proequest.jpgAppeared on, January 2016
By Tonya Johnston, MA

Your potential buyers just called from the airport to say they are on their way. You may be at a horse show or at your barn at home, but either way you have everything lined up and in tip-top shape. Though you never know exactly how it will go, you are excited for them to arrive. Oh wait, there it was again—was that actually excitement? Or did you just tighten your stomach and clench your teeth? You have a lot at stake with this deal, so there is a good chance your optimistic outlook is accidentally morphing into negative feelings of pressure as you wait for them to arrive.

There is an aspect of performance in selling horses that can create an underlying (and understandable) sense of anxiety. For example, unlike at a new-car dealership, your horse may not start up or perform exactly the same way on any given day. In addition, when you are competing your sale horse at a show with buyers watching the color of the ribbon you win (or do not win) can potentially influence the process.

So, what can you do to help yourself be effective? Even with all of your skills and experience, it is helpful to review some strategies for handling the pressure of showing your horse to potential buyers.

  1. Be organized: It doesn’t matter how big an operation you have or are associated with, it is likely that you have an extra-long to-do list on days you are showing horses to potential buyers. Due to these added tasks, tricky time management issues can create feelings of pressure and anxiety. These feelings can in turn generate a stress response that adds the chemical cortisol to the body, creating (among other unwanted things) fuzzy thinking—not your best bet for a successful day.
    What can you do to avoid feeling over-loaded and frazzled? Start the day with a realistic plan to help you feel more in control and grounded—which will in turn reduce your stress level. Pay special attention to how your regular commitments may be affected by your guests so you can delegate chores if necessary/possible, or communicate ahead of time about potential conflicts. Writing things down can also help you analyze the day and take into account the regular and special tasks you anticipate.
  2. Be flexible: As we all know, even with the best of intentions things may go slightly sideways with regards to the day’s organizational flow. Make a conscious choice to let go of the small stuff (they couldn’t find a Starbucks, you had nine phone calls that morning, there was traffic, etc.) and remind yourself that you can only control the controllable. Your ability to make graceful and timely adjustments to your organization will help you keep an eye on the big picture—an excellent experience for all involved—instead of getting stuck in a negative, frustrated reaction.
  3. Maintain a positive attitude: It may be the first time you have shown this horse to buyers or the sixth, but your enthusiasm and energy is key. Your positive attitude will influence your communication skills, effectiveness in the saddle, energy level—and so many other things. If you need an extra boost of positive energy, try putting yourself in your buyers’ shoes to appreciate the excitement of the occasion. Remember that they want to like the horse and are filled with hope that it will meet their needs.
  4. Appreciate and enjoy your horse: Keep your focus squarely on what you appreciate about the horse you are selling as you get started. Any fear about his or her shortcomings will only be a distraction. Does your horse have a lovely balanced trot but an average canter? A pessimistic attitude about the canter will affect your riding negatively, and may even impact the things you do love (and want others to love) about the horse. Focus on your horse’s good points as you ride in front of buyers, so that you are sure to communicate happiness to whoever is watching as well as (most importantly) your horse. A smile, a pat on the neck, overall relaxation during the demonstration ride—all of these contain information that will create an upbeat, happy atmosphere.
  1. Focus on the process, not the outcome: Just as we balance outcome goals in the show ring (like winning the class) with performance goals (such as straightness or balanced lead changes) focus on the process in front of buyers as well. Even though selling the horse is the outcome goal, make an effort to also have a performance-oriented definition of success. Keep your thoughts simple and concentrate on a goal or two that will help your horse do their best. For example, is this horse a lazy type who needs to be kept active? Reminding yourself to keep him in front of your leg at the ends of the ring will help you stay in the moment and ride effectively.
    You can also lessen the pressure you feel by looking at the long-range view. Is this the last horse you ever hope to sell? Probably not. Is this the end-all-be-all ride of your life? No. Each experience you have is part of the process of becoming a more skilled and well-rounded horseperson. Each time you represent yourself and your horse the experience is beneficial to your overall growth; appreciate it as such.
  2. Be kind: This begins with how you talk to yourself. If you start your day with, “This has to go well. I really need to sell this horse now. Ugh! There’s so much going on today, it’s probably going to be a mess.” You are setting up a pressure-filled and threatening environment for yourself. Instead, talk to yourself like you are reading a script you wrote for your best friend. “We are prepared and I am doing my best. I am looking forward to showing off my horse’s strengths.” Showing kindness to your team, your buyers, your horse and yourself will create the kind of atmosphere that lifts everyone’s spirits and creates wonderful, high-quality experiences.

Tonya Johnston, MA is an equestrian mental skills coach and an A-circuit competitor with a master’s degree in sport psychology. She is author of, “Inside Your Ride: Mental Skills for Being Happy and Successful with Your Horse” and has a regular column in Practical Horseman magazine. Tonya can be reached through her website or on Facebook at