Zane Davis said riders can avoid pre-show panic by following three steps he himself uses before a class. • Photo by Kate Bradley Byars.

Mastering the Mind Game with Zane Davis

Seasoned competitor and reined cow horse trainer Zane Davis knows the struggle of second-guessing a horse before a major event. Instead of panicking, Davis follows a systematic approach to regain the confidence to ride into the show pen. 

To those watching from the stands, Davis looks the picture of confidence loping into the arena to work a cow in a reined cow horse competition. On the outside, the Idaho horseman had the professional stance; yet, on the inside he said he fought nerves that many riders are familiar with feeling. 

“A horse trainer is more a psychiatrist than anything,” said Davis. “The training process isn’t so much training them physically, but rather getting inside their head. It’s a tough process, and just like us, they change their thought process. You have to adapt to change with your horse or you’ll just be mad or in panic mode.”

With more than $1.5 million dollars in earnings, Davis has seen his fair share of success in the show pen.

 “My biggest challenge, and I still work at it, is not to panic. You spend however long preparing a horse for a competition, and for whatever reason, the horse doesn’t want to perform,” he explained. “After a lot of years of trial and error, I’ve come up with a system to combat that feeling of wanting to panic—because I do panic. What happens when we go in panic mode, we do things faster and harder then it gets worse. I guess I finally got older, maybe wise, and learned it wasn’t the best way to go about it.” 

Here, he discusses a multi-step system he’s got in place to conquer the mental mind game that threatens to derail a rider before an event.

The Process

How does a professional reined cow horse trainer overcome nagging doubts? It is a mental game. Using Davis’ tips, riders can combat worry before riding into the show pen. 

Even after winning some of the biggest events on the NRCHA calendar, trainer Zane Davis also faces pre-show anxiety. He works through it with a process. • Photo by Kate Bradley Byars.

“It’s a common thing for me to think, right before I go in, that we are going off the rails,” said Davis. “I’ll usually lope a circle or two a couple runs before me and that’s when it hits—the horse jumps off or acts different. I have to stop the drive to panic.”

Here are his three tips for better confidence.  

1.    Don’t panic– “It won’t do any good. The horse will feel it and your confidence will go out the window. Program the panic out. Instead of pulling on one that wants to rump off in a fast lope instead of the easy circle you intended, pitch the reins and let the horse lope it out. Go back to a basic and try to relax because the horse feeds off your energy.” 

2.    Don’t overanalyze– “If it doesn’t feel perfect when you test an maneuver, don’t pick on it. Remember it felt good an hour ago or 30 minutes ago, and I left it on a positive note. Fight that feeling to test it again. Sometimes, if you keep picking, it doesn’t come back as good. Now, the day of show, if it is good once, I am done.” 

3.    Ride through it– “In the arena, ride your horse. There are a lot better guys that show to offer this advice than me. I have a hard time with a horse that does something different than I ask in the show pen, but it is a show. Usually, a mistake bothers me the whole run, but I try to pretend it didn’t happen.”

About Zane Davis

Equi-Stat Elite $1 Million Rider Zane Davis, who trains out of Blackfoot, Idaho, has built a career on his talents as a horseman and gritty resolve as a showman. He achieved his status as a million-dollar rider in the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) in early 2015 at the organization’s Celebration of Champions.

As the son of a rodeo producer and saddle bronc rider, Davis’ history with horses is rooted in the rodeo arena. He spent a brief stint riding racehorses, and competed in both bareback and saddle bronc riding as a young man. He was the 1989 National High School Rodeo Association Bareback National Champion and is a member of the Idaho Rodeo Hall of Fame’s class of 2018.

Davis won the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Open title in 2009 riding Reymanator (Dual Rey x Savannah Hickory x Doc’s Hickory). He went on to collect major event titles at the National Stock Horse Association (NSHA) Futurity and Derby, NRCHA Hackamore Classic, NSHA World’s Richest Stock Horse, Reno Snaffle Bit Futurity and other shows. 

Davis’ advice on mentally preparing for a horse show ran in the Sept. 15, 2019 issue of Quarter Horse News.