Talking with a friend today, she recounted a story about someone getting bucked off never to return to the saddle. After hanging up with my friend, I could not help but continue to think about the loss suffered by those who never return to the horses. This time of year it is especially evident that there are thousands of us who would never give up that easily.
Those of us who can pick ourselves up, dust off our jeans and climb back on the horse have experienced more than just a little delight in the ability to fend off the foes. Whatever the demons each of us struggle with, it is the ability to humble ourselves and to accept the lessons that come from the fall that determine who we are.
Showing horses is not just fun – it offers more opportunities than any sport I know of to build character. For one thing, I cannot think of a sport more humbling than showing horses. You can have a great ride and feel on top of the world as you win or hear your name called out. And the very next step, your horse can spook and toss you like a bad chip.
Or, as happens to the majority here in Columbus, Ohio, you show all year at home winning with ease preparing for this one big horse show called the Congress. You diligently practice, doing your homework, preparing for this one big event. Then, when the day arrives, you and your horse perform flawlessly, doing everything exactly as you practiced – yet you do not make the split.
Congress is here. Parents, trainers, coaches and riders are madly making final preparations. Expectant participants anxiously wait for the day to come when they arrive in Columbus. It won’t be long now, the show will be in full swing and everyone will be there, stepping up to the cone.
It always seems so easy at home: you walk up to the cone, close your leg and off you go. Yet at the horse shows, it often does not go so well. One of the biggest mistakes riders make is not replicating the scenario at the horse show.
Do you wonder what criteria judges use to make decisions in the show ring? Everyone has heard the phrase “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” but it might surprise you to learn the powerful effect that anchoring has on judges.
Anchoring is the term used to describe people’s tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive. For instance, a rider enters the arena looking down at their horse’s head, leaning forward or continuously looking toward the judge. The judge’s immediate opinion is that this rider is worried, does not trust their horse or is about to make a correction. With only seconds to evaluate each pair, the judge perceives this pair as insufficient and quickly looks beyond the pair in search of the winners.
Parents play the most important role in developing young riders. Parents do much more than haul their sons and daughters to lessons, arrange rides to and from the horse show and provide necessities. They are more than cheerleaders or providers, they nourish and shape children in their fold. Regardless of their level of involvement, parents are often the driving force behind a young rider’s ability to handle the pressures of competition.
It is wonderful to see parents take an active role in their child’s horse hobby and encourage their son or daughter’s progress. However, parents walk a fine line between encouraging their children to achieve and pushing too hard. If you are an adult with influence over a child’s riding and showing, here are some tips to improve the experience.
Everyone experiences horse show jitters at some point in their riding career. It is only natural to feel some anticipation and excitement before stepping into the show pen. In fact, it is the rush of showing that gets you out of bed at 4 a.m.
But if you are going to be truly competitive, you will have to learn to get a handle on your nerves. Acknowledging your nerves is the first step to overcoming your nerves. Here are some tips to help you master your nerves.
Every successful competitive rider spends their time in the saddle with the same goal in mind: to win. They live and breathe horses and horse shows. They study the winners in attempt to follow in the path to the winners circle. But what separates the winners from the rest of the crowd? Winners accept challenge with confidence in themselves, believe their success is inevitable and take action to make their dreams come true. And there are a few things that winners never do.
It always sounds so obvious, but lack of preparation is one of the biggest faults I see in the show ring. Riders often show up late to the cone, reins uneven, with hair tumbling out of their hats, mud on their boots rushing into the pen. Sometimes it is their horse that is unprepared, unsure of the circumstances with sweat marks from a previous work or thrown into circumstances for which they have no basis of understanding.
Being prepared starts at home with time in the saddle training, planning and making yourself ready for a great ride. It also means having the proper equipment for the task at hand. This includes wearing appropriate footwear and clothing perhaps even a safety helmet. I had an instructor that couldn’t stand it when I wore sunglasses to school over the jumps. She knew that I did not need glasses to see. The instructor perceived the sunglasses as my attempt to look cool. She literally would chastise me for wearing them because she felt they inhibited my ability to see clearly. The same goes for head phones, chewing gum and anything else that distracts you from your job – directing and protecting your horse.
Get your heels down. You have heard those words a thousand times before and will continue to hear them as long as you are a student of horsemanship. Your heel is your base, the lowest point of your foundation – that upon which everything else is built. When your horse comes to a screeching halt in fear of the flapping flags, better have your heels down. If you want to create inertia, when your horse needs a little extra oomph in his step; better have your heels dug deep in your stirrup. And similar to the idiom discussed last week, digging in means more than just getting your heels down.
Just as Tiger Woods practices his swing on the driving range for 2 or more hours per day, you must practice drills to keep your base strong. That means a lot of time in the saddle standing in your stirrups, in a two-point or forward position stretching and strengthening your lower leg. The flexibility and strength in your ankle and lower leg is the key to a good connection with your horse. You cannot be a great rider without being connected – at all times – to your horse. All good connections start at the bottom, with your base. When times get tough, it is this base that will keep you anchored on a successful path.