I was recently at a summer show and talking to a very experienced coach who asked me if I could do a session at the barn for her riders.

“The riders get so negative the week of the event—everything around them seems to bother them and all I do is deal with emotions,” she told me.

All too often competitors get wrapped up in and worked up by social drama at shows—and get in their own way in the show ring.


Believe it or not, many forget (or never consider) the primary reason they are at the show: to enjoy their passion and have the opportunity to test their training and benchmark their personal development as riders.

A joyful equestrian experience often turns into emotional turmoil driven by uncontrollable factors like other riders, other horses, gossip, drama, distractions and yes, ribbons.

But only if you let it.

What are your horse show triggers?

Are you aware of what might be igniting emotions and why you might not be yourself at horse shows? It’s important to be tuned into what might be triggering your emotions and causing you to get caught up in the drama. Are you keyed into what’s important and what’s not important at horse shows? Are you mindful of how these emotions are impacting your performance? Are you aware of how your emotions might impact others?

The most important factor in performance and enjoyment in sport is self-awareness. A high level of self-awareness allows opportunity for confidence, focus and emotional regulation. If you understand your own emotions and how they impact you, if you know what triggers your emotions, and if you focus on what’s important and take joy in the process (as opposed to hyper focusing on results), you have the opportunity to not only perform well and enjoy the show—but to avoid all the nonsense.

Remember too that emotions can spiral. Focusing on the wrong things at a horse show can create a negative mindset. Frustrations and jealousy can quickly spiral into anger and misery.

Molehills or Mountains

So what should you be focusing on at the horse show?And how can you develop a healthier mindset so that emotional mole hills don’t become emotional mountains? Here are a few suggestions that might help you get focused in the right direction…

  1. Focus on you and your partner. You’ve done the work and prepared for the show, so keep the focus on the most important elements: you, your horse, your training, your own development and your coach’s ideas. What is going on around you with other riders and their development, coaches, parents is not important to your personal enjoyment of the sport.
  2. Be grateful for competitors. Riders often look at other riders as a threat. The truth is competitors are not your enemy—you need them! Without other riders, there would be no classes for you to enjoy the sport and test your abilities. Competitors are vitally important to your development, so be thankful for them and consider them a very positive part of your development and enjoyment as a rider.
  3. Select your crowd carefully. Find passionate, positive riders to spend time with and talk to. Riders who gossip about other riders, other horses and other coaches, and spread rumors will only distract you from what’s important and bring down the enjoyment of your equestrian experience. These people are not a valuable use of your time.
  4. Remember that horse show are events. The nature of events is that many things are going on at once, which means there are plenty of distractions. While the environment at the horse show can be fun and is meant to be enjoyed, your only focus should be what is going on with you and your partner inside the ring.
  5. Be careful of social media. Social media has its benefits, but it can also create negative feelings in others. When was the last time you saw a rider post about an elimination or 12 fault round? On social media, we only see smiles, ribbons and achievement. When other equestrians see this collection of ribbons and smiles, they question whether they are doing things right or good enough, and often question their own riding. This is a great lesson in focusing on your own equestrian experience. Everyone has ups and downs.
  6. Focus on the riding. Hopefully you ride because you love it. The emotional ups and downs of winning and losing in riding can take the fun out of it. Put the emphasis on your riding and doing it well. If you win a ribbon, great. If you don’t, take the lessons from the class, be grateful for the opportunity to ride and compete—and move to the next class.

So, think about what might trigger your emotional molehills to grow into mountains at horse shows. Are you focusing on the wrong things? The recommendations above are a good start for you to help keep those emotions in check and get you focusing on what’s truly important—enjoying the equestrian experience and reaching your own targets

About the Author

John Haime is President of New Edge Performance. A world-class Human Performance Coach, former professional athlete and current bestselling author of You are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscles to Perform Better and Achieve More, John understands how athletes think and feel. He’s been there—under the most intense pressures of amateur and professional sports. John coaches leading professional equestrians and up-and-comers with a proven system and is trusted by some of the world’s leading athletes—professional and elite amateur. See www.johnhaime.com to learn more.