Monday, 31 March 2014

Rider Rest: The Night Before the Horse Show

Humans are designed to thrive in a cycle of stress/challenge and recovery/rest. Tomorrows horse show takes care of the stress, but what really counts as R&R to perform at your best?

Is it:
  • Kicking back at the exhibitor party the night before?
  • Braiding, grooming, bathing at the stable with your horse and barn buddies?
  • Staring at the ceiling in the motel for 3 hours, thinking about your classes

Rest can be defined in a variety of ways (leisure, sleep, physical relaxation, etc.) but we will define it here as time you are not thinking about riding or physically exerting effort (or holding tension in your body in any way). So how can you rest when you need it most? Experiment with the following to find the best combinations for you.

Physical Rest

You may not be able to sleep, but these things are the next best thing:
  • a hot shower or bath, 
  • lying down with your feet elevated, 
  • slowly doing range of motion exercises, 
  • gentle stretching etc.

Mental Rest

Taking a true break from thinking about the show, or anything horse related for that matter, is like a trip to the Bahamas for your brain. Spend some down time reading a book or magazine, watching a feel-good movie, doing a cross word, listening to music- anything that is enjoyable and low stress. I like to take a walk before retiring for the evening.

Relaxation Techniques

So you want to relax but you just can't seem to do it. Now what? These can help: long, slow breaths with a focus on exhaling for longer than you inhaled; tensing and then completely releasing all of your major muscle groups, particularly areas where you tend to be tight; or creating mental and physical relaxation by imagining you are on a beach in Hawaii (or some place you associate with resting, relaxing and being at peace).

Tonya Johnston, author and sports psychology consultant, offers these additional tips:

Preparatory Visualization

Realistically, you are going to spend some time thinking about the horse show. It's best if you can harness that time and make it truly productive. When you vividly imagine yourself riding successfully in the show ring, you are in effect teaching your body how to respond to the challenges you will face in competition.

By drawing out some courses for yourself the night before the show you can visit the environment you will be riding in the next day. Keep this brief, ten to fifteen minutes at the most. It is ideal if you have shown at the venue before, or if you have at least been at the show grounds and know the ring you will be in so that you can create a specific and accurate image. If you are at a multi-day show, use some time at night to revisit the best parts of your rides that day to strengthen the aspects of your performance that you want to repeat. (Be disciplined about focusing on your successes and imagining solutions to the things you would have liked to do differently.)


1. Plan ahead: Be realistic about your timing for dinner (yes, be sure to eat dinner!), eating at a reasonable hour can greatly impact your ability to fall asleep and to get going in the morning.

2. Bring healthy snacks from home: Have things on hand that you can use to fill in that last pang of hunger before you go to bed (a candy bar from the vending machine is less than ideal!).

3. Drink water: Staying away from caffeine and sugared beverages at night is hopefully something that has already become of your regular routine before you show. If not, consider changing your habits as you will see a real difference your capacity to settle, calm your mind and get your body into a relaxed state.