When things go wrong in the horse show ring. Part 3

WHAT might you expect to go wrong in the show ring?   I’ll put on my judge’s hat and share common mistakes. So common, in fact, that every score sheet has a menu of these mishaps and space to record their numerical deductions.
WHY do these things happen?  Here, I’ll wear my hat as a specialist in horse behaviour (and generally curious person ). Uncover the source and the symptom begins to fade away.

Here are the final 3 common show ring “suddenly moments “ and how to make the best of them!

5.            Break of gait. Even the smallest dribble from canter to trot will earn an automatic low score in hunter, decrease the movement score in dressage, cost a penalty ½ or 2 in reining or a deduction of 1, 3 or 5 points for most western events, depending on the number of strides.

Why does it happen?  Typically, a horse who breaks gait isn’t light and listening to the aids. In a distracting environment, this education gap is evident. The “go” button is sticky and fails in the crucial stride between canter and trot. The lateral control is weak and unreliable to shift the hips or shoulders back on track. Self-carriage, is when your horse stays connected, on track, and in rhythm, whether you shorten or lengthen his stride, without having to hold him there – kind of like cruise control. 

6.            Gate issues.  I see my share of in-gate issues from the judge’s chair and I’ve tackled my share as a competitor. The arena entrance is the site of scorecard full of penalties.  Irregular circles, breaks of gait, cross cantering (losing the hind lead) or even refusing to enter.  In a trail or hunter class, bulging off-line on approach to an obstacle disrupts the canter rhythm and flow of the course, resulting in an awkward take off distance or “chip”.

Why does it happen? A horse’s tendency is to cut in one half of almost every circle and “bulge” out the other half.  The rider may steer his head, but the remainder of the horse fishtails towards home. The magnet of the barn and buddies is a powerful draw for the herd-oriented animal. To a horse, there’s safety in numbers.

7.            Lead issues. Departing onto the wrong lead , skipping to the incorrect lead or slipping off-track to a disunited lead( cross cantering) are costly errors. Like breaking gait, many disciplines ascribe a range of numerical penalties, depending on how many strides the horse is out of lead.

Why does is happen? Some eager riders enter the show ring without a thorough knowledge of leads. As your horse’s teacher, you must be able to identify your canter lead by feel – anytime, anywhere. You can feel the lead, not only on the first stride, but as your horse is lifting off, into that first stride.  Comparing your horse’s body parts to a train, wrong leads result when one car derails- the hip slips off the tracks to the outside or the shoulder bulges to the inside. Penalties occur when the rider is late to recognize the warning signs, or without the lateral aids to prevent evasions.

8.            Rider errors.

These are the show ring bloopers for which we have no one to blame but ourselves. They include asking for the wrong gait, wrong lead or forgetting an element altogether. Other disqualifications arise from failure to be familiar with the rules. For example, failing to follow class protocol or sporting unpermitted tack (see my last month’s article).

Why does it happen? Mental lapses.  Failure to deeply memorize the course. Neglecting to plan a step by step class strategy.

 I was the “off-course” queen as a junior rider. I remember that lost-in-the-jungle feeling of not knowing what jump or turn came next.  Vagueness has been my downfall more times than I can count.   Too many pre-class instructions from a coach or supporter with the best of intentions can drown out your class plan if not decisive and deeply memorized.

 “But he never does this at home!”

 Things will go wrong in the show ring. Considering what might happen and why they happen ensures that we won’t be surprised.  When riders consider how horses experience the competitive environment and how they view their world, it helps to nip penalties in the bud.