Riding the rail: winning tips for horse show flat classes. Part 4

Undistracting turnout. Do judge’s care if…? Do judges prefer…? 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.
My best advice? Just don’t be distracting: wispy hair; a flapping number; anything untailored or unkempt. Avoid any “unconventional” tack prompting the judge to take a second look, mentally rehearsing the rule book – Gee, is that (noseband, bit or leather item) permitted in this class?   

Undistracting equitation. Don’t make the judge mentally block out your position to focus on your horse. The art of exhibiting is to enhance your horse’s stride with subtle, almost invisible corrections while making him look effortless to ride.  

Do what you’re asked. Though there’s no need to take off like a shotgun, transition into the gait announced reasonably promptly. Delayed transitions are annoying to the judge and to the competitor behind you.  If the judge asks for extension of the jog in western pleasure, move up noticeably. For extended and collected gaits, make an effort to show clear difference in stride, length and frame.

Show your best stuff. In individually worked classes, there’s nowhere to hide. Classes judged in a group afford some margin to display your best and camouflage your worst. Canter and lope are the deal breakers. If that’s your horse’s better gait, lucky you – get out on the inside track and show it off. If your sitting trot is yet a work in progress, hunt the outside track. If your lope transition is still rusty and the gait is called while you’re smack in front of the judge, delay lift-off as long as possible (without being annoying). With extra seconds to gather your horse up, you’re less likely to spill into a mess, or even a wrong lead.

Graceful recovery. If you do land a wrong lead, don’t panic. Just reorganize and ask for the transition again… a little more carefully. As a judge, I don’t want to catch mistakes. I want to reward the best horse and rider. However, I can’t unsee slip-ups. Spook, stumble or lose a stirrup? Regroup and carry on confidently as if nothing happened.

Maximize your horse’s stride. Nervous riders hold their breath, hindering “flow”. English or western, riders’ arms should be elastic and joints supple, following the motion of the stride. Posting slow and long sets a metronome for the slow-legged mover to match.
Equitation exhibitors maintain rein contact. In contrast, softer rein connection (reasonably straight with  just a little bit of movement) shows off  the steadiness of your hunter under saddle or pleasure hack.  Rein-swinging gaits demonstrate that your western pleasure horse rides on auto pilot. To me, however, excessive drape looks sloppy.

Be visible. A judge can’t place you if he can’t see you. I can attest – it’s far easier to evaluate “physically distanced” entries than to sift through the overlapping  legs of a herd in front of  me to find the best mover. Circling to keep out of traffic was fine for the riding school, but not for the show ring. Instead, keep the pack of horses behind you by cutting the next corner. Alternatively, ride deep into a corner to let others pass by.  

Don’t overdo it. Trying to catch the judge’s attention by monopolizing the inside track is irritating and blocks his view of the others.
If your discipline permit, opt for a saddle pad displaying your entry numbers on both sides – what a gift for judges over numbers pinned or tied to the back!  If, in your discipline, “string’s-the- thing”, don’t wait until you’re asked to slide your back number visibly to the inside.

Defensive driving. Getting caught in a traffic jam makes anyone grumpy. Grumpy is not a winning look. Maximize your horse’s expression and protect his confidence. A brush with an unruly entry, kicking out or passing on the outside is not easily forgotten. Give such horses a wide berth – unruly is contagious.

Don’t BE the source of the problem. Keep your horse focused on you. Distraction is magnified in a flat class without jumps, obstacles or a pattern to keep your horse occupied. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop!  Monitor your horse’s ears – they’re a good indicator of where his attention is directed.

The winners of group classes are announced from the lineup, pageant- style. “And the winner is…”

May that number be yours!

To help you prepare for your next horse show, I offer freelance coaching at barns in southern and central Ontario. English and western riders. Competitive and novice. I’d love to meet you and your horse!