This year, I am showing a friend's extremely talented horse. That is even more pressure, because I want to do well for them, and help them achieve their big dreams (Go Team Rocky!) So recently, that inner gremlin has been chattering and questioning my ability to be a good enough rider to do justice for this amazing horse that I am getting the opportunity to show.
I'll admit, in the past I have responded to this critical voice by over schooling. It is like the teenage version of me comes out, that when I was told I couldn't do something, I just had to do it anyway and prove them wrong. I wasn't even aware that I did this until a few years ago when I was preparing for the Foundation World Show. I asked my husband if he wanted to ride with me, and he said, "Absolutely not. You are no fun to ride with when you are getting ready for a show. You nitpick your horse and everyone ends up cranky." It was a harsh piece of constructive criticism to hear, but sometimes it takes brutal honesty from someone you love to realize you need to make a change.
As I've grown as a rider, competitor, and horsewoman, and as I've studied personal performance and mental skills, I've gotten more self-aware. When I start feeling pressure, I notice it. I label it. I question the critical gremlin voice. When the gremlin says, "That trail pattern is really challenging, especially that back through obstacles. You're totally going to chip those poles, you can't do that," I question it. Is what the gremlin is saying really true? If it is true, what can I do about it?
Yes, the trail pattern is really challenging. However, all of the obstacles are things that we have done before. I also can use my practice time to focus on the more challenging obstacles.
I use these questions to guide my show preparation, to polish up areas that need some finesse, without over-schooling or drilling. This allows me to be the much more efficient with my practice rides, and avoid over schooling. In this case, I use my practice time to focus on the challenging obstacles, which proves the gremlin wrong, and builds up confidence!
I also do lots of preparation off the horse. One of my biggest show pen fears is forgetting my pattern, so I spend a lot of time visualizing. I print the patterns, and I have a set of highlighters that I use to mark them up, noting key transitions and maneuvers. I pick places in the pattern where I will pause and breathe. Most big horse show venues have websites with photos of the show arenas, so I find them online. I look at video of similar classes in the arena I will be showing in. Some even have virtual tours, so you can get a feel for what it is like in the show pen! I use all of these tools to visualize the pattern, riding every stride over and over and over in my head.
When I get to the show, I take time to scope out the grounds. I pick out banners in the arena and other focal points. I find time to sit quietly in the stands with my marked up pattern in hand. I ride the pattern in my mind, noting that I will make that downward transition as we pass the Purina banner, and ride straight towards the John Deere banner on the extended trot, and so on. If I get the chance to do a walk through, you bet I'll be taking it! I might look a little funny with my color coded, highlighted pattern, but hey, it works for me!
I'm also lucky to have access to other horses to ride, so I will practice the patterns and maneuvers on them as well. Breezy (my Quarter Horse gelding) has gotten to practice a lot of Appaloosa Ranch Riding, Trail, and Reining patterns this year, and he's also been my practice horse for Saddle Seat!
When that inner gremlin gets really loud, I reframe those critical self-doubts. I know that I am feeling pressure because showing is important to me. I want to do well. I want to be an excellent rider, to show to the best of my ability. I reframe this feeling of pressure into a good sign! This pressure is what will motivate me to do my best. It is a privilege to feel this pressure, and to get to show at this level, and I am grateful for the opportunity.
How about you? Do you experience pre-show jitters? What works for you to quiet that inner gremlin? I'd love to hear from you-leave a comment below!