I was 13 when I entered my first horse show. The judge advised me that the yellow macramé browband I’d crafted for my gelding’s bridle was not customary horse show attire. In 25 years as a professional riding coach and horse trainer, I’ve worked with 100s of horses and coached even more riders. What I’ve learned from horses and their people! What I’ve learned about myself in the fishbowl of the show ring! Horse shows have enriched the lives of so many – and been the catalyst for the train wreck of others.
Creative problem solving, humility, humour, life perspective (“this too shall pass”). Good coaches are mentors – teaching life lessons alongside riding without stirrups! Because its’ more than horse shows. Our students may take away a ribbon as they exit the ring. But if they don’t take away character learned from the pressure cooker of competition, we’ve failed as coaches.
Though it may make me wince to re-live it, every mistake is a learning opportunity! When things go wrong at a horse show, how do you manage in the moment, minimizing the incident’s impact to your score, to your fellow horse show competitors and to your confidence? A snag in the show ring need not unravel your horse training progress. In fact, a snag reveals a weak area – an opportunity to “build back better”.
If you plan to step into the competition arena, expect the unexpected. Few sports have more variables than riding. What might you expect to go wrong in the horse show ring? In this issue, I’ll put on my judge’s hat and share common mistakes. So common, in fact, that every horse show score sheet has a menu of mishaps and a box to record their numerical deductions.
Do judge’s care if…? Do judges prefer…? Horse show judging has taught me that the pressure to sort through a group of moving horses in a limited time doesn’t leave room for pet preferences. Without a good mover and correct leads, bling and brand names won’t land anyone in the ribbons for flat and rail classes.
First impressions are lasting impressions in horse show flat classes. Enter the show ring with confidence – in show mode, not training mode. Though judges aren’t yet officially scoring, they’re forming opinions as they organize bookwork and check tack. Get in there promptly. Don’t dilly-dally and contribute to a delay. That’s irritating to a horse show judge – the judge you’re hoping to impress. As a bonus, making an early entrance into the show ring carves out extra warm up time while the judge is recording numbers…and waiting for the tardy entries.
As a horse show judge, I survey the group of horses moving around the show ring and visualize the ideal- the entry illustrating the original intent of the class. Could that hunter under saddle effortlessly jump a course? Would that road hack fit the hunt field? Is that horsemanship rider not only elegant, but effective? Is that pleasure hack truly a “pleasure” to ride?