Whether you’re drawn in by the camaraderie and atmosphere of a traditional horse show or the dynamic world of Eventing, Rodeo or even Endurance riding, there is one thing that we all have in common…we need to properly prepare for a horse competition. So, what does that exactly mean? It’s more than just marking a date on your calendar and sending in an entry fee, it’s months or more of preparation and planning that all comes to fruition in one single event. How can we, as riders and competitors properly prepare for a horse competition in order to maximize our success?
Do Your Training at Home
In all of the years that I have shown horses, one thing always seems to come up. You’re warming your horse up in the warm-up arena, or walking the grounds between classes, and you see people “over-schooling” their horses. They’ve planned for this event the same way that you have, but it seems as though they’re trying to squeeze in more “training” at the show. This is fine if you’re specifically going to a “training show”, but for other horse competitions, an important rule to remember is “do your training at home”.
This means that what you have when you arrive at the show is what you are going to have in your classes, during your events, etc. You’re not going to miraculously teach your horse anything new or fix a problem you’ve been having for months in the warm-up pen; trying to do this will actually just upset your horse, frustrate you and create more problems than it’s worth. So, when you arrive at a show, use what you have in your “tool-kit” and do the best with what you have.
Don’t Psych Yourself Out
At my first big Class A horse show, I fell into this trap… I wasn’t showing under a trainer, rather doing everything on my own. We got to the show, got set up and I took my mare, “Jeanie” out into the warm-up pen. As I was giving her a light warm-up and schooling, I kept looking around at all of the other horses and riders and suddenly “what I had” didn’t seem as good as what everyone else had. My saddle didn’t have as much silver, my mare didn’t hold her head as low as some of the others, my mare wasn’t as “slow” as some of the other horses, all the other kids my age had trainers helping them and I was by myself. I completely psyched myself out…I had beaten myself before I even got into the show pen.
Luckily, with a good pep talk from my “dear old dad”, I was able to go out into my classes and do pretty well, but I let the nerves and everything I “saw” get to me. Remember that someone will always have “more” than you have in terms of tack, clothes, or even a horse that “seems” to be better at his job, BUT the classes aren’t won in the warm-up arena and anything can happen in the show pen. Don’t let your brain beat you before you even get in front of a judge.
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute
All too often, you see people with horses in stalls trying to clip, pull manes, clean tack – I’ve even watched as a mother was trying to finish making a show jacket for her daughter right out in front of their tack room. Sometimes you can’t avoid the little things, like the need for a quick touch up on those whiskers or an extra polish on your saddle, but the bulk of this stuff should be done at home. If you know that your horse needs to be fully clipped for a horse competition, don’t expect to do it the “day of” at the show grounds, take the time to do it before you arrive. This will save you a ton of stress, and we all know that when you’re less stressed, your horse is less stressed.
Make a Horse Competition Check List and Check it Twice
There’s nothing worse than arriving at a horse competition and realizing that you’ve forgotten something important. When I was a youngster showing, there was a big show in Santa Barbara (4 hours from where we lived at the time). We arrived at the show grounds, got everything set up, but as we were loading up our tack room, we realized that we had forgotten two garment bags of clothes – that meant I had no chaps and no jackets for my classes! Panic set in, and my parents and I were all running around like crazy trying to figure out what to do. Luckily we were able to “borrow” what I needed to get through my classes, but nothing matched perfectly (we didn’t have the saddle pads to match the chaps that we were able to borrow) and the stress was overwhelming.
From that incident forward, my parents and I both took it upon ourselves to make a list and load the trailer a day or two ahead of time. We “checked our list twice” the day we left, when it came to the things that were absolutely needed. Forgetting something like “Show Sheen” isn’t as big of a deal, but if you leave your saddle at home, inadvertently (trust me, it happens) you can have a really big problem.
Whether you’re into rail classes or trail classes, Endurance or Eventing, Cutting or Combined Training, the above tips all apply. Give yourself the best chance for success by properly preparing for competition.
Photo Credit: Jumping – Sarah Williams, Rodeo – Suzanne Usher