On Deck – The Show Ring Countdown



When your competitive armour is cracked, it’s tough to focus on the run ahead. Professional reining trainer, Nicole Brown, shares her top mental preparation tips for showing successfully.

Nicole Brown is a professional reining trainer who owns and operates her own business, Reiner-Nic Performance Horses. She has several credentials to her name and has accumulated National Reining Horse Association lifetime earnings of $50,000+.


“People ask me all the time if I get nervous,” Brown says.  My answer is, “No, this is my job. It’s what I do.”  Putting the concept into perspective, Brown explains that the non-pros she coaches at shows aren’t nervous about going to their jobs every day and showing horses winds up in the same category for Brown. It’s a career.

“I believe that showing is a huge mind game.” She says that if a competitor allows their subconscious brain to be affected by outside forces like people on the ground, warm-up traffic, other competitors, etc., it actually convinces the conscious brain to worry.

“This gets your nerves firing like crazy, which in turn, allows your subconscious brain to go even more out of control. And it becomes a vicious circle!” she says. Adding that it is each person’s conscious decision whether or not to allow their subconscious mind to control the situation. Control your mind – control your nerves.

And, Brown reminds, “Horses are very good at reading a rider’s feelings, so they immediately pick up on rider anxiety. They will begin trying to find whatever it is that is making the rider so uptight. The rider then gets more worked up and another circle ensues.”


Brown tries to help her non-pros understand focus prior to ever setting foot – or hoof – in the arena. “I think focus is only achieved when you gain control over your subconscious mind. I try to get my students in the mind frame that they are practising the very things they practice every day.” And at the show, Brown’s students get the added advantage of practising “showing” as well.

“Until a last-run-ever is determined, it\’s all practice to be better for the next time,” she states flatly.

Brown also advises her non-pros to use their walk-in time wisely – this is the entrance into a reining pattern that does call for a run-in. During these crucial few seconds, Brown gets her students to focus on each part of their body and ask themselves if that body part feels exactly as it does when they are riding around the arena at home.

“Usually this causes the student to realize how tense they have become and to relax their back, legs and arms,” she chuckles. As a result, the exercise also forces the student to breath again which allows the horse to feel a little more settled.

Brown explains that each of her non-pros is different in regards to the support they need at a show. “Some benefit greatly from my presence and my words until the moment they go in, while other’s want their space in the last few minutes.” Brown says that once her “floof ‘n poof” crew is done prepping her horse for the show ring, she personally prefers to be left alone. While the odd word or “good luck” is okay, don

’t expect her to engage in conversation. And the same goes for the time immediately following one of her runs.

“Especially if I have had a problematic ride, I need some time to process what went on in the pen before I\’m ready to be social and discuss it.”


Although it’s difficult to predict for certain the quality of the run you will have prior to your performance, Brown believes there is a direct correlation between a person’s mindset and the outcome.

“I think you can influence your end result. Visualization is very important. I always take a few minutes to mentally go through the entire pattern in my mind and feel how I want the run to go. This process should take as long as actually running the pattern,” she explains.


Outside emotional influences are likely the most difficult obstacles to overcome because of our human nature, Brown says

knowingly. It’s something she’s learned from experience. When your competitive armour is cracked, it’s tough to focus on the run ahead.

“You need to be able to block everything that does not pertain to the task at hand – again, overpowering your subconscious mind,” she says. Extreme emotional influences can cause a person to make mistakes they wouldn’t normally do, causing anxiety that immediately translates to the horse. Racing thoughts and emotions can be the cause of everything from forgotten parts of a pattern to cues delivered stronger (or weaker), to the horse than intended.

After the fact, Brown explains that emotion will take over regardless – either positive or negative – and she feel it’s important to enjoy your moment, or wallow in it for a short time. This gives a competitor time to release those emotions. However, Brown says it is imperative to eventually move on and look ahead to the next task.


Although it’s often easier said than done, Brown always tries to explain to her non-pro students that there is no need to worry or stress out over showing. “It can be a mind game, there’s no doubt. But you only get worried because you allow yourself to get worried,” she states matter-of-factly.

Brown’s words hit home if you compare showing, to driving your car. “It’s interesting, we don’t worry about driving to town every day, because we’ve done it so often that driving becomes second nature,” she says. However, despite the fact that people ride their horses every day, upon arriving at an event, they suddenly start to doubt that they can do all  the riding skills they do in regular practice.

As we finish up the interview, Brown’s information is delivered with a grin that chimes through the phone, “Don’t think that it could go wrong. Think about how well you know how to stop, spin, change leads and ride your horse.”


Avoid distraction – it’s not rude to avoid conversation with others when you are warming up.

Visualize – what you are going to do in the pen, prior to going in.

Show smart – if you can’t plus a half on a certain maneuver, don’t attempt to! Play it safe, you\’ll have a better horse next time.

Move slowly – most people speed up their hands when they show. Slow it down and wait on your horse. Try not to make it obvious to the judges that there is an issue, most times they wouldn’t even notice.

Have fun – if showing horses is your hobby, it should NOT cause you gray hair or anxiety attacks!

No coffee – if you are the nervous type, skip the caffeine until after you show. It will make a big difference.

Published in the August 2008, edition of the Western Horse Review.

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