Yes, it's another post on show ring tips and tricks. :) There is just a lot to cover on this topic, so here we go!
Picking up where we left off, you will find that there is SO MUCH you don’t know or think about when readying yourself and your horse for a show, which is the purpose of this little learning exercise.
A few tips on ring etiquette:
When you are asked to back your horse, don't forget to check behind you...the same goes for the reverse. Many judges appreciate this and doing so will sometimes give you a leg up on your fellow competitors.
Try to be sure your horse's performance is consistent. You can have a horse that isn't quite as pretty or talented and still place well if you have consistency in your rides.
Please, PLEASE do not train your horse (or allow him/her to be trained) in a manner inconsistent with what is correct. There are tons of "trends" and fads in the horse show world, but there is no substitute for a well trained, correct moving, mannerly horse that moves properly with good self carriage. Quality of your gaits is essential.
Don't fall for trends and the judge wont care if your turn-out isn't perfect as long as it is respectful and your horse looks nice. Spend as much time as you can grooming, conditioning and schooling your horse (within reason ~ don't overschool) at home and it will pay off!
Be sure you are showing your horse from the moment you set hoof in that arena until you leave the ring at the end of your class, no matter how bad of a ride you had. That one is imperative! Even if you are waiting for the previous class to be pinned and your class is lined up awaiting instruction, or you're lined up at the conclusion of your class. You are STILL in the show ring, act like you belong there.
Definitely be ready to enter the ring when your class is called. Nothing is more aggravating than being in your class, ready to rock and having to wait for some slowpoke to show up. There is a two minute gate call for a reason! Also, nothing peeves off a parent like paying for classes their children miss because they were not listening or goofing off instead of getting in the ring.
Remember that the warm-up ring at many shows can be chaos. Be prepared for horses to go blowing by you in various directions, horses running up on your horse's tail and horses cutting you off. Too many riders, including trainers, do not pay attention to where they are going during warm-up! Additionally there are sometimes those exhibitors who will purposefully and deliberately try to blow your ride ~ this goes for in the show ring during classes as well as in the warm-up pen. I personally have had this happen, you simply have to ignore it (sometimes you can take it as a compliment, that you're tough competition and they would rather take you out than compete against you). Don't allow it to bother you, because if it does, it will bother your horse.
Only YOU are responsible for your horse...no one else. Keep that in mind at every show, during every class. In the show ring, no matter your discipline, show your strengths and hide your weaknesses. At least, try to. ;)
Many riders will try to correct problems with their horses behind the judge's back. I have news for you! Perhaps they can't see what's happening when their backs are turned, but they CAN hear it. It's all good to know where your judge is (as well as the horses around you), but continually glancing around the ring to see if the judge is looking at you is a big no-no in my book. Some folks advocate doing so ~ I do not. Checking over your shoulder on occasion is fine. Making a small correction to your horse when you think the judge is watching someone else is okay, too, as long as it is minor and quickly accomplished. You don't want to allow your horse to get away with bad behavior, but there is a difference between major discipline in the show ring and a little bump here or a little tap there.
Along those same lines, make sure your horse is ready at home BEFORE you take him to a horse show. Train your horse! To be sure, you can never know 100% how a horse will react the first time at a show, and your horse may be perfect in your home arena. Horse shows are not the time to be trying new things and you should not need to have a major knock-down, drag out fight with your horse at a show.
Some horses have fear issues, but a confident rider can overcome them in most cases. A number of horses are afraid of being handed a ribbon, some hate the loudspeakers, others spook at a camera's flashbulb. I have ridden in many arenas where the show committee will place sponsor banners or signs on the arena rails and I have had horses that hated another horse passing close by or running up behind them - ALL of these things can be scary to some horses. Get them used to things like that at home and they won't be such an issue when you get to the showgrounds. Set up situations in a controlled setting where you are in charge and let your horse learn to deal with them at the horse's own pace.
Try not to punish your horse if he's truly afraid. Scared horses are not safe horses, however I've had the best luck in trying to work them through whatever they're frightened of as long as we end on a good note, just like at home. If your horse is just plain out of control and you cannot get him in hand, scratch your classes. Better to waste a few dollars on class fees than have a bad wreck or worse, wreck someone else. Along those lines, if a rider is unseated, halt your horse. Some say to dismount, I would rather you stay on your horse, it's usually a safer place to be. Consequently, if you come off your horse during a class, it's preferable that you ask to remain in the ring, because you don't want your horse learning that they can get out of working in a class by tossing you! Inevitably they will try it again.
Many times judges will pick their favorites and even start placing their classes (especially if they're rather large) from the moment you set foot in the ring, so make your entrance count! Set your horse up so you can easily head through the gate and down the rail giving the judge a great first impression.
Remember: Impulsion, impulsion, impulsion. In English classes, your judges will appreciate a horse with good forward gaits. Likewise, if you have a Western horse, keep in mind that you want your horse to show proper collection, not just a lethargic stroll down the rail or that horrid looking "crippled shuffle" with the hip moved over toward the center of the ring. Yuck!
Take the time to give your horse a pat after the cards are turned in while you're in the lineup, and as you're exiting the ring. You will leave the impression that you're really thrilled with the ride your horse gave you (even if the truth is, not so much) and that you have respect for your horse as your riding partner. It looks professional and like you care. Every little thing can count, good judges will take notice.
Drugs ARE NOT FOR THE SHOW RING! Things like Bute have their place, but don't come to a show with an entire pharmacy. More than likely you will be caught and nothing good can come of that.
Don't forget to school your horse at the walk as much as the rest of your gaits. It never ceases to amaze me that even trainers will not concentrate on the walk! Walking accounts for 25%-33% of most classes - don't skimp. Also, refrain from allowing your horse to dawdle, wander or gawk around ignoring you, the rider. Performing a good walk can mean the difference between bringing home a ribbon and getting the gate.
There is no prize for rushing into the ring as the gateman is closing that gate. Be prepared and have your horse ready to perform. I prefer to get in there early, even though I don't like being the first one in...unless I know my horse is going to knock the judge's socks off and I want to be the first one he sets his eyes on. Be prepared long before the class is called to order and ready to ask your horse to move off in whatever gait is asked for.
When the announcer calls you to the lineup - LINE UP! Be prompt, don't continue around the arena for another five minutes just to show off. Making that last pass down the rail in front of the judge is okay, but don't make a scene. You don't want to make a spectacle of yourself. For myself, I like to get a spot on the end of the line, because you have a 50% less chance of running into a problem with backing. Many horses do not back straight (which is something else you need to work on at home before you ever think about going to a show) and if the horse next to you backs crooked, you run the risk of your horse moving into him.
Most important of all, relax, and DON'T forget to breathe! I have had students that rode out of the ring out of breath. While this can happen under normal circumstances in some classes (Over Fences events are notorious for this, as is the English Show Hack division at an Arabian show!), this is not something you expect with a Walk/Trotter coming out of a four horse Equitation class. I've also had some kids exit a class and mention that the judge told them to breathe. Sometimes we need little reminders. This is one of those times! Anything you can do to calm yourself, which will in turn help keep your horse calm, will do wonders for your performances. A lot of kids like to listen to their I-pods or other mp3 players. Which is fine as long as they don't miss their classes!
I'll continue this again later on, finishing up with some tips on how to handle yourself as an exhibitor and the parent of a child who shows. Meanwhile, enjoy immersing yourself in the wonderful world of preparing to go show!