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!

 

Cardinal Rules Of Showing – Tips For Your First Show

Spring is almost here and if you’re like a lot of folks, you’re already thinking about the show season. Some of you may have already scheduled your entire show season, and others may be considering showing for the first time. Either way, now is the best time to set your goals and schedule accordingly.

SHOW RING

Being a competitor and a judge, I see a lot of new comers to barrel races and horse shows. Remembering what it’s like to be a complete novice and not know anyone, I always try to reach out and help folks that are new to showing. Regardless of what level you ride at, or what event you decide to compete in there’s a lot to learn and a lot of “unwritten rules”.

MO STEVE

The first cardinal rule is always bring your Coggins test even if it doesn’t say it’s required!

The second cardinal rule is thoroughly read the Show Bill or Prize List and pay attention to all the details. The show bill will tell you when the show starts, what the rules are, how much entry fees are and if there are any miscellaneous fees.

The show bill will also list the classes that will be offered. You’ll want to decide way ahead of time which classes you want to ride in. Write down the number and name of the class on a sheet of paper and keep that with you at all times. It’s also a good idea to keep a show bill in your pocket. This way you won’t forget which classes you’re entering at sign up – you’d be amazed how many people forget. This also helps to speed up the sign up process.

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Speaking of sign ups, one question I often get is “What do I do to sign up and where do I go?”

Every event will have either a sign up table or an actual show office. This is where you sign up and pay for classes and get information about the show. Another tip is always bring cash. Not every show takes checks so be prepared.

 

Another cardinal rule of showing is be ready for your class! Always know what class is in the arena so that you’ll know when it’s time for you to be close to the in gate and ready to go in. If you miss your class, you can be disqualified and in most cases entry fees won’t be refunded.

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If you think you might not have enough time between classes to get tack or horses changed, request a “Tack Change” at the time of sign ups. That way the judge and ring steward will know you’re running late and will allot a little extra time before the class.

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One cardinal rule that is frequently broken is know your patterns. Most shows will post the pattern early on to let contestants memorize it ahead of time. Look at and memorize the pattern as early as possible so that you know what you’re supposed to be doing in the pen. One tip is to take a picture of the pattern with your phone – that way you can carry it with you.

The last cardinal rule I’ll talk about is getting to the show early. A good rule of thumb is to get to the show at least two hours before it starts. That way you have plenty of time to acclimate your horses and warm up.There’s nothing more stressful to you or your horse than dashing into a class at the last-minute.

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By planning ahead way ahead, allotting for enough time, and paying attention to the details your first show experience can be a positive one.

Are you planning on showing or competing this year? If so, what events? What are you looking forward to and what are you worried about?

Water For Winter

Cold weather is here and in some cases the temperature has dropped drastically in a matter of just a few hours. While extreme changes in weather can cause some concerns for managing your horse, there are things you can do to minimize your horse’s risk of getting sick.

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Any time the thermometer drops it’s a good idea to add water to your horse’s feed. Horses generally drink less and eat more hay when it’s cold. This of course is the prime set up for compaction colic. Adding water to the feed is a great way to get some guaranteed fluids in their digestive system and avoid choke at the same time.

Some owners will add salt to the feed to encourage their horses to drink. While this may work for a lot of horses, I have seen some horses with digestive issues that will not up their water intake even with the salt. The result is that they become dehydrated much faster because they don’t drink enough water to compensate for the added salt. This is why wetting down feed is a good option.

Even if your horse’s weight is where it should be and they don’t require additional grain, it’s still a good idea to add soaked roughage during the changes in weather. Adding a small amount of soaked alfalfa or beet pulp is a great choices for horses that are on hay and/or pasture and don’t require feed.

Soaked Alfalfa cubes

soakedalf

Alfalfa comes in small squares or cubes and in pelleted form. Beet pulp comes in pelleted, shredded, or meal form. Both options are high in fiber and expand when water is added. As both can be used to replace a small part of the hay intake (20-30%) they’re a great way to stretch your hay supply.

When soaking feed or cubes, it’s a good idea to let it soak until it’s soft and expanded. If you feed a straight grain, you can still add some water to the grain until it softens. Hot water can shorten the amount of time needed to soften and expand. If more convenient you can also soak overnight as long as the water does not freeze. Freezing will make it impossible to get the feed or forage out of the bucket.

Soaked Beet Pulp

soaked beet

A good rule of thumb for soaking is to cover the cubes, pellets, or shreds with at least an inch of water. If you’re feeding straight grain, you won’t need as much water. For pellets that are extremely hard or for beet pulp shreds you’ll want to add a little more water. Horses with teeth issues will also need a wetter mix.

As fresh drinking water is a critical component to managing horses well in cold weather, make sure your horses have free access to their water buckets or troughs. Keep the ice busted up and if necessary periodically off them warm water to encourage them to drink. If tank warmers are not an option, setting your troughs in an area where they receive direct sunlight on a daily basis will help minimize the amount of ice that accumulates.

 

What concerns do you have for your horse this winter? What are your strategies to avoid those concerns?

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Preparation for Showing

To me, breaking colts is relatively easily most of the time. If you do your ground work right, most of the time you won’t have a problem. It’s after the breaking process when you take them out into the real world that the real work begins. That’s when you find out who your horse truly is and whether or not you’ve done all you can do. I can assure you, the real world will quickly help you find the holes in your training that you didn’t know existed.

While hauling out to a show will certainly test how well you’ve trained your horse, there are a few things that can help you and your horse prepare for those first trips out.

The first thing is to of course make sure you’ve got a good foundation on your horse. Are they soft in the face so that if you had to stop or change directions quickly you could? Can you control their feet and their body easily? These are probably the two most critical questions you could ask. Make sure you have control of your horse at home first.

One of the things that I do in the training process to help prepare for hauling and seasoning is lunging out in the pasture. There’s something about working out in a big wide open space that brings out the energy in a green horse. That’s when you’ll see another side of your horse.  It’s better to discover that other side at home where you can deal with it, plus lunging out in the pasture teaches them they have to work no matter where they are and what their energy level is.

Another thing that I do in preparation for hauling out to shows is tying them out for long periods of time on a regular basis. At most local events there are no stalls available for your horses which means they’ll have to stand tied to the trailer. It’s not uncommon to arrive at 9am and the show not end until after 9pm which means they’ll have to stand tied for several hours. Unless you can hold your horse the whole entire day, it’s going to be critical that your horse tie safely to the trailer. Tying your horse out frequently will help prepare for that.

Ponying and using a green horse to pony off of is another preparation step I use for hauling preparation. This is a good tool for getting a horse use to trafficking in the warm up pen or show arena. Ponying gets them used to having another horse close, and teaches them that even though another horse is close they still have to work and have a job to do.

If at all possible, set it up where you can ride with several horses either at home or at a friend’s. Small gatherings with plenty of room are the best places to get your feet wet when starting the seasoning process. You want to set your green horse up for success. The last thing you want to do is haul to a crowded arena with too much activity going on and over-stimulate your horse and set them up for failure.

What are some of the things you have done to prepare your young or green horse for their first outing away from home? Did you feel that you had done enough or did you find things you needed to work on?

Standing tied at an open show….

Ponying as part of the breaking process…

TOADIE SHOWpony toad n mo

The Loss Of Versatility

When the AQHA was started decades ago, their goal was to promote a horse that could do anything. In fact, in the early years it was a expected that horse be sensible and useable. For many years, the motto of the International Arabian Horse Association was the “The most versatile horse on earth.” In the early years, it wasn’t uncommon for both of these breeds to spend their week days doing jobs such as cow work, pulling buggies or even plowing fields, and their weekends running races or showing. Legendary ranches such as Al Marah and the 6666 Ranches were producers of such horses, especially in those early years.

While both breeds are still extremely multitalented if given the chance, it’s rare to see a show or competition horse that gets to do more than their assigned discipline or event. In addition to that, show horses are often kept in the pen and rarely get a chance to step out of the show environment to a herd of cows or an open trail. Sadder still is the acceptance that it’s ok for these horses not to behave well in a non-show environment because they are show horses. In a lot of cases it’s expected. For instance, Show Trail horses aren’t expected to be ok with throwing a rope because that’s not part of the show trail requirements.

A discipline shouldn’t limit a horse but enhance it. Yet in today’s world, that’s pretty much what specialization has done. We’ve created horses that are limited in what they can do, and even where they can go. Show horses spook on the trail or barrel horses run off in an open field or jumpers bolt at the sight of a cow. It didn’t start out this way but our attitudes about the ability of these horses were different.

While I can appreciate the fact that today’s horse business and level of competition requires more specialization than it ever has before, I also think there is still a place and a need for a certain amount of versatility in all horses. I also realize the fact that few horses are going to be national champions at everything they try, but I also think that shouldn’t keep us from at least trying it on a small level. Furthermore, I believe that when done correctly, versatility can in fact enhance the skills that are used in their specialized event.

I have a good friend that puts on Horsemanship and Ranch clinics. He also breaks high dollar colts for a dressage trainer. I’ve been to several of his Ranch clinics where he’s used a young Trakehner or Oldenburg to herd cows. It’s also not uncommon to see a couple of english riders at his clinics sorting cows because they know the value of versatility in their horses. While they may not be the best or the quickest at cow work, in the end the horse has benefited from time doing something different.

There are plenty of low key and inexpensive opportunities out there to let your horse try something different. Trail riding, open and schooling shows, cattle sorting practices, and ranch clinics are all ways to let your horse try something new. Try your barrel on a ranch trail pattern at an open show. Try showing your jumper in a training level class at a dressage schooling show. Try your pleasure or dressage horse on cows at a sorting practice.

By including some versatility in your horse’s routine, not only will you see your horse’s attitude improve since they’re doing something new but you’ll also get a chance to work on the same skills they use in their main discipline but in a different way.

What event or discipline is the main focus for your horse? What other events can you try that are similar to his main event that will offer your horse a chance to do something different? If you feel that you can’t try a different event, why? What training can you do with your horse that will improve him so that he can do that different event?

Sorting on a barrel horse & an Arab hunter horse

Sorting on Barrel Horse & Hunter Horse