Nothing is more rewarding than seeing your hard work with your horse pay off at a horse show, but there are a few things to consider before you load up the trailer.
Horse shows can be fun, stressful, exhilarating, and most of all, great learning opportunities for both you and your horse.
However, entering a horse show before the two of you are really ready can do more harm than good. There are a few important questions you should ask yourself before deciding to take this exciting step.
Can your horse consistently perform the maneuvers that will be required in competition when schooling at home?
This seems like an obvious point, but unfortunately many people enter shows or certain classes at shows without the proper preparation. It is vital to decide in advance what classes you plan to enter and to research each of them. How else will you be able to teach your horse the gaits and other necessary skills that will be required?
If your horse only takes the right lead half the time, and only backs in the lineup 25% of the time, he might not be ready for a horse show quite yet. The worst thing you can do is over-face your horse.
When riding at home, are you able to keep your horse focused on what you're asking of him or does he lose focus often?
If you can't keep your horse focused at home in a familiar and relatively quiet environment, you will almost certainly not be able to keep it at a show in a new and loud one. Horse shows offer countless distractions, from waving flags and loudspeakers, to other horses and even children hanging over the rail. While your horse losing focus is always frustrating, at a horse show it can be especially dangerous.
If your horse loses focus easily, it's best to continue working with him at home, and then begin introducing him to new environments without the pressure of competition. It may seem like the slow way to the blue ribbon, but in the long run it's probably the fastest, and definitely the most safe.
Can you ride him successfully with other horses in the ring at home?
Unless you're competing solely in jumping rounds or dressage tests, you and your horse won't be the only ones in the ring at a horse show, and regardless of the class you enter, you will probably have to warm up around other horses. Before entering a horse show, it is important that your horse is comfortable being ridden in groups. Passing is of particular concern, as some horses don't like others getting too close and pin their ears and try to bite or kick at the other horse.
If you can successfully ride your horse at home with three or four other horses and riders, pass other horses and be passed without incident, your horse might be ready for a show ring setting. If not, you still have some work to do.
Has your horse plateaued in his training at home?
Your horse doesn't have to be perfect in order to go to a horse show, he just has to be able to perform what is asked of him safely in a new and somewhat nerve-wracking setting. If he seems to have reached a plateau in his training, where he does everything you ask reasonably well in a variety of environments, you may have taken him as far as you can in those environments.
The only real way to get good at competing is to compete, so it may just be time to load the trailer.
If competing in a horse show is your goal, you and your horse will surely reach it one day. The better prepared you are, the better the experience will be for you both.
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