Preparing for a New Horse Show
The Plaid Horse, April 2015

By Tonya Johnston, MA

It doesn’t matter how long you have been riding and competing, arriving at a new horse show venue is always exciting! Recently I had the good fortune of traveling for the first time to the fantastic Pin Oak Charity Horse Show for one day, to ride in one class, in Katy, Texas. Since I help riders become mentally prepared to show, it was also a great opportunity to practice what I teach—specifically how to support yourself when you are heading into a completely new setting.

Mental Preparation Tips for a New Horse Show Venue

  • Research the venue and visualize yourself there: Luckily it is easy to research specific horse shows on YouTube or Facebook so you can get a great idea of what to expect before you arrive. For example, once you find some classes in a division similar to yours on YouTube, give yourself virtual practice by drawing out one or two courses and then visualize yourself riding your specific course plan as if you were there.
  • Smart observation: Once you arrive, be sure to give yourself some time to watch the rings. Instead of focusing on your competitors, pay attention to how you will handle, and help your horse handle, the things you see. Things like: the dimensions of the warm-up rings, the environment around the show rings and the back gate areas. Plan solutions to any specific challenges you notice based on your needs and your horse’s routine so you avoid being caught off-guard as much as possible.
  • Take your favorites with you: At a new show you never know if they will have your favorite staples. It is very comforting to have your preferred oatmeal, protein bars, tea, or bedtime snack packed and available with you in your hotel room or your backpack at the show. Music playlists are another great tool for creating your mood and attitude for the day. Wearing headphones in order to listen your best-loved songs can help you find your comfort zone anywhere you compete.
  • Spend quality time with your horse: The special bond you have with your horse and the talents you share as a team are things that travel with you anywhere in the world. Spend some low-key, quiet time with your horse to feel grounded and refresh your belief in your capabilities together. If you are riding an unfamiliar horse at a school-based competition, you can still mentally review your strengths and talents to remind yourself that they come with you onto any horse you draw that day.

So, if you’re going to a horse show that’s new to you like IEA National Finals, IHSA or NCEA Championships, or a big summer circuit, have fun—and prepare to bring your best to the ring!

Tonya Johnston, MA, is an equestrian mental skills coach with a master’s degree in sport psychology. Tonya’s “Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills for Being Happy and Successful with Your Horse” is available on Tonya works with clients and offers clinics all over the country. Connect with Tonya 510.418.3664 ~