Calming Show Nerves

As a judge and a competitor that trains my own horses, I’m all too familiar with show nerves in both horses and people. The funny thing about show nerves is that they tend to be a vicious cycle. The more nervous we are, the more the nervous the horse becomes. The more nervous the horse gets, because we’re nervous, the more nervous we get!

Warm up pen - Harriman, Tennessee
Warm up pen – Harriman, Tennessee

It’s a never-ending cycle! The problem is that someone – whether it’s us or the horse – has to lead. If you’ve got a solid baby sitter type horse that’s been everywhere and done everything you might survive if they lead. However, if you’ve got a horse that’s the least bit green or insecure you had better learn to step up to the plate and be a leader.

Insecure horses, whether they’ve been hauled a lot or not, need a confident rider. They need to feel safe and they look to us to make them feel secure. Only when they feel that security can they start to relax and settle. The first step to improving you and your horse’s show nerves is to recognize their need for confidence, and to recognize your responsibility as a leader. When you realize your role of helping your horse, suddenly you go from being reactive and somewhat of a victim to being more in control. Your mindset tends to change when you see you are responsible for your horse’s frame of mind.

Smarter horses tend to anticipate and get more nervous because of that. The best thing you can do on show day with a horse that anticipates is to not get in a hurry. I get nervous if I feel rushed, and I know they do too. The more relaxed I can be, the more relaxed my horses will be as well.

If I have a horse that anticipates, a high energy horse, or a horse that hasn’t been hauled a lot I try to arrive at the show at least two hours before it starts. I’ll wait a few minutes before I unload, and then wait another thirty minutes before I start tacking my horse up. This gives them a chance to acclimate to their surroundings and relax.

Seasoning at the shows
Seasoning at the shows

A lot of riders will spend time lunging their horses to work the energy off. While I do think some horses do need to get that energy out of their system, especially those that don’t get a lot of daily turnout, I think the majority of horses would benefit more from just a few minutes of quality ground work that makes them think.

Mindless circles at a crazed canter doesn’t get a horse’s mind. All it does is tire them out, and if you’re showing you need a certain level of energy to compete. Save some of that energy for the show ring by working your horse in a way that makes them think and engage their mind.

As the saying goes, if you get their mind you get their feet. Asking them to move their shoulders and hips, or make a lateral move from the ground goes a long ways towards getting them thinking under saddle.

The same concept goes for warm up under saddle. Lope or canter just enough circles to get the edge off if they need it, but don’t let the goal of your warm up be to tire your horse out. The goal of your warm up should be to get your horse thinking and paying attention to what you’re asking.

Just like on the ground, moves that require them to think are great for making a horse think. Instead of repetitive circles, try frequent changes of directions and rollbacks, a side pass or a half pass to get your horse paying attention. Mix your ride up to keep them guessing what you’re going to do next.

As you’re riding, make sure you’re relaxed. Any time you’re tense, whether you realize it or not, you’re contracting muscles in your body that send a “go forward” cue to your horse. While your hands and legs may be telling your horse to slow down or stop, the rest of your body is telling your horse to move. This conflict in cues can frustrate a horse and cause them to be more nervous. Taking a big deep breath and releasing it loudly will release the tension that you’re feeling as well as relax the muscles, and it sends an audible cue to your horse.

Relaxing before a class
Relaxing before a class

Knowing your role as a competitor, and changing your warm up strategy can improve show day nerves. Take the time to do an honest assessment of you and your horse, and look for ways to improve your preparation and you’ll see results in the show pen.

Do you struggle with being nervous in the show pen? How do you think that impacts your horse? What changes can you make to improve that?

Hanging out at the trailer on show day. No rush!
Hanging out at the trailer on show day. No rush!

 

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A Solution To The Slaughter Issue?

© copyright owned by F.J. Thomas

There’s been a lot of very heated debates world-wide over the horse slaughter issue. The one thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of people like to complain about human nature but very few people actually offer a solution that’s realistic. One of my favorite quotes is, “If you’re not offering a solution then you’re whining.” I think that’s true.

One of the horses we rescued and fostered over night in January.  This mare would make a NICE barrel or ranch prospect.
One of the horses we rescued and fostered over night in January. This mare would make a NICE barrel or ranch prospect.
Foster donkey (spring 2015) - Working on getting him gentle.
Oscar – he’s a rescue donkey we’re currently fostering until we can find him a home.

While I don’t think there’s an absolute solution, I do think there just might be a way to save some horses, educate owners, help bring awareness, and support the Horse Rescues all at the same time. What it requires is for people to come together and think bigger, outside the box. A lot of rescues focus on getting more donations – I say they need to think bigger, much bigger.

What if all the local Horse Rescues came together and started a national or maybe even world-wide registry?

Think about that for a moment… Something along the lines of recognized breed registries already in existence but instead of getting papers through breeding, the Registration papers would be issued from the Rescue itself and the Rescue Registry. When you adopt a horse from a rescue, they would issue a Rescue Registration to the horse. Individuals that rescue on their own could apply for a registration by sending in pictures. The Registry itself could regulate breeding by not accepting the foal of a registered horse if it was bred after the horse left the registry.

It doesn’t end there however… 

What if the Rescue Registry held local shows and competitions where horses could earn points toward a national Rescue Registry show that’s held once a year? The only horses that could compete would be rescue horses with the Rescue Registry papers.

The local and national approved shows could get Sponsorships from businesses – much like Jumping and Barrel Racing already do – and offer added money as an incentive. Look at the RFD-TV American Rodeo that offered a million dollars. People came out of the woodwork to compete for the American – money talks!

The Extreme Mustang Makeover and Retired Race Horse Project are already doing this exact thing. They both have been very successful at not only saving some horses, but also bringing an awareness of slaughter, and bringing new people into the horse industry. If the Horse Rescues came together, they could do the same thing on a national or even global level.

Some points to ponder for shows would be: 

  • Get major money behind the movement in the form of sponsorships & media  -people love heart string stories
  • Make the shows much more affordable than the average breed or discipline show to encourage new owners to show their horses for the first time
  • Get involved with local 4H & Pony Club 
  • Offer scholarships to the national show
  • Offer classes for all breeds & disciplines as rescue horses are all breeds – Include Donkey & Mule classes!
  • Co-Sanction with other associations as much as possible to offer approved classes within the show.
  • A high percentage of rescue horses are trail horses – offer an ACTHA or Ranch Trail class for those folks 
  • Offer an In-Hand Trail or Agility type class specifically for retired horses that are not rideable due to soundness issues – this would open up an opportunity for people with those horses to compete 

One concern that comes up is when rescue horses are placed in the homes of well-meaning people who honestly don’t have a clue. The Registry could get local trainers on board and get them to donate their time to locally held Horsemanship clinics. They could cover basic Horsemanship and basic showing and make it affordable.  New owners would learn about horsemanship, trainers would get the word out about what they do, all the while helping horses.

Again, I don’t think this would be a complete solution to the problem of unwanted horses and slaughter. You can’t change human nature and things people do which is why regulation doesn’t work very well. However, money does talk and it motivates people to get involved when they might not be otherwise. When you give people an incentive and an avenue to compete, it makes a difference as we’ve seen with the Extreme Mustang Makeover and the Retired Race Horse Project. 

Obviously there’s a lot of details that need to be worked out and a lot of work to be done to get the ball rolling. But the first step is discussion and building the momentum behind the idea. It’s amazing what can happen when people start talking about what started out as a simple idea. Legendary things have happened by just taking that one step.

So what can you do to help? Share this post. Talk to your friends and fellow competitors. Talk the local trainers. Talk to your local rescue and encourage them start holding shows for the horses they adopt out. The main thin is to just get people talking and get them asking how they can do something instead of saying why they can’t.

 

Lacy - She's a rescued mare that we've had for a lot of years and she's now a pasture ornament. Ideally, I would like to find her & another mare a new home where they could have more attention!
Lacy – She’s a rescued mare that we’ve had for a lot of years and she’s now a pasture ornament. Ideally, I would like to find her & another mare a new home where they could have more attention!

 

 

 

 

 

The Joys Of Judging Horse Shows

Judging a horse show at any level is no easy task but it’s one that most of the time I thoroughly enjoy. I enjoy seeing the different horses and spending time with horse people. I also enjoy getting the opportunity to impart any nugget of information I’ve been blessed to pick up and sometimes I’m the one that gets to pick up a new nugget or two of wisdom.While it’s true that you can’t always please everyone you can always use judging as a learning experience. Sometimes the riders learn, sometimes you learn and sometimes you both learn.

Last year I judged a horse show at the Tri-State Exhibition Center in Cleveland, Tennessee. The show was hosted by the Reinbow Riders to benefit the Therapy program there. You can get information about the Reinbow Riders at:  http://tsec.org/therapeutic-riding-center

To my surprise, there were several draft horses that were shown under saddle in Western Pleasure and Saddleseat. While I knew that draft horses could be ridden, I had never seen a full blooded draft horse shown under saddle. Just thinking about judging them gives me cold chills. Not only were they extremely well mannered, but when they jogged or trotted out it was almost magical. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse present with as much power and presence as those horses did. To make it even more special, some of them showed in both Western and Saddleseat. They managed to adjust their strides and headsets beautifully for each, which is no easy task.

Photos courtesy of Christina Stewart – http://christinastewart.smugmug.com/HorseShowsandEvents/Tri-State-Open-September

Saddleseat Clydesdale Reinbow Riders Show
Saddleseat Clydesdale Reinbow Riders Show
Western Belgian Reinbow Riders Show
Western Belgian Reinbow Riders Show

This past weekend, I judged for the Smoky Mountain Horse Show Series at Stonegate in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was a full day starting at 8 in the morning. The day started with Hunter and Jumper classes and then progressed into Trail, Western, and Gaited classes in the evening.

This show is one of my favorites to judge for several reasons. One is the friendly atmosphere. The show management is always a lot of fun and the contestants are always very friendly and gracious. Another reason is the complexity of the obstacles. They offer more than the typical course set for trail and jumping which also provides an even greater atmosphere for horses and riders to school and learn. It’s not often that you see a course of this caliber at open shows.

View From The Judge's Booth
View From The Judge’s Booth

Another reason, and probably the main one, that I enjoy this show so much is the opportunity to help riders learn.  It’s not uncommon to see kids less than 5 years old in the ring. They’re generally very eager to learn and I tend to have a lot of fun with that. But it’s not always just the tiny kids that I get a chance to help. Sometimes it’s the teenager that’s never shown before that’s obviously a nervous wreck and isn’t sure what they’re supposed to do. This show lets me take the time to help those kids smile and relax and learn how to enjoy showing horses and in the end, that’s what is important.

If you’d like to see some pics from the Smoky Mountain Horse Show you can visit Keith Mooney Photography: http://keithmooneyphoto.smugmug.com/HorseShows/SMHSS-at-SGF-Aug-3-2013

Smoky Mountain Horse Show series is run by Matt Lawson , Ashley Jenkins and Krystle Bridges. The show is located at two farms in West Knoxville. If you would like to see Keith Mooney’s pictures from the Smoky Mountain Horse Show Series you can visit: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Adamo-Equestrian/333500471820

Do you have a favorite show that you like to compete at? What is it about the show that you like?