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.
As the week winds down and you approach the horse show, consider changing the times that you school to mirror when you will show. It may not be possible at home with kids in school, but once you get to Ohio, it should be part of the plan to practice at the same time you will be showing. If you or your horse has never ridden at night, it can be a big change. Practice during feeding time if it looks like that may be when you have to show.
When show day arrives, make sure you prepare early. The first thing that you will be judged on is your preparedness. If you are not at the cone and ready to go when your number is called, you will be judged accordingly. It is every rider’s responsibility to be on time. There will be scratches. Pay attention and make sure you lay eyes on the person ahead of you. Making judges wait is no way to make a first impression.
If you are wondering how tired to have your horse, it is better to error on the side of having your horse too tired. They will always perk up a bit once you get to the makeup pen. And speaking of the makeup pen, make sure you ride in it too. It is an important part of how you get off to a good start at the cone. If your horse is shook up because he hates the overhang, he may not settle into the pattern as he does at other shows.
If you or your horse are a little antsy waiting for your turn, keep walking, jogging or trotting around. The movement will settle any nerves on both counts, keeping both your minds busy. If you know that your horse will be anxious, sometimes it is best to keep him or her moving at a canter or lope until you have to go into the show arena. If your horse is on the verge of being winded, he will be ready to stand and while catching his air, your horse will realize how tired he is. Your chances of having the horse you know at the start cone are much better.
Once you are in the chute, focus on your breathing. Keep your horse focused by walking a small circle as you move up in the line. Do not pick on your horse or hold the reins too tight. Allow your horse to walk then stop, walk then stop.
As you step into the show arena and to the cone gauge how much time you will have to stand there from those who go in front of you. Try to eat some time through your approach to the cone so you do not end up standing at the cone for any longer than necessary.
Do not convince yourself that it is better to go late in a draw. The judges are ready for the winner to be the first horse to step up to the cone. If the class is run with a random order within your draw, do not be afraid to go first. The first horse sets the pace leaving it up to the others to step up to the plate to beat the first run.
Once you are at the start cone, keep breathing. Taking deep breathes is a proven method of maintaining a calm clear head. It is important to show in the same fashion as you practice. Making radical changes once you get into the arena is a sure way to surprise your horse. Practice the way you intend to show, with good posture, proper rein length and the correct contact for you and your horse.
As you begin your pattern keep your eyes up and your head in the game by concentrating on your path. Think about the key areas that you need to concentrate on to have a great pattern for instance, keeping your lead arm pressed forward in Showmanship or keeping your seat deep in the horsemanship, or saying “whoa” as you complete your spin. Have your trainer or coach give you no more than one or two things to focus on throughout your pattern. Judges are looking for the rider who makes decisions seamlessly.
Finally, relax and have fun. Do not try to make yourself into something you are not just because you see it done. Stay on your game and stick to your plan. You will be judged on your ability to handle your horse through whatever course you are riding. Judges are looking for riders who can make good decisions and stay connected throughout the course.
Make it look easy, make it fun. Smile, but do not look cocky. Attitude is evident from afar – keep yours pleasant and appropriate. Appreciate your horse and the opportunity to be at the horse show. Where else would you rather be?