Preparing for the horse show exam. 7 tips to be ready for next season. Part 1

 In the let-down of cancelled horse shows and fairs, as a judge, my 2020 calendar has a bunch of crossed out weekends. But as a riding coach, I’ve been encouraged by something – riders are taking lessons and working diligently on their homework in between.

  • They’re preparing for next season.
  • They’re repairing from last season.

Remember reading a test question and the thrill of “Yes! I studied that!”? Conversely, “Rats, I meant to go in for extra help with that…I hoped it wouldn’t be on the test.”

Schooling shows, provincial competitions , national championships– quizzes, tests and exams. This unplanned “off-season” is a time to be mastering riding skills and working through them in your practice ring so you can have a well-rehearsed answer when the question presents itself in the horse show ring.

Be it a rollback turn in equitation over fences, counter-canter in a horsemanship pattern or a water obstacle filled with the real stuff in competitive trail, there’s nothing like the confidence of having a ready answer!

Here are 4 tips to help get you ready for the ring next season:

1. Know your why. A clear sense and regular review of the reason you want to compete makes persevering through your homework easier, particularly after a disappointing schooling session. Are you enjoying your chosen discipline? Do your goals fit within your family budget and shared values? If not, it might be time to adjust your horse goals, switch disciplines, coaches or stables. Showing will not be as fun or productive if you’re pressured by points or people – i.e. a year-end award, your peers or even your coach – before you are ready. If you’re not enjoying your hobby…it’s a job.

2. Are you lacking elements of tack or turnout? Sift through the needs vs wants. Save the money you’d spend on show fees until you have enough for classic, conservative equipment and clothing. Insider tip – with so many scores, penalties and rules to juggle in our heads , judges don’t notice brand labels and trending styles as much many riders are led to believe- I sure don’t! What DO I notice? Fit over frills. Tailoring over trends. Now’s the time to get your hat shaped and your jacket altered.

3. Do your homework! Horse show success is more than luck. Are you able to perform all the required gaits, movements or jumps in your class, even those optional elements? Don’t be caught off- guard by counter canter, turn on the forehand or a ground tie obstacle. Be ready for the “bonus mark” exam questions -a left hand trail gate or work without stirrups. Are your aids, lateral movements and stride adjustments well established, even in the midst of distractions? Does your horse nail his leads – every time, everywhere? Is he calm and focused riding beside other horses and off-property? If it’s not happening outside the ring, it’s not likely to happen inside.

4. Know your rule book. Be familiar with how your class is scored, penalties, procedures and unpermitted tack. Class descriptions include carefully chosen adjectives to depict the ideal horse or rider position and/or performance. When you’re out of the ribbons, it’s rarely due to, “The judge didn’t like my horse.”

As a judge, I’m giving and grading your next horse show exam. As a coach, I help you study for it.  In Part 2, let’s look at 3 more tips to study for and nail your next horse show exam.