What exactly is that winning look? When I was showing as a youth I remember wondering in frustration, what am I doing wrong? What is keeping me at 2nd instead of 1st?
It was only after years of showing that it finally clicked, the answer behind my consistent unsatisfying placement in the show ring. All I needed was a different state of mind. Some people come into the show world with a calm mindset, but more often than not, I find it takes us some time to get our nerve-wracked brain under control.
Yes, hard work and long hours must be put into the equation in order to get that connection and rhythm with your horse. Soon after, it starts to come together; you and your horse are performing as a team and it all feels right, at home anyway. So now the question is, are you in the right frame of mind to win? And what exactly is that frame of mind?
Recently, a judge gave my student some feedback that really made me realize it's all about what you are projecting to the judge. You can be a great person; you can be someone with a great personality who puts a lot of effort into all aspects of your life, but then, you get into the show ring and you project a completely different person. Suddenly, people are watching you and even worse, they are judging you. Suddenly there is so much pressure to do nothing but win. Suddenly, your mind and your nerves betray all you have worked for.
Have someone you aren't familiar with take a close look at you in the show ring, and ask them, 'What kind of person do you see? Can you tell that I'm nervous and scared? Do I look like I even know how to ride anymore? Or do I come off as complacent and as if I don't even care to be there?' Everyone who goes into the arena with nerves is displaying one of these personas; the terrified to be there type, or those that turn up their nose at whatever the judge places them at, pretending they weren't even trying so they can't feel failure. Both of these will paint a bad picture to the judge.
Take an honest look at yourself and don't be offended by the answer. Learn from it! Ask other competitors and champions, what have they done to help the nerves go away?
It can be scary when you are put on display, but for those nervous type out there, remember that most people are too busy worrying about their own issues to worry about yours! Everyone is on the same page when you're in the arena, they are all just trying to complete their own performance as best they can. Take it all into perspective, is this really any different than riding in a group at home? To your horse it isn't, except for the anxious rider on top of him. Remember to breathe!
I for one was the overcompensating type, hiding all insecurities behind a slightly arrogant, nonchalant facade. I found out later that this held me back in more than one area in my life! I found the biggest thing that finally clicked with me was realizing who I was really showing for. The answer for me was, I was showing for me! Because I love working with a horse in a partnership, both of us working toward the same goal. And I loved the people I had a common interest with! The best part at a show is being able to show off what you and your horse can do together, while at the same time being able to spend time with friends and wonderful horse people in between classes! Judges are all different, you can't change their opinions and you can't predict them. It's pointless to worry about one person's ranking of you from one class they saw. All you can do is follow the official rules of the class and show your horse off to the best of his or her ability. And be proud of you and your partner no matter how you placed, so long as the two of you performed your best together. When I finally relaxed and took it all in stride, that was when I started winning. So enjoy the ride and have fun out there!