It might have been one of the scarier moments of my youthful horse show career. I had grossly misjudged the amount of time the class before mine would take, and I suddenly found myself with just 10 minutes to get myself to the ring. I surely blacked out in fear, because I don’t remember exactly how I managed to get my show clothes on, my horse groomed and tacked up, and down into the warm-up in approximately 11 minutes.
But once I got to the warm-up, my fear didn’t abate at the relieving sight of my coach, ready to warm me up. In fact, my coach was nowhere to be found. She’d probably misjudged the time, too, and was off at another ring. She’d never make it here in time. Cue the all-out panic.
I look back on that show now, over a decade later, and I think of how easy it is to feel blind with fear without the reassuring presence of your coach. Warm-up at a show is not particularly pleasant for anyone, so many automatically feel more at ease with eyes on the ground. But inevitably there will come a time when you’ll be on your own. Do yourself (and your horse!) a favor and keep this bookmarked as a reminder!
1. Don’t Panic
It’s easier said than done, but remember that the world won’t end just because your coach isn’t there. You take all of those lessons for a reason! Now’s your chance to put that knowledge into good use. You should have a good idea of what your coach would say if they were there – just tell yourself those same things.
2. Keep an Ear Open
This might be an unpopular opinion, but if I’m on my own, I tend to listen to the coaches who are around me. If I hear someone yell “Don’t drop that right shoulder!”, I’ll check my own right shoulder, just since they reminded me. I find it to be a bit reassuring. Even if what that coach is saying does not apply to me in the least, it keeps me aware of my surroundings and out of my own head. Plus, you never know – you might actually pick up something useful!
3. Don’t Just Trot in Circles
Don’t clam up. That’s the worst thing you could do for your own confidence. Remember, your horse is going to feed off of you. Some warm-ups are more crowded than others, and without someone instructing you it can be more overwhelming. But don’t just trot around unproductively on the rail. Your coach has probably told you to keep your horse busy with changes of direction, transitions, or circles if he’s a bit nervous – why not use that advice on yourself? Treat your solo warm-up like a solo ride at home, just with a few more people sharing the ring.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Chances are, you can find a helping hand if you need someone to claim and help set a jump for you, or just to give you a pair of eyes. Don’t be afraid to ask! Barring that, don’t be shy when claiming a jump that you need. Communicate clearly, call your jump, and be polite but firm. You deserve that time to jump at your desired height as much as everyone else there.
5. It’s a Moment to Shine
Remember the Emily Dickinson quote that Red’s father made him read at the dinner table in Seabiscuit? “We never know how high we are, ’til we are called to rise.” You can remember that when you find yourself in a less than ideal situation. Choose this moment to make yourself and your coach proud! Your confidence will never be higher if you go in there and get through your round on your own. Sure, it may not be perfect, but it could still be the ride of your life.
So do your best to shake it off next time your coach isn’t there. Don’t beat yourself up if your nerves get the better of you and you make a few mistakes in the ring, either. Riding is one big learning curve, and these situations will help you do better the next time.