Preparing Your Horse for the Show Ring
Now that spring is quickly approaching, many equestrians are thinking about the upcoming show season. They are taking out their paper and pens and making a competition schedule and a list of all the series and shows they want or hope to attend. The new prize lists are now starting to come in the mail and all riders are getting anxious to show off their new horse or competing with their friends.
Unless you have been showing all winter or have kept up on your riding routine, most riders tend to slack off during the cold winter months. After looking through the prize lists and checking all the classes and divisions they want to enter, they take a look at the hairy wooly mammoth that roams out in the pasture. That once shiny show coat is now packed with mud and that toned horse is now an out of shape hairy beast.
Unless you board your horse at a fancy show barn where he is stalled and groomed and kept in a workout regimen, then now is the time to start thinking about grooming him and getting him show ready. A lot of riders could take this to heart, but don’t fret, most show series don’t start until March or April. Most riders do tend to trim up their horses before winter comes, for example, clipping them or keeping up with the trimming of their feathery ankles or whiskers and keeping them blanketed throughout the entire winter to make getting ready for show season and shedding a bit easier.
It is true that a pretty and flashy horse will catch the judge’s eye, but all that grooming and trimming wont get you very far if your horse is not able to perform the way that your particular competition acquires. Take into consideration your horse’s good and bad habits when deciding on what type of show or class to enter; and that is why it is important to do a lot of thinking and planning before heading off to a show.
What Discipline are You Preparing For?
For what ever discipline you are going to enter, your horse should be able to perform what is going to and could be asked of him.
If your horse is a hunter, jumper or an equitation horse, he should be able to jump the specific height of the fences that the class or division is going to be set at. Your horse should be able to go around the ring in a nice calm manner, not running around and rushing to and from all of the fences. Before you enter your horse in these particular classes, work with him at home to make sure he can go around smoothly. Practice on lengthening and shortening his stride so you can get the correct distance in between fences. Work on lead changes, making sure things aren’t noticeable to people outside of the arena. Always school your horse over fences that are at least three inches higher than what you are going to be showing. Practice on making things look flawless.
Just like a horse in the jumping world, a dressage horse needs to work on specifics for their division as well. If you are planning on entering him in a test, he should be able to perform all the movements that are going to be asked of him. In most cases, dressage riders show one level lower than what they school at home. For example, of your horse is still learning how to do leg-yielding and a proper ten-meter circle, then entering him in training level would be a smart choice so both him and you wont get nervous or blow up when asking for a certain move.
Even western pleasure horses need to go around in a nice even manner with a headset that is level with their back along with a loose rein. If your horse is a speed demon, barrel racing might be for him. If your horse gets bored easily or has likes to be entertained, try entering him in a trail class which will give him something to think about that’s different every time.
Horse Show Preparation 2 Months Before Show Time
Two months before your first show, you want to start working on his level of fitness and getting him back into shape so he can perform at his best. Your horse is similar to you; you can’t expect yourself to go out and run three miles without you getting out of breath and tired. Much like you running, you can’t expect your horse to go jump an entire course when you only have been popping over a single fence or two at home.
Start out with twenty to thirty minutes of flat work. Get him used to listening to your aids again. Start out with circles and trotting poles to build up his butt muscles and get him supple and round. Work on some basic schooling exercises, such as serpentines and figure 8’s, to get him back into shape. After a week or so start building up your riding time so that at the end of the month your schooling sessions are around 45 minutes. Regardless of your discipline, flat work is key for any discipline in the horse world.
Horse Show Preparation 1 Month Before Show Time
Now is a good time to start cracking down on your horse’s looks. Trim up those whiskers and start clipping all those wispy pieces of hair that have seemed to randomly sprout out all over his body. If your discipline calls for it, you might want to pull his mane, so in the worst case it can grow back some if you pull or cut it too short.
If you know exactly what classes you are showing in, this is when you want to specifically start working on what will and might be asked in the class. If you are going to be showing in the hunter ring, you will want to start practicing courses and striding in between the lines. You don’t want to be adding or subtracting a stride because the judge will take points off your score. No matter what discipline you ride in, you will want to start working on fine-tuning your horse so your round, course or test will look flawless.
Horse Show Preparation 1 Week Before Show Time
Now that show time is drawling near, you will want to work on any last-minute details or issues you or your horse may have. If you have been schooling for your dressage test and your horse is having trouble staying bent to the inside around your turns, work on exercises that will make him bend such as circles, serpentines and figure 8’s. You’re planning on entering a trail class and your horse spooks at a tarp and wont walk over it. Work on the ground with your horse and get him to walk over it. This is the time to work on the little things that could potentially be big things in the show ring.
You will also want to make a list and check it twice. Make a list of all the things you will need to bring to the show. What you will need depends on how long you will be at the show. If you are going over night or for the weekend, you will want to bring bedding, hay and grain along with all other necessities. Write down everything you may need: show clothing, tack, grooming supplies, first-aid, stall supplies, buckets, all paper work and forms and anything else you think you or your horse might need.
Preparing your horse the Day Before the Show
The day has come where you need to get your horse squeaky clean and shiny. You will want to give your horse a good bath and get out any nasty mud or dirt stains he may have. You should also plan on braiding your horse’s mane and tail, unless you will be doing this early morning the day of the show or having someone braid for you at the show grounds. If you are bathing and braiding the night before, make sure you pus a sheet on him and put his tail in a tail bag to make sure he stays clean and dirt-free.
If you are going to a show for the weekend or longer, you will want this day to get your horse acclimated to the show grounds and the surroundings, so you will want to groom and get him ready either the day before you leave or at the show grounds. Getting there a day earlier will allow you to set up the stall and get all of your other things together such as handing in forms and getting your tack situated. Also walking or riding your horse around the show grounds will allow him to get a sneak peek at everything that is around him.
Preparation 3 Hours Before Show Time
It’s now the day of the show. If your class is early you will want to get up at the crack of dawn with the roosters. Give your horse half of his grain before tacking and warming up. This will give him plenty of time to finish is breakfast. If you make him miss his meal, he might be grumpy when you ride him. After your class(es), allow him to cool down and untack him and then give him the remaining amount of his gran and hay.
Preparation 1 ½ to 2 Hours Before Show Time
After your horse has eating his portion of grain, you will want to tack him up as well as get yourself together with your show clothes on or carried with you to the schooling ring. Starting an hour or two before your class will give you plenty of time to get both you and your horse situated with a good amount of warm-up time.
Forty-five Minutes Before Show Time
Warm both you and your horse up slowly. No need to rush right into course work or lateral movements. Sow down your mind and your body and focus on the basics. Walk around the warm-up area a few times and allow both you and your horse to calm down and get a feel for the day. Working on the basics and feeling your horse’s body move will help to calm down those nerves if you’re nervous about showing. Once both you and your horse are calmly going around the ring, you can practice some jumping or lateral movements or anything else you might encounter in your class.
It’s Show Time
Once you enter that area, get your game face on. Don’t go into the arena a nervous wreck; both you and your horse will not have a good experience. Relax and try your best. Showing isn’t a life-or-death situation, but one that should be enjoyable for you and your horse as well as a fun learning experience.