by American Stalls March 30, 2022
One thing I struggled with as a young rider was performance anxiety, more commonly referred to as, “stage fright”. And in this case, the show ring was my “stage”. Stage fright is basically anxiety and panic that’s induced by the thought of the performance itself. People that suffer from either of these, often worry about failing the task before it has even begun. It took me a long time to be able to enter the ring with confidence, and I owe this in large part to walking the walk.
Everyone has nerves. Rest assured, even the top riders you know and love, have nerves too. But what sets them apart from those of us that feel overwhelmed by these tendencies to feel anxious? Is it that you are fearful that you’ll forget your course? Are you afraid of making a spectacle of yourself in front of an unfamiliar audience? Perhaps you don’t understand how to walk a course? Have you had a bad fall that seems to haunt you? The show atmosphere can be a lot to take in, especially if you’ve never been to one. All of these worries are valid, and at the end of the day nerves aren’t a bad thing, they just mean you care. But if you can master the “walk”, I think you’d be surprised at the confidence this alone will give you.
I’m going to break down a few of the biggest takeaways I have learned after years of showing that help to bolster my confidence while in the midst of a competition.
Your why. Why do you want to horse show? If you find your answer revolving around fitting in with what everyone else is doing, or wanting to prove someone wrong or you are simply chasing ribbons and clout, then you need to spend some time on this point. As equestrians, it’s evident that we love our horses, we love to ride and we live for the adrenaline rush in one way or another. It should not be about proving something to the spectators. Nor should it be to please your social media followers. Clear your mind of the idea that it’s for the ribbons and titles. The focus should be about using each show as an opportunity to learn and grow as a rider and horseman. If you make this your purpose for showing, then the rest will come in due time.
Now, let’s get down to business. Courses. This is where walking the walk truly comes into play. If you want to horse show, you’ll be faced with many courses and many challenges. But before we get to the shows, let’s take a look at how we prepare at home. Let’s say you come out to the barn for your weekly ride and the course is already set. Some might think this is a blessing to be spared from lugging around the heavy standards and poles. But in reality, knowing how to set up a course is one of the most important things you will ever learn. It’s right up there with learning diagonals. It’s essential. Next time your trainer sets a course, ask if you can help. That’s right! Volunteer to do some hard work. I promise you the benefit will far outweigh the work, even if you walk out of the ring with a few extra splinters on your hands.
Walk the walk! Why is learning how to set and walk a course so essential? Learning the basic fundamental principals of setting a course will help you to learn what a “stride” is. If you want to be able to tackle something on horseback, I first suggest you understand it from the ground.
The average horse has a 12-foot stride. In comparison, one horse stride is equal to four human steps. A horses take off and landing stride measures as two human steps or six feet. So if you want to set a one stride line, you would walk 2 steps for take off, 4 steps for a stride, and another 2 steps for take off. The distance between the two jumps will be about ~24 feet. Now, I don’t know about you, but I never thought I would have to use math to be able to jump a horse, but there it is.
We walk our own stride to be able to convert those steps to horse strides. It’s kind of like goldilocks and the three bears (too hot, too cold, just right). Stay with me here…If we are lucky, the lines are “just right”, or “normal”. Some might be “long”. And some will be “short”. The reason walking a course is so important is that it helps give you a sense of how much ground your horse will cover in one stride. Once you know that, you can assist your horse better depending on if they have a short stride, a normal stride, or a big stride. Essentially, this is how you determine if the line is a “woah”, a “go”, or a “flow” for your horse. It’s a nice little rhyme, but even handier when you understand the terminology.
Now that you understand how to walk a line and access your horses stride, let’s talk about the other factors you’ll need to keep in mind as you walk the walk. How will you enter the ring? What lead will you come off of to approach jump one? If you compete in the jumpers, where are your start and end timers? Occasionally, you may have the option of a handy turn or a rollback. Will you be conservative and take the “outside” turn? Or will you take the daring “inside” turn? The course walk is your opportunity to gauge what turns, approaches, pace and strides will best suit your horse. If you are aware of what awaits your horse, then you will be prepared to guide your horse and avoid needless errors.
One of my favorite things to do to prepare for a show is to simulate the horse show at home. For instance, if you are going to show in the jumpers, maybe you will practice how you enter the ring, or how you will use your time before the buzzer sounds. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Naturally, if we have a weakness, this leaves room for fears to take hold.
So how can you make your weaknesses a thing of the past? Maybe you lose track of where you are in a line? Maybe you struggle particularly with a bending line set on a half stride? Maybe it’s a one stride combination. It could even be something as simple as a long approach down to an oxer, or the jump with a liver-pool underneath it. The take away here is that the more you practice at home, the better prepared you will feel at the show because it won’t feel “new”. Knowledge and being prepared are the keys to confidence and success. And this is why taking the time to properly do the course walk is essential.
As equestrian rob you of something that is meant to be enjoyed. Set yourself up for success. Show smaller, school larger. Just because you jump a bit bigger at home, doesn’t mean you should jump that big at a show. Slow and steady wins the race. Take your time moving up. Enter in a class lower than what you normally school at a home, and you will feel overly prepared. This is how you will build on your many layers of confidence. After all, it’s called walking the walk, not sprinting a marathon.
Lastly, establish your routine. Organization, preparation, and routines are the key elements to harnessing your worries, and building your confidence. If you don’t know where to begin, here’s what I like to do:
This blog post was authored by our client, Melina Poole-Minnillo, who operates MPM Sport Horses.
Melina & MPM Sport Horses specialize in jumpers, hunters & equitation. MPM emphasizes a solid foundation and the understanding of proper horse care, flat work and the mechanics behind riding for any discipline. Melina values instilling the importance of fundamentals, having fun and training a positive mindset while advancing her students to their fullest potential. Melina takes great pride in going above and beyond to provide the absolute best feed and care for her equine partners, and a positive environment for all riders.
In addition to becoming a riding instructor, Melina spends her time finding quality import prospects to bring to the United States to further their development and pair with their perfect rider. MPM Sport Horses proudly also work with fellow professionals in the sales, exercise, care and training, and development of quality hunter/jumper horses in the area.