By: Sharise Hawkins
- Part 2 of 3 in Gearing Up For Your First Horse Show series.
She Who Rides Last, Moves Slowest
Regardless of where you’re staying, expect the day of your show to come bright an early. I’m talking a good 5 or 5:30 AM. Shows generally are underway by eight o’clock in the morning and you want to make sure you have more than enough time to do any chores that are required, finish any last minute packing, load your horse and travel. It’s helpful if you know what time you’re expected to ride, but things aren’t always that simple. Give yourself lots of time by adding another hour onto whatever travel time you expect. You want to make this as stress-free as possible for you and your horse, don’t make the mistake of rushing through the morning because you slept in.
Once you’ve made it to the grounds and unloaded your horse, you’ll have to find the administration desk to collect your number. They’ll usually give you a better idea of when you’ll be riding, if you don’t already know. Leave your horse with someone trustworthy, or tie him to your trailer with his hay bag. The sooner you have your paper work, the sooner you can set about planning the rest of your day. The only exception to this is if your horse is very upset and you’re worried about leaving him with someone else or tied up. Take the time to settle and walk him, and ask someone to get your paper work for you. Usually, all you have to provide is your name and proof of your rider’s insurance.
Have a final look over all your gear and make sure your organized so you aren’t searching for anything at the last minute. Have everything handy; spare braiding tape, safety pins, stock pin, baby wipes, elastics, hair net, fly spray, and anything else you could need at the drop of a hat. Study your pattern, test, or course so that you know it inside and out and can visualize it easily. If you can, stand close to the ring for awhile and watch so you get a feel for how things run and what it’s supposed to look like. Find out if there’s a tack-check after each ride and where. Put yourself in the rider’s tack, picture you and your horse performing. Then do it again. And again. By the time you actually set foot in the ring, have a clear image in your mind of what will happen. Lastly, don’t be afraid to offer help to those who need it. Even the simple kindness of offering to wipe someone’s boots down before their hunter round can make a huge difference. And horse shows thrive on good karma!
Everybody Needs a Montage
Depending on your horse and how many rides you have through the day, you’ll want to spend your warm up time wisely. Some horses do well with a short warm up and a fairly simple first class; others need a bit of longeing or ground work before you can actually mount up, and others still need to work up a sweat before their heads are really in the game and they’re focused and ready to perform for you. You know your horse best so judge accordingly. Be warned, the warm up ring can be chaotic at the best of times. Longeing is usually strictly forbidden, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for any particularly unruly horse/rider combinations. Remember to always pass another horse left shoulder to left shoulder and yield the rail to the faster horses. If, at any point, the worst should happen and a rider is unexpectedly performing the famous flying dismount, safely and quietly stop your horse. If your horse is upset by the commotion, quietly ask him to walk and keep him calm. Never try to catch up to a runaway horse or abandon your own in an attempt to catch it. You are in charge of your own mount, let either the rider or someone else on the ground worry about catching the deserter.
When you are finished with your warm up, go over any last minute details; make sure your number is secured correctly (remember, look it up in your rule book or ask for help if you aren’t sure where to put it), fix any loose braids, tuck any fly-aways under your helmet, wipe your boots and the green goo from your horse’s bit, and go over your class one last time.
Most shows will have a “whipper-in” or ring master that will call your number in the warm up ring when your class is coming. Sometimes you’ll get a warning when you’re “one away,” meaning there is one rider between you and the current person, and sometimes you’ll only get “you’re on deck,” which means you better be ready because you’re next! Take a deep breath, smile, and relax. This is fun, remember?! Show the judge what a great time you’re having. Smile and nod as you ride by, even if your horse leaps sideways at the leaf skittering across his path. Never get angry with your horse in the show ring, you’ll only make it worse. Diffuse the tension by smiling and gently encouraging him to pay attention to your aids. Reward him for the slightest effort; wouldn’t you rather be docked a few marks for speaking, over disqualification for going off course or leaving the arena entirely? Your own and your horse’s safety and happiness should be your primary concern. That being said, you’ve trained hard for this moment! Give yourself a mantra if it helps you keep calm and focused. “We got this” or “it’s show time” are simple and easy to mutter under your breath. Which means they’ll keep you breathing. Some riders get so nervous they actually forget to breathe! Their blood pressure goes up, and horse tenses and vicious cycle continues. You could even sing yourself a little song in your head, whatever helps you ride your best and have fun doing it.
When your class is finished, acknowledge the judge and thank them before leaving the arena. Before you dismount, make sure you see the steward (if there is one, not all shows have them). You can actually be disqualified for dismounting prior to having your tack checked. All they’re looking for is to make sure there are no illegal pieces of equipment. This can be anything from your whip being too long, to your spurs too sharp, or your bit too harsh. This is standard practice to ensure horses are humanely treated and that tack meets regulations for specific competition. It’s usually a matter of seconds, so don’t forget to pay the steward a visit at the end of your class.
Next Article: Gearing Up For Your First Horse Show – Part III
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.