Sometimes I forget how little I know about Miles: I haven’t even owned him for a full year yet. We fit together so well, it’s easy to think I know exactly how he’ll react in certain situations; but the reality is I’m still learning his personality and how best to manage him and keep him happy and healthy. So far, Miles and I have competed in only three shows together, and each time out I’ve learned a lot.
Before we ever step foot into the show ring for our class, there is a lot of planning and prep work that has to go on. For me, I consider the entire week leading up to the show part of our “prep time.” I schedule a lesson early in the week, and make sure my horse is clipped and groomed well. I try not to do anything too strenuous, so trail rides and light hacks are usually in order. I usually give Thursday off (since we typically trailer to the show and school on Friday) but I don’t think that’s the best approach with Miles.
Lesson #1: Do a light hack on Thursday
Once we arrive at the show, Miles never has any trouble settling in and scarfing down some hay and water. Thus far, he looks quite relaxed in the stall, without a care in the world. But I’ve found out that he’s a bit tricky that way, and it’s all an act.
Lesson #2: Lunge before you ride on Friday and Saturday (maybe even Sunday too)
Remember to always lunge in a bridle and gloves, and don’t be fooled by the western pleasure jog. He needs at least 30 minutes of lunging on Friday, and probably Saturday too.
It’s not hard to keep Miles happy during the show because all he really wants to do is eat; which is 100% peachy keen with me. We bring lots and lots of hay and treats, sit back and watch him stuff his face. When your riding, the most important thing is to continue to keep him happy.
Lesson #3: Evaluate his mood and adjust accordingly
If he wants to walk, let him walk. If he doesn’t want to go all the way down to the spooky end of the warm-up, cut five feet off; it’s really no big deal. When I ask for a canter departure, wait until he’s happy and ready to do it. Miles is a very willing horse, but he can also be sensitive. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, wait a second and then try again when he’s in a better mood.
On course, I need to remember my horse’s little quirks. Like that he jumps better long than short; his change from right to left is tougher and when he’s tired, he jumps flat. I know how to correct all of these things, but they don’t get done if I don’t think about them.
Lesson #4: Ride the entire course, not just the obstacles
I like to think back and reflect, which I think is very valuable. But sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the little details. In the end, it’s important to look at the show as a whole: did I have fun? Was Miles happy? Because those are the things that matter most.
Lesson #5: Enjoy the ride