Stacks of books have been written about strategies for showing and a lot more on sports psychology in general, which is its own sub-science. In equestrian sports, the rider isn’t just dealing with his own demons. Many riders fail to realize how much their emotional equilibrium shifts the closer they get to a competition arena and how much that affects their horse.
Ring stewards and show secretaries can tell you. Otherwise lovely people develop the equestrian equivalent of road rage in the warm-up arena. Non-smokers suddenly crave cigarettes. Teetotalers raid the cooler at 7 a.m. Family members and friends learn to stay home or are oblivious that they’re adding to the problem by trying to “help” every way they can and are sending the rider even further up the stall wall.
Competitors need to acknowledge the emotional component of showing before they can overcome it. This is the main difference the amateur and pro competitor. Amateurs fret about trying to be perfect and not make any mistakes. The pro expects mistakes to happen and is prepared to minimize their impact.
The horse doesn’t understand why his usually sensible, balanced rider is gripping the reins more tightly, tilting farther forward and clutching his sides. Notice sometime how many riders are gasping for breath at the end of a jumping round. It’s not because of exertion — it’s because they’ve been holding their breath.
The horse reacts negatively to this tension. His shying or stopping or head tossing seems like an act of betrayal. But don’t take it personally. Your horse doesn’t share your lust for a blue ribbons. He wants his life to be straightforward and organized, and you’ve just made everything a lot more complicated.
Your equine partner needs to be a match for you emotionally. If your horse is high-strung, you need to chill out. If you’re a basket case at shows, then you need an equine partner whose mind stays on the game. Is your horse the adult, or are you the adult’ One of you has to be the adult.