Every child gets a little nervous their first day of school: there are new kids to meet, strange surroundings and unknown expectations. Plus, the food isn't all that great. Horse shows aren't much different to the green ...Every child gets a little nervous their first day of school: there are new kids to meet, strange surroundings and unknown expectations. Plus, the food isn't all that great. Horse shows aren't much different to the green ...
Every child gets a little nervous their first day of school: there are new kids to meet, strange surroundings and unknown expectations. Plus, the food isn’t all that great. Horse shows aren’t much different to the green horse. Despite all of your training, when your inexperienced horse arrives at his first competition, he may just simply fall apart. Here are some tips to help make your horse’s first show a successful one.
Introduce your horse gradually to the idea of performing his job away from home. Find a local show where you can haul-in your horse for the day and just hang out. Think of it as a dress rehearsal. You and your horse can wear comfortable schooling attire. Lead him around the show grounds. Lunge him in the warm-up ring. Let him hear the loudspeaker. If all goes well, saddle up for a casual ride. In some circles, this day at the show is called "camping out". It’s a chance to gauge how your horse reacts to the commotion, and a low-pressure opportunity to acquaint him with his new career.
The next step is to choose a suitable show for your horse’s debut. Keep this first experience a positive one by giving more concern to a quiet, well-managed environment rather than to the actual classes offered. Does the facility have a ring where you can safely lunge your horse to settle his nerves? Is the area surrounding the show ring inviting, or is it fraught with distractions like a city park, a busy street, or a noisy grandstand? Are the other exhibitors likely to be considerate of someone on a green horse, or will it be kamikaze time in the warm-up ring? Some schooling shows keep the arena open during the lunch break, allowing you to acquaint your horse with the announcer’s booth and the concession stand. Call ahead and see if this is a possibility. You must choose your horse’s first show wisely, lest you end up terrorizing the poor animal.
Finally, plan an agenda for the big day. Give yourself plenty of time in the morning to lunge your horse and let him settle in. Your first class should probably be just for schooling. Pay your entry fee, but turn your number upside down. This tells the judge that you’re not vying for a ribbon. Without disrupting the flow of the class, or disturbing the other entrants, this will allow you to take your time picking up your leads, walk a bit longer, or perhaps make a few circles without feeling the pressure to go for a prize. If your horse schools well, decide on a few classes whose routines will be familiar to your horse. For example, don’t choose a horsemanship class if you’ve never practiced movements like figure eights or serpentines. And if you’re only jumping crossrails at home, don’t over-face your young hunter by entering a green hunter class because, well, "the fences don’t look that high."
It’s important not to intimidate or challenge your horse at this stage. Aim to keep him relaxed, and build his confidence. At the next show, you can ask more of him. Let him get used to kindergarten before pressing him into high school!