Nerves: the Ugly Monster that Shows Up When You Least Expect It!

Photo courtesy of Taylor Derrico


My heart races. My stomach is in knots. I try to calm myself down, but nothing is working.

I can’t deny that I love to go to horse shows and compete.  They are an addictive thrill—once you compete in one, you are left wanting more. The journey to get into the actual ring might not be worth the nausea and all the nerves that are jumbled inside of me, but the one place where everything “clicks” with me and my horse is when I am in the show ring with everyone watching me. 

I have shown at HITS Saugerties, the Hampton Classic, and Sussex County Show—so what do I have to be nervous about? But at each show, my nerves have a tendency to show themselves. It’s really hard to function, let alone memorize the course that I am supposed to perform in the ring with the judge watching. But when I am in the ring, I remember why I love to show. 

I was competing in my first ever Hampton Classic, a show that I never saw myself competing at. The Hamptons feels like a show for the top-notch riders that compete all year and go to the winter circuits. What did I—a 2’ foot equitation rider scared of big jumps—have any business doing at a big show like this? As I got my horse tacked up to go in for my warmup, I tried to stay calm. I told myself, “I’ve jumped a million times at home, what is the difference being here?” 

Well, that didn’t work. 

As we walked to the warmup ring, my heart raced and I started to think about the things that could go wrong in the ring with people watching. I mounted my horse and tried to dismiss all thoughts inside my brain to focus on the jumps in front of me. 

A lot of things went wrong in my warmup before entering the big ring. All the nerves about the day bubbled up, and it affected my riding, I did not know how to find a distance to a jump, and couldn’t make sense of what my trainer was telling me. Having probably one of the worst warmups right before I am supposed to get in the ring,is not a real confidence booster especially for a nervous nellie like me.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Derrico

Before I entered the ring, I asked my trainer “Are they going to move the jumps down? Are you sure that is the right height?” I didn’t realize that the class I entered had the jumps set at 2’6 and not my comfortable 2’ height. Some jumps made me more nervous than others, like a single diagonal 2’6 oxer with yellow flowers (that I was convinced was higher than the other jumps). I was more or less convinced that I would not survive jumping these high sticks—especially for the first time at a big show like this.

When it was my time to enter the ring there was no going back. I took a deep breath, and tried to settle any last-minute nerves—and believe me, there were a lot! I picked up the canter and started my course. After every jump, I became more relaxed and knew what I needed to do to find a good distance to the jumps and not run through them while hoping for the best. 

The jump with the yellow flowers quickly approached, and I panicked for a split second. But I added more leg and my horse handled the jump with no problem. After that jump, the rest of course was a blur. After I finished the course, I was relieved that I survived and lived to show another day. Most importantly, we got over all the jumps! 

This show was a lot of firsts for an amateur like me. It was my first time competing at 2’6 ( a height that I wasn’t familiar with), my first time showing in a grass ring, and my first time showing against a lot of riders that were likely more experienced than me. Me being me, I was a ball nerves at this show, and will probably be at the next shows to come. But I keep training at my home in NY on whatever horse my trainer has available for me to ride, to prepare for the next show and the show after that. 

For me, a horse show competition is like a race up a ladder to see who is on top. It seems to be just out of reach for an amateur like me, but when both my horse and I have our game faces on, I feel like we could do anything and ascend that ladder.

Trainer/Owner Lisa Zimmerman, Manager of Gold Coast Equestrian Center. Photo courtesy of Taylor Derrico

Something that makes me feel better when I have a tough round at a show or miss a lead change is reminding myself that every jumping round cannot be perfect each time you step into the show ring. The “ideal perfect round” puts too much pressure on me, and makes my nerves rear their ugly head. But seeing pictures of my favorite hunter/equation riders online inspires me to get out to the barn, work on my pole work, and finding consistent distances to the jumps. 

Even though my nerves can get the best of me and mess with my head, I try and not let anything stop me from going into the show ring and doing the job I was meant to do with a partner that will never let me down. Horse show competitions, big or small, are a part of who I am. I don’t know where I would be without it! 

Taylor has been riding horses all her life and is an owner of a spunky thoroughbred named Dugan. She founded and rode on the Florida Southern College’s IHSA team and recently graduated with a degree in marine biology. She is working towards a career researching dolphins. Taylor enjoys showing around NY and hopes to continue competing in the future.