Unlimited access >

My horse has "performance anxiety" at events

So my horse is an odd ball. He basically falls asleep ringside, he could have a runaway horse blow by him without a care in the world. Even warm up he behaves himself. But, as soon as we trot into the dressage ring or stadium course, he gets all hyped up and anxious. Our biggest issue in dressage is him wanted to break into the canter constantly. And in stadium, he gets himself in a tizzy and starts getting too deep to fences. He just loses focus. Now, I know i’m not contributing, I even had a dressage judge yesterday comment on how impressed she was at how relaxed and calm I remain despite his nonsense. Now, xcountry, he’s a rockstar, and I’m thinking it must have something to do with him being alone out on course. So what’s a girl to do?! Any tips on getting him to relax and focus? Earplugs? Focus supplements? Thanks!

You can’t use ear plugs in dressage.

You need to take him out as much as you can. Go to every little schooling show and CT you can get to. Especially for the dressage. Get him in the ring as often as you can. Usually, when an event horse gets worked up in dressage, it is because they are looking forward to the jumping (unless they are in pain). So, take him to dressage shows and go in as many tests as they’ll allow. This actually works surprisingly well.

Also, do you ride at home in a dressage ring ever? Sometimes this is also a contributing factor. If they never have to ride in that small of a space at home, they feel claustrophobic at shows.

I think the same would apply for the show jumping. Go to every schooling show you can, no matter the discipline, and jump him around. School him (some shows will allow unjudged trips, so you CAN school and do what you normally wouldn’t be able to do at an event). Just keep taking him places and work on smoothing him out and teaching him to settle.

You don’t say how old he is or what all he’s done. I ASSUME he’s still young and green, but maybe not. Either way, this should help, even if he is BTDT (we did it once with an intermediate horse after we got tired of him lighting up like a roman candle in the dressage. Helped tremendously).

And, your horse isn’t an oddball. I know LOTS of horses with issues like this. It’s pretty common (Even the quiet ringside/crazy in the ring).

Be careful with supplements. Many aren’t legal in USEF competition.

Thanks, He is 11 and has been to 4 events with me, his first two he was totally fine, its been the last 2 that he has started getting more anxious in the dressage ring/show jumping (now that i think of it…the first two shows were on grass versus a sand ring) But we do have a dressage ring at home and he acts similarly, as soon as we start riding a test, he gets antsy. I wish i had access to a trailer more often as not having one restricts how often I can take him out to show :confused: Thanks for your help!


and though you say you don’t contribute…the issues are happening in the small arenas. Fence lines often back riders off…make sure to push forward.

Additionally, even though you think you are relaxed in the tack, many many riders tense up through their forearms and shoulders when they go in the ring. With a sensitive horse, it’s pretty darn easy to cause a reaction that echoes what you’re describing. I might try, just for kicks and grins, seeing what happens if I ride a test or a stadium round with as close to a loop in the reins as possible. Of course it’s now what one might do when you’re going for a great score, but to try to unpack what’s going on, I’d completely forget about his head and mouth and just ride forward and loose and with very little (if any) feel of his mouth.

A few posts have commented that maybe you’re getting tense without noticing it, I’d like to suggest a different angle:
Maybe you’re too relaxed. What do you do when your horse gets tense? what do you do before you get in the ring? If your horse wants to break into the canter constantly, then in your warm up find a fairly empty stretch and ask him to canter out, then ask him to come back to you. Make him work. He’s essentially spooking and going into flight mode so you need to tell him to listen to you. It’s even better if he responds to the ring at home too because you can work on it that much more. When you get around the ring (or when you’re at home continue this into the ring) make him work. Make him listen to you, ask for transitions between the gaits as well as within the gait. If he can ask for some leg yields.
I think you said he’s a he, so assuming he’s a gelding not a stallion, then he will give into the alpha (which needs to be you. mares are tougher). You say he’s calm everywhere else so you haven’t really had to discuss how he needs to act when he’s scared. As the alpha you need to teach him that even when he’s frightened, he still has to work and he still needs to listen to you.

Hope that helps some!