Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Today we are going back to the show ring tips topic. As the title suggests ~ I am resurrecting it. Why? Because it's one of my favorite topics, very important to your show ring career and I truly enjoy helping folks excel. :)

One of the most important things you can do after arriving at the showgrounds, getting signed up or checked in and readying both yourself and your horse for the ring is to make sure you have a set of eyes on the ground. There will almost always be things a rider or handler will miss, in the excitement of the moment. Just before stepping into the ring, make sure you've got someone to wipe your horse (quick soft brush then a rag over the body, a rag to wipe the mouth and a rag to wipe the hooves), to run a brush through your horse's tail (and mane in some cases) making certain the tail knot is pulled out, to wipe your boots ~ I have a hilariously funny story about this ~ and to make sure your girth or cinch is tightened. Few things are worse than going in the ring with a tied up tail, dusty boots, a loose girth…or without your number.

My dusting-off-boots story: A couple of years back we were at a large all Arabian show in Las Vegas when I was getting ready to head to the ring for a Western Pleasure class. My daughter was assisting in making sure we were prepared to show, so I asked her to give me the final touch up, by "busting my doots". Yes, you read that right. For some reason I was struck with an episode of severe dyslexia, and could not for the life of me ask her to "dust my boots". After about the third time, she figured out what I meant, so off we were headed for the in gate with clean boots. However, my husband on an errand made a detour by Wal-Mart for a burgundy hand towel and a gold paint pen to write "Doot Buster" on said towel. Thus, an official SFTS tradition was born. We attend no shows without the Doot Buster.

Another of the most important pieces of advice you can possibly be given is to SMILE! No matter if you are competing in hand or under saddle, Western or English, in Equitation or Pleasure ~ if you do so, your judge will notice. Don't overschool your horse, especially in the lead-up to the big dance. As riders and trainers, we tend to forget this and many experience frustration when something isn't perfect in a work session or lesson. That effect is multiplied several times over when we're concentrating on a show the next weekend.

Know your patterns, your courses and/or your tests. Study them!! You are supposed to be exhibiting what you know, how well you can follow directions and how well you can execute each of the above. Judges are impressed with confidence, nothing says you are confident like knowing what you're doing. In Showmanship, quarters are pretty much mandatory. Gone are the days when judges only expected the half system ~ so know your quarters!! I drill my kids in Showmanship every bit as hard as Eq patterns.

Rely on your trainer if you have one. That's what you pay the trainer for! Personally I prefer to warm up my students' and clients' horses for them, before having them climb on board for a quick lesson (and a run through of the pattern right before an Equitation or Horsemanship class). I also do coach from the rail, but my style is more moral support and giving kudos for a great ride than actual coaching. I cannot stand trainers who scream at their students across the arena, it's unprofessional and many judges frown on it.

Make sure you give your horse a break between classes (which also goes to the overschooling issue) to allow them to relax, have a drink, take a 'potty break' and just plain enjoy him or herself. This sort of policy makes for a much happier, more sound horse and that translates to better rides. Never forget, it's about your partnership with your mount, doing your best and camaraderie with your friends, NOT about winning ribbons.

If your horse does not have flying lead changes nailed, don't ask for them! Better to execute a good, smooth simple change and make it look effortless than have a disastrous moment in an otherwise nearly flawless ride. Never, ever lose your temper with your horse…especially in front of your judge. In most circuits doing so will get you ejected from the ring if not from the showgrounds. Keep good sportsmanship in mind, ALWAYS. It doesn't matter if you got a green ribbon instead of a blue one thanks to a careless spectator, it doesn't matter if your horse picked up the wrong lead because another exhibitor ran their horse into yours, none of that matters in the big picture. Hold your temper.

One lesson I learned many years ago was not to argue with your judge, nor to correct him or her. As an exhibitor who competes primarily on Arabian horses, I frequently encounter judges who have zero experience with my breed. Comments I have heard range from "Make sure your horse's hind legs are SQUARE in Halter and Showmanship classes" to "Your horse carries himself with too much of an arch to his neck" to a myriad of other comments. My response is to politely smile, nod and carry on about showing my horses. ;)

That's all for today, folks. I am off to watch some of our next National Champions before giving some lessons and battening down the hatches for a spate of miserable weather. More later on this topic!!


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