reduce my stressors, I went to shows where I could trailer-in for the day, which kept my expenses down and enabled me to have the rest of the weekend to spend with my daughters. The increased frequency of showing helped me put my single performances into perspective. I did not invite friends to come and watch me, so I did not have to worry about an audience. I incorporated a quiet walk time for my horse and me before my coach started our main warm-up. This allowed vital time to quiet my brain, stretch my body, and enjoy being on my horse. When test movements looked like a jumble in my brain, I had my coach read for me and did not worry about what other spectators or competitors might think about a 4th level rider not knowing her test. I was not perfectly capable of flawlessly riding every movement in my test, but I did not let that worry me because my goal was not to ride perfectly, but to gain show experience and to work on riding effectively. Mentally that meant I treated my test like I was riding a lesson at home, practicing my movements and simply trying to execute them as well as I could.
Pre-show week I had lessons and relaxation rides built into the schedule. By the end of the summer, we (myself, my partner, and for most of my shows, one of my daughters) had the routine down: the 5:30 wake up alarm, snacks and water bottles packed, to the barn to clean off the inevitable manure stains on my horse, hook up the trailer, and head out for the show grounds by 7:00 for an early morning ride time, back to the barn to unpack, put Universo in his paddock for turn-out the rest of the day, and time for ice cream on the way home.
I share this with you as an example of how goals and putting concrete actions into place can have a positive effect on your show experience. One of my favorite moments prior to going in the show ring came about accidently. It was early morning, and I stood on the mounting block braiding my horse’s mane in the sunlight shafts through the pines, my partner quietly held and scratched my horse’s head, and I realized that deep inside me, the world felt in balance – and I was happy.
May you find the balance that brings you happiness as you compete with your horse.