In my experience, getting ready for a horse show starts months in advance; maybe even a full year from the event, if you’re a weenie working adult amateur like myself. As the horse show draws near, your prep workload increases exponentially. Maybe you’re taking more lessons, riding more often or even reading about a particular aspect of horsemanship on your lunch break. In my world, the week before is “do or die” time: I take my last pre-show lesson, I beautify my steed, I design a plan of attack and I pack until my fingers bleed [okay, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic]. From the moment I arrive at the showgrounds, I’m in full-on Strategy Mode. I take stock of the condition of the stalls and my horse’s attitude and adjust my plan accordingly. And while your horse show strategy is certainly tailored to your specific horse, I’ve found that lots of folks employ different strategies than I. So I’m going to talk about a few of the things I do once I arrive at the show to prepare Miles.
Strategy #1: Lunging
I’ll be upfront: I lunge Miles at shows. I do not LTD [lunge to death] but I’ve found that a good 20-30 minutes is a godsend for Miles and I. Primarily, I do this because as soon as Miles turns the corner and sees the show ring he goes “OMGERHD HORSE SHOW!” and he loses all ability to focus. It’s kind of cute… in a “Wow, I have no desire to try to ride through that” kind of way. But, I am admittedly a weenie adult amateur. As a matter of personal preference I prefer to lunge out some of Miles’s excess energy, versus riding him around. This is due to the fact that (1) I am a chicken-shit and (2) I’m still a bit out of shape and riding around for hours on end and then attempting to show would not work well. But I know many folks who prefer to ride over lunge.
Strategy #2: Schooling the Jumps
Miles doesn’t particularly care what the jumps look like; he doesn’t peak very often, and he’s adjustable enough to do the correct strides or add. But I really need the practice. It’s extremely valuable for me to be able to practice over the jumps. It allows me to figure out the approach in case there’s a tricky diagonal fence, and to see how the lines ride [and how Miles reacts to them]. As time goes on and I learn more and more about Miles, I’m starting to be able to anticipate how the course will go, so maybe in the future, my practice time won’t be as essential.
Strategy #3: KISS
KISS is an acronym for the design principle “Keep It Simple Stupid” and it’s particularly relevant to my riding, especially at a show. I focus on the techniques I’ve been practicing in lessons, and let the rest go. A horse show isn’t the right time to try something new, or overwhelm yourself by remembering everything you’ve ever learned. I read somewhere that you should expect to show at the level you lessoned at 3 months prior. I’m not sure if it’s quite that drastic, but that has helped me keep in perspective what I should expect out of myself and my horse.
Strategy #4: Jump Higher
Right now, Miles isn’t too impressed by the height we’re showing at [2′], so sometimes he gets pretty lazy about picking up his feet. Now it’s not all his fault, sometimes I don’t help him out very much, but rubbing a rail [or worse, knocking one down] is a major fault in the hunter ring that I want to avoid at all costs. So recently my trainer has taken to having me jump a 2’3″ or 2’6″ vertical in the schooling ring before going to in show. What does this accomplish? Miles picks up his feet and respects the jumps… mostly because he thinks we’re jumping a bit higher than we actually are.
What are some strategies you use at horse shows?