By: Sharise Hawkins
- Part 1 of 3 in Gearing Up For Your First Horse Show series.
Show season is upon us! For some, shows are a regular occurrence and preparing for one is second nature. But everyone has that first show. Whether you’re anxiously entering your 4-h pony into your first gymkhana, or just getting started into a new retirement hobby, preparing for a first show can stress even the most steadfast riders out. But does it really have to be so bad?
First off, make sure you’ve done your homework when filling out your entry forms. There are a vast number of levels among the various disciplines. Check and double check that you’ve written down the correct classes for you and your horse. If you have doubts about anything, be sure to ask an experienced person for help, or check the applicable rule book. You’d be surprised what little things can have rules attached to them. For example, in dressage, you may not carry a whip over 120 cm long; breed specific shows can be very strict about which horses are allowed in which classes; even your local hack shows will have regulations about how tall your horse is and what class he will be in. Don’t set yourself up for disqualification and disappointment; research your rule book and know your classes.
When your entries are sent, make arrangements for transportation. You may be lucky enough to have a truck and trailer of your own, or you may have to find someone who’s kind enough to let you hitch a ride. Make sure you know well in advance how you’ll be travelling and practice loading your horse. Have a back-up plan just in case and always offer money for fuel to the driver.
Gearing Up to Settle Down
If you have access to a barn with a wash stall, feel free to give your horse a bath. Work from bottom to top, back to front, rinsing thoroughly as often as possible. It is best to bath your horse a few days before your show since this allows the natural oils in his coat to re-establish and bring out his natural shine, but if your horse isn’t trustworthy to keep himself reasonably clean, the day before is perfectly acceptable. If circumstances prevent you from giving your horse a full bath, simply use a pail of warm water to spot-wash the areas that really need it without soaking your horse and risking him catching a chill. Be sure his joints are spotless and any white markings are dazzling!
A clean, shiny mane is lovely if it’s left loose, which is acceptable in some western and breed specific shows, but leave the mane unwashed if you plan to braid. The dust and grit in it will make holding the strands easier and help keep the braid from falling out. Braids can be large or small, thin or thick, bobbled or looped, taped or threaded with yarn. Practice a little beforehand and see what works for you. Some horses limit your options with impatient head bobbing or relentless rubbing. If you have a hunch that your horse is just going to rub all his braids (and half his mane!) out overnight, do yourself a favour and simply allot extra time to braid him in the morning. Re-doing an entire braiding job is frustrating and time consuming, and will only make you resent each other. Take as long as you need to get your horse groomed to perfection, but pay attention to his cues; let him have a break and take him out to hand graze for ten or fifteen minutes if he starts to get restless. Let him have his hay and bucket of water while you’re brushing, braiding or clipping. Teach him that this is special time with you where he is treated like a king. When you’ve finished, put an appropriate sheet on him to keep him clean and let him go about his day.
In spite of the obvious excitement with your show only one sleep away, take the time to assess your own state of mind, as well as your horse’s. You may even wish to take the day before a show off from schooling completely. Do something you and your horse enjoy; go for a quiet hack, a group trail ride, play on the ground, whatever you find fun and relaxing. By establishing a pre-show routine that keeps you both tranquil and focused, you’ll be better able to handle the spotlight. It’s fine to school the day before a show, but keep it comparatively light. The last thing you want is a burned-out horse on overload when you’re trying to perform at optimum level.
Razzle Dazzle Them
Cleaning your tack—while not the most glorifying job—is one of the most important parts of preparing for your show. Check for wear and tear on stirrup leathers, girths and cinches, reins, and around buckles. Dry cracked leather could leave you jumping the latter half of your course with only one stirrup, or even ditch you sideways mid-spin if your latigo becomes a “let-it-go”. Regular care and maintenance of your tack is important, but use your show as an excuse to get personal with all the bits and pieces of your gear. Take your bridle apart, soap every grimy keeper and buckle hole and oil it lightly with tiny dabs along all surfaces, rubbing it in with your fingers. Take care not to go overboard on the oil, it can ruin your tack. Polish any silver, shine every buckle, scrub every stitch, and buff out any scuffs or scrapes with a soft cloth and some oil.
As soon as you’re able, pack your grooming supplies and tack into the trailer. If you’re trailering with other riders, be sure to keep your own gear organized so you can find it easily and won’t get it mixed up with someone else’s. Keep all your tack together; don’t put your saddle on the rack, your girth in the box of the truck, your pad in your friend’s car and your bridle in the cab.
Keep your brush box clean, organized and well stocked with your entire arsenal of grooming essentials. Any extra equipment, like sheets, fly masks, and boots should be kept in an adequately sized clear plastic container that is well labelled with your name on it. If you’re stabling, make sure to bring a pitchfork, wheelbarrow, water bucket, and a short length of hose.
Never assume that you’ll have access to tools and equipment at the grounds and for biosecurity reasons, don’t share your tools. Bring enough hay for the time that you’ll be away, and pack any overnight gear that you’ll need for yourself. Take into account whether you’re camping or staying in a hotel and pack accordingly.
Next Article: Gearing Up For Your First Horse Show – Part II
A Bit About Sharise
Sharise Hawkins lives on a small acreage in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia with her husband, two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. With fifteen other horses in addition to her own to look after, she is able to nurture her passion for all things equestrian and has constant inspiration for her work as a writer; both creative and objective. Sharise also has a strong love of health and fitness, and hopes one day to combine her two obsessions to educate others toward the ultimate horse/rider partnership of longevity and wellness through nutrition and training.