Surviving The Futurity

Is it really that time of year again? It seems like just last month I was writing an article on preparation for last year’s futurity and here we go again. Stress Management  keeps popping up but it is particularly relevant this time of year as everyone heads to Fort Worth and Oklahoma City to battle it out.

I don’t know about your barn but things start to get a little tense around ours this time of year. We all seem to place so much pressure on this one show. Yes there is a lot of money at stake but it is more than that. Winning the big futurity carries a certain prestige that no other show offers. Trainers confront their own expectations as well as those of their customers and at times these are not necessarily realistic. In addition, trainers and owners alike have to deal with the disappointments of unattained potential and chronic injuries. Add to these pressures the unpredictability of showing a three year old for the very first time and “tense” becomes an understatement.

The NCHA Futurity and NRHA Futurities provide opportunities for trainers and owners to show the cream of their crops. This is their chance to show the cutting and reining horse worlds what they can do through breeding and/or training. Naturally all this pressure manifests itself as stress and as we well know stress can and will affect every aspect of our performance unless we learn to recognize the signs and how to control it.

Stress can manifest itself in many ways. Look out for some of these signs:

Physical symptoms:
*  Increase in heart rate,
*  Increase in sweating, and a cooler skin as this combines with a reduction in the blood flow to your skin.
*  “Butterflies” in your stomach
*  Rapid breathing
*  Tense muscles
*  Dry mouth
*  A desire to urinate

Mental Symptoms:
*  Worry
*  Confusion, inability to concentrate or difficulty making decisions
*  Feeling ill or odd
*  Feeling out of control of overwhelmed

Behavioral Symptoms:
*  Talking rapidly
*  Nervous mannerisms; nail biting, foot tapping, increased blinking, twitching, pacing
*  Irritability, short temper
*  Scowling
*  Yawning

Remember that it is not the situation itself but rather how we respond to that situation that causes us stress. Consequently,  our efforts should be directed towards changing our perceptions of the situation rather than trying to change the situation of which we may have no control. How do we do this?

Reduce the importance of an event. The more importance that we place on an event, the more pressure we will feel to perform. Rather than approaching the Futurity like it is the one and only show that matters, try to remind yourself that this is just the first of many. If you can walk into that pen feeling like this is just another cutting you are taking control of your nerves and freeing your mind to focus on the task at hand rather than worrying about the “what ifs”.

Familiarity. The more familiar we are with an environment or situation, the more comfortable we will feel. A very important part of your preparation for this show is to familiarize yourself with every aspect of your performance. This includes your horse, your gear, your help, and the Coliseum. The more comfortable that you feel in your surroundings will mean the less anxiety you will experience when it comes to show. Spend as much time as you can in the arena before you have to show. Familiarize yourself with the sights, the sounds and the smells. Practice in the gear that you will be showing. Do not turn up to show with a brand new pair of boots that may turn out to hurt your feet. Use Imagery to create the environment and circumstances under which you will be showing. Relive this experience over and over again until it feels like just another day in the office.

Thought Awareness. Be aware of your thoughts and identify potentially destructive negative patterns. Do a regular reality check of your thoughts. Do you tend to exaggerate or dramatize? By keeping your thoughts real you can help yourself reduce the amount of stress you may feel during the preparation for this major show.

Good luck to everyone headed to Fort Worth and Oklahoma City! I hope to head to Fort Worth toward the end of the show so don’t be a stranger and come say, “Hi.” Remember to breathe. Just slow down and gives yourself plenty of time to prepare so you are not flustered before you even get out there. Remind yourself that you are not the only one feeling nervous, everyone is in the same boat so go give it your best shot.