By Margie Sugarman
Margie Sugarman is a leading board-certified psychotherapist and sports consultant based in New York. Margie’s desire is to enhance performance through the connection between the mind and body, and her current client list includes Olympic, professional and amateur athletes across the country. Her experience employing various therapeutic modalities has helped equestrians win classics, junior medals and grand prix. Do you have a question you want Margie to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My daughter’s first horse show is coming up in a month, and she’s worried sick. She doesn’t want to disappoint her trainer or anyone at the barn and really wants to do well. Do you have any advice?
Foremost, it’s important to remember that this is your daughter’s very first horse show. Unless she is some athletic phenomenon, it’s unlikely she’ll perform without making some mistakes.
Mistakes are how we learn.
However, having these feelings might be a glimpse at her having some perfectionist tendencies. Individuals who possess this type of personality often have anxiety and a fear of failure because they want to win so badly.
There’s rarely a grey area for them; they see it as either winning or losing. They don’t have a real appreciation for the process of getting from one challenge (through achievement) to the next. They sometimes worry so much about what other people are thinking that they can lose their concentration for the task at hand.
The other interesting thing, and most riders can identify with this, is people usually perform better in practice than when they are at a competition. Their horse is familiar with the surroundings and the jumps where they practice, as is the rider. There are many more distractions at a horse show that both horse and rider must deal with. Exposure to these elements over time allows for horse and rider to acclimate and gain confidence.
As a newer rider, it’s important for your daughter to gain confidence with her exposure to showing and having appropriate goals.
Confidence and expectations are not one and the same.
- Confidence is knowing you have the ability to perform a particular act, such as jumping around a course.
- Expectations are the demands you place on your performance and they ultimately impact self-judgment and self-worth. Expectations carry pressure and judgment.
What does your daughter define as doing well at the show? If your daughter expects to go to her first show and be perfect, earning a first place ribbon, then her expectations are probably unrealistic and will, in turn, impact her confidence.
Rather than expectations, she should be discussing her performance goals with her trainer and they should both agree on them. Unrealistic expectations can set anyone up for failure before they step into the ring. Those goals should be set and worked toward.
Your daughter and her coach should have a couple of process goals for her first show. Setting these goals will help your daughter stay “in the moment.” Although some goals may not be met, there’s a great deal to be gained from the situation.
This is where the learning curve picks up when back at the barn taking lessons. This is how we progress, this is how we move forward and attain new goals.
The process, not the expectation, will ultimately help your daughter win a ribbon.