ISO: Mental Game?! by Louisa Murch-White

I used to be the Queen of Nerves. Black out before and during my runs? Been there. So nervous I couldn’t hear anything? Done that. Couldn’t remember my runs afterwards? Yep, still happens. But, the worst part of being a Nervous Nelly or Clammed Up Clint? (Yes, I just came up with that masculine version, and I am here for it! Using that one in the future)Well, the worst part is that you aren’t able to truly enjoy your time in the show pen because you are too busy being nervous about everything going on. So here’s my top five tips for overcoming nervousness, from someone that IS NOT a sports psychologist, or an expert by any means. However, I am someone who has had her fair share of nervous meltdowns before, during, and after a run.

1. Find Your Routine

Surprisingly, I’m not really a “routine” type of person, but when it comes to getting prepared to show, I most certainly am. I like to have my groom bag, bridle and chaps all in the show pen before I bring my horse in. I like to have a little extra time to groom and saddle my horse. That serves two purposes, if anything goes awry, I have time to deal with it. It also leaves me a little time to be calm, and quiet, and in my own personal space before heading into the arena. I have my certain little loping routine I like to do. I like to chat with my trainer ahead of time so I know when is a good time to work the flag, or cows. I almost always boot up and put my chaps on at the cattle change, and I like my horse to have a decent sweat on him when I do this. All these little things are just that, little, but i’ve found it so helpful in the scheme of things.

The great thing about cutting, and likely most other western performance sports, is the routine is generally the same from show to show, arena to arena. So, if you end up in an unfamiliar place and your nerves are wreaking havoc on your mind, fall back to your routine. Take a deep breath and go through the same paces you always do. It’ll make you feel better. Promise.

2. Don’t Stress The Small Stuff

So there’s this very famous term in horse-show-land, and it’s called, “hurry up, and wait.” If you’ve shown a horse, you’ve heard it. It’s the most truest saying in all the land because it sums up that nervous feeling of running late for your class, rushing to get ready and then showing up in the arena and realizing you have tons of time and you are actually there way too early.

I’m not saying don’t be ultra prepared, as I touched on in point one, routine and preparation takes a lot of my nerves away. But, there are some things you can’t control. Oh shoot, they are dragging the arena? Don’t let it bug you. Find a corner and walk some small circles, visualize your run and practice your breathing. You are first up, and you hate drawing first, don’t dwell on it. The more you dwell, the more you panic, the more your nerves will go crazy.

3. Speak Positively To Yourself

It’s so easy to say, “I don’t want to lose a cow”, or “I need to cut better today.” Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of going back to a negative mindset. I always try to say to myself, “I am going to be accurate and precise,” or, “I am going to ride to the right position.” When it comes to cutting, I say things like, “calm and confident,” and “drive your cow up into the middle of the pen.” If i’m feeling super weak-minded and can feel myself saying really harsh things to myself, like I suck, I don’t deserve to be here, my previous successes didn’t count… and hey, we’ve all had those days when we are just down right mean to ourselves… I try my hardest to counter those thoughts with how proud I am to show. How happy it makes me to show. How grateful I am to have a sound and happy horse underneath me and how lucky I am to be given this opportunity.

Which leads me to one of my favourite points to combat nervousness…

4. Visualize

Straight A students show up to exams prepared, they’ve done their homework, they’ve studied, they are confident and they are ready. Showing horses is the same. Leading up to a show i’ll watch previous videos, I’ll watch videos on cutting, I’ll practice and i’ll ride my horse. I’ll also visualize how I want my run to feel and how it will look in that pen.

I’ve shown in a lot of new arenas this year, and so sometimes, I won’t be able to picture the pen I’ll be showing in. I find it very helpful to sneak into the arena the night before the show starts. I picture all the riders in the lope pen and the show pen and then I picture myself getting ready. I walk through my little routine, the steps that it takes to get to the show pen. Then I picture my run, I picture my perfect run. I walk through all the things I need to do for a great run, and I walk through how that translates to my horse. I try to really FEEL it all, so that I can go out and ride the way it all felt in my mind.

5. Believe In Your Unicorn, and Believe In Yourself Too!

So, “Believe In Your Unicorn”, is a saying that i’ve used on my own blog for a long time, but it’s so true. It’s easy to go out there and let nerves take over how fun this is suppose to be. We ARE so lucky to show horses, and our horses - no matter barrel horses, cow horses, breed show horses - are amazing, they are definitely unicorns. So, above all, trust your horse out there, and then, believe in yourself too.

When I started out, I had small goals that weren’t affected by score or placing. Things like, “get a cow cut in the middle of the pen” grew into “cut three cows in the middle of the pen.” When I started out often it was, “be confident in the herd”, now my goals have changed to “use my feet to place my horse precisely.” Either way, having your own goals that are independent of anyone else’s are great, because when you achieve them, you can happily cross them out and move onto your next set of goals.

Good luck out there and remember, don’t let the nerves take away from the fun of it!


A big thank you to Callaghan Creative Co. for the images. Check her website out at or her Instagram at In these photos i’m showing in a CR RanchWear Italian Cotton Western Shirt and you can shop the available Italian Cotton’s here:


November 28, 2018 by Louisa Murch-White