Horse-Showing Psychology

Concentrate on the moment to create overall success.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

During a reining run, a dramatic sliding stop followed by a blur of spins and gorgeous circles leaves you watching in awe. Journal photo.

Early in my career as a cutting-horse trainer, I noticed special showmen. Certain people consistently qualified average horses for the final. They regularly collected big checks. Other competitors would show an outstanding horse and fumble. I was intrigued to understand the differences.

In my own experience, some days I showed a horse to his potential. I helped him when circumstances threatened to expose our weaknesses. I asked for more when opportunities arose to maximize his strengths. Other days, if I concentrated on something going wrong, that’s all I could think about. The rest of the run fell apart.

I now realize the essence of a magnificent performance. It is a series of beautifully interwoven moves that set it apart from the “also rans.” It’s an evolving masterpiece as one maneuver flows into the next.

During a reining run, a dramatic sliding stop followed by a blur of spins and gorgeous circles leaves you watching in awe. In a cutting run, precise, deep stops and expression mesmerize.

In the AQHA FREE report Laminitis Treatment, you’ll hear a first-hand story about how Dr.  Micheal Steward’s technique took a critically ill horse and gave him renewed life.

Great riders and great horses lure us into thinking that they have achieved supernatural performance levels. As perfectionists, we turn green with envy. We would pay anything to make that ride.

The perfect horse with the perfect rider is an illusion. Below the surface of our visual perception lie two top performance secrets. The first is the rider’s ability to remain focused in the moment. He or she is not worrying about what almost happened, what just happened or what might happen. The rider is mentally centered in the millisecond at hand and nowhere else.

The second secret is a rider’s ability to respond to the horse from moment to moment and make appropriate adjustments. A sensitive feel of what a horse is about to do right or wrong and then changing seat or leg cues, for example, are the little things that make a ride appear perfect.

If moment-to-moment focus and minute adjustments are the goals, we need strategies to achieve them. Here are some suggestions:

  • Let go of the fear of exposing your horse’s weaknesses. Every horse has his its less-than-perfect aspects. Instead, it’s your job to help him through difficult situations. Enjoy being flexible and responsive to the moment. Take pride in overcoming obstacles. Instead of being immobilized by problems, you’ll shine when everyone else is complaining.

  • Remain in the moment by saying to yourself, “No problem” when you or your horse makes an error. When you say, “No problem,” you release yourself from replaying the negative action repeatedly in your head. You will focus on what’s going on at that time. This simple phrase is one of the most powerful performance tools used by world-class and Olympic athletes. It’s a basic tenant of the “mentally tough” philosophy.

  • Do your homework prior to the competition. Mentally practice how to ride your horse effectively through his weak areas. Do mental visualizations with confidence and eliminate anxiety. Rehearse in your mind how to handle a situation if it arises. If you have your weak areas covered, you will show with confidence because you have nothing to fear.

Learn about one of the treatments for laminitis, the wooden rocking horseshoe, in AQHA’s FREE report Laminitis Treatment.

  • No matter how bad it gets, never show any weakness in your facial expression or in your body language. If you can’t get the arena floor to open up so you can drop out of sight, then act like nothing ever happened. You may not win or place this time, but you’ve practiced mental and physical control for another show when an error might be small and you need to help your horse.

Becoming a great competitor is a learned art. Stay cool, focused in the moment and responsive to your horse. Although magnificent rides appear larger than life, it’s the little things you do second by second that will take you there.