By Karen L. Waite, Ph. D.
This is for the ones who are just getting started, or even those who’ve been at it awhile, but can’t quite figure out how to get better. The ones who go to horse shows weekend after weekend, place 5th or 6th or 8th if they place at all, but keep telling themselves not to quit because they love it and someday it will come together for them. While that may be true, as the saying goes, “if you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Not to mention the fact that sometimes people in this bracket blame judges, industry trends and the world in general for their misfortune. So here are a few tips to speed up the process from average to excellent.
1. Cones Matter-In pattern classes, the side of the cone you’re on throughout the run absolutely matters. When learning patterns, make sure you know what side to be on at all times. Also make sure you execute transitions between your horse’s muzzle and shoulder…anything later is too late, anything sooner too early. If a turn at a cone is involved, determine where best to stop to execute the next maneuver.
2. Leads Matter-Know your leads, and if your horse takes off on the wrong one, FIX IT. None of this awkwardness thinking the judge doesn’t see you. They do. Better yet, learn to set your horse up to take the correct lead before departing at all.
3. Diagonals Matter-Just like leads, learn to take the correct diagonal and if you don’t, switch to the correct one ASAP. This will factor into your placings in Equitation especially, but it’s a good rule of thumb regardless.
4. Your horse’s condition matters-Even in those classes where the horse is more of a prop to demonstrate your skills (Showmanship, Equitation etc.), their overall health and condition matters. In addition to the fact that an underweight horse looks bad for the horse show industry as a whole, a thin horse may have a more difficult time handling the stresses that naturally come with showing. Understand body condition, and how to safely add (or remove) weight as needed, because when it comes right down to it, if I have to decide between a close pair, I’m using the one that looks healthiest most likely.
5. YOUR condition matters-Comb your hair and make sure your clothes fit and your hat is clean and shaped. Showing a horse is a bit like a job interview…and that means putting your best foot forward and making a good impression. Ask for help from someone who seems to have it together if you’re not sure on this one. Bobby pins and Aqua-Net are the unsung heros of horse showing for all involved.
6. Thinking Matters Just as Much as Riding Sometimes (Sometimes Even More) When you’re first starting to show or even ride, you’re often just glad if you achieve the basics without an accident. If you walk, jog and lope and stay on throughout, sometimes that’s a win in itself. But after that, you’re going to need to learn to develop two things: ring etiquette and strategy. And both of these things require the ability to think about more than just yourself. Learn how to safely pass other horses, and think about what you’re doing while doing it. Actually ride your horse, and strategize when you’ll ask for what in a pattern class.
Trust me, I recognize that showing horses can be stressful, but learning to manage that stress, think through what you’re doing, and make good choices is what makes the difference between the middle of the pack and the top. The day you learn to think in the pen and help your horse make good decisions is the day you’ll start winning.