Competition and nerves often go hand-in-hand, not only for riders, but horses, too. California cow horse trainer Russell Dilday has ridden in the nation’s toughest events, including the World’s Greatest Horseman, which he won three times.

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Russell Dilday, shown with Topsails Rien Maker at the Magnificent 7 in Sacramento, California, says the place to start battling nerves is at home.

Even with all his experience and many show runs under his belt, Dilday admits to still feeling nerves; however, he has learned that preparation is key to helping him battle that nervousness.

“One of the things I do at home to prepare is to ride like I am at a show,” he says. “I turn a radio on by the arena and turn it up loud. I clear the arena [of other riders] and have a friend sit as a judge. If you really want to put pressure on yourself, have someone use a judge’s card and judge the run. You think the pressure will be off be-cause you are home, but it can be nerve-racking.

Dilday says though the arena is at home, treat it like a show pen and ride at show speed. One problem he sees when riders are practicing at home or preparing for a show is that instead of completing a run, they stop and school if the horse makes a mistake.

“Train yourself to complete a pattern or complete a run. Go to small [schooling] shows, and go in there and ride to win,” Dilday says. “Put yourself in a situation where you have to finish the pattern, and stopping to a minor problem is not an option. This will reflect on how you complete a run showing.”

Though he is a professional trainer and makes his living with horses, Dilday reminds riders that a horse show is not a life-and-death situation.

“Get into your mind that you are showing for you, not to try to save your buddy from a bomb,” he says. “It is just a horse show. What are you really losing by not winning that class? If your mindset is to go out and do the best you can do with each run, then you should be happy with your result.”

Sadly, since the writing of this article, Topsails Rien Maker had passed away.


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