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June 23, 2019
You’ve put countless hours into conditioning, training and preparing your horse for an upcoming event or horse show, but when you pull into the showgrounds your horse becomes a nervous, sweaty mess. What’s worse is that all of the training you’ve done seems to have vanished, leaving you with a horse that’s difficult to control and even dangerous.
Competing an anxious horse can quickly take a lot of the joy out of an event or horse show, leaving you frustrated without all that much to show for your work. If you’re working with a horse who is known to become anxious at events, use these tips to help him cope and hopefully improve the results of each competition.
When your horse is known to have competition nerves, setting him up for a successful competition should start at home. Discuss your horse’s behavior with your trainer ahead of time and come up with some strategies to help calm him. Maybe your trainer decides to ride your horse for you during the first show, or maybe you selectively choose a smaller, quieter show where the environment isn’t so overwhelming. Either way, have a talk with your trainer and work out some strategies to use before and during the show.
To help keep your horse calm, bring along an equine buddy for the trailer ride. Having another horse nearby during the ride to the event and during the event itself can help to calm and reassure your horse.
Stress and anxiety increase stomach acid production, which can lead to ulcers. Give your horse an ulcer preventive during the days before, during and after the event. Offer him free choice hay for as much of that time as possible. (Ulcers can also make a horse appear anxious, so if your horse is typically anxious but hasn’t yet been scoped for them, have him checked out just in case.)
Rushing to tack up, warm up and get in the ring will only contribute to your horse’s nerves. Instead, arrive at the show with plenty of extra time and get in a good, long warmup. Try to warm up in an area that has minimal horse traffic, and work on some familiar exercises to get your horse to focus, like a shoulder in or some figure eights.
If you’re not particularly confident, your nerves can make your anxious horse even more unsettled, creating a cycle of anxiety between the two of you. It may help to have a confident rider take your horse to this first few shows or events each season, giving him a chance to settle down — and giving you the opportunity to observe your horse from a more relaxing viewpoint.
With some preparation, you can help to minimize your horse’s nerves during an event or a competition, making the experience more enjoyable for you both.
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