“Good luck!” it’s heard countless times a day at the horse show in-gate. Yet we know better – horse show success is more than luck!
“The meeting of preparation with opportunity generates the offspring we call luck.”
— Anthony Robbins
Recently, the announcement that final exams are cancelled was, no doubt, the silver lining for high school students, in a year marked by cancellations. Yet, in the horse world, despite cancelled competitions and fairs, I meet riders eager for their next exam- taking lessons and enjoying the homework.
They’re preparing for next season. And they’re repairing from last season.
A horse show validates the skills you’ve acquired in the classroom of the training ring when tested in a different environment – the competition ring. Steps skipped in mastering the phonics and formulas of horsemanship will show up later in the exam!
As a judge, I am giving and grading your next horse show “exam”. As a coach, I help you study for it!
So here are my final 3 tips to prepare for your next competition:
- Study those you respect and do your best to emulate the qualities you admire. Glean insights from horsemen of varied disciplines. Ask questions…especially “Why?” Read more. There’s a wealth of reputable, evidence-based information on equine health and training. The more I research the facts, the easier it is to question and reject trends or traditions which might be holding me back. And there’s no shortage of traditions in our horse industry!
- Practice the tough stuff. We all gravitate toward doing things that come easily and avoid the things we’re not particularly good at. Trotting around an oval in an arena will not yield the same dividends as asking my horse the tougher questions – specific lines, tighter turns and transitions at specific points (late transitions are costly mistakes on the judge’s score card!).
When you practise at home a little tougher than is actually required, the course, pattern or test at the show will seem elementary in comparison.
Practice a plan B for every Plan A. There are few sports with more variables than riding. We have a 1000 lb, partner that doesn’t speak or think “human”. We have judges with preferences. Weather conditions fluctuate. Competition venues vary. And even the required patterns, courses and tests differ. My favorite motto is “Over prepare and then go with the flow”.
- Learn from the last show. Though it may make me wince to re-live it, every mistake is a learning opportunity! On the other hand, what ingredients contributed to the successful moments – how can I reproduce those?
- (Bonus!) Take a break. Standing breaks within each session. Weekly breaks from schooling. Seasonal breaks from horses. Pushing ourselves creates stress. And stress is a good thing! It stretches us out of our comfortable ruts. Stretching and pushing builds physical and mental muscle – as long as it’s balanced by rest. Living in a constant state of tension increases cortisol levels. The result? Rider burnout. The horse’s welfare suffers.
Interestingly, it seems the Biblical model of a Sabbath weekly day-off, regular multi-day celebrations and times of reflection and worship, really leads to human flourishing, even in the 21st century! Even the animals were to be given the day off.
If you’re not enjoying your hobby, it’s not a hobby. It’s a job. And for those of us, for whom it is a job, let’s enjoy the process – not just the result!