Spin-off from Drug Land, II: How do you prep the purist way?
I developed a plan for WildOrSlacker that got him from muddy paddock at home to hunter ring, all without LTD or performance enhancing drugs.
How have you done this for various horses? What have you learned from a horse or a good pro that you keep in your tool chest as the alternative to the usual versions of "prep" that we are worried about?
My Fuzzy Horse, may he rest in peace, was a TB. When he was on, he was on. But he was hot, spooky, and could get himself to the point that he'd stop at a fence because he was too busy spooking at something else to notice it until he was on top of it. He was also a walking soundness problem.
I got very careful about where I showed him, because what worked for him was to go gallop in a big field for about 15 minutes. Half his problem was nervous energy (looking back, knowing what I know now, I would have fed him differently- he was an ulcer prone hard keeper, but although his weight thrived on a diet of mostly Enduro-Event, he probably didn't need the rocket fuel.) Once he got some of that out of his system, I'd bring him back to the trailer, clean him up, and then go do good flatwork in the warm-up ring for half an hour to focus him. Then he could go jump. He did not like to be rushed- couldn't cope. He did not want to be a show hunter, or at least he did not want to be in a ring 7 days a week. Ended up changing careers.
What I learned was to pay attention to what is going on in the horse's physical body and in its emotional state and figure out what is causing the behavior I don't want. And then either do good behavioral modification training to extinguish that behavior, or cope by addressing the cause, not the behavior itself. If the horse is fine at the horse show when it's been on the grounds for a day but a doofus when it trailers in for a one-day show, is it the trailer? Is the trailer ride upsetting its stomach? Do I need to drive better? Or does the horse not know how to function off the farm and not adapt well to a new environment? Is the horse a lunatic because it's fresh, because it's too fit, because it's being fed rocket fuel, or because it naturally is too hot to do outside diagonal outside diagonal and be happy? Or because I need to take riding lessons?
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If I didn't have a gazillion other things to do (I worked off expenses by being a groom/helper at shows), early morning hack was the best way to gauge where my horse was. Like the previous poster, when my hunter was on, he was on and it was only me that prevented a win. However he had about four other various flavors ranging from dead to the leg to so hot it seemed like no amount of trotting would quiet him down. It was frustrating. If he was on the lazy side of things, I'd school him sharper to the aids, do some transitions and leg yields and be done. It maybe took seven minutes. I'd then make sure he was handwalked.
Handwalking--that makes a huge difference for all horses, I think. Every horse I have ever worked with at a show has been in a much better mental state if they've been handwalked or grazed for an hour or so.
If it was a bad day where I was dealing with not only hot but strong and unpredictable horse, I would get the most productive flatwork out of him that I could without harm to me or others around us and keep trotting and trotting until I had a compliant, not-looking-to-spook-and-buck horse. Sometimes he'd get two hacks in a day before going in the show ring if he really had a lot of pent-up energy.
If I was having to take care of four or so other horses that day (which was the norm most of the time), he went on the lunge in surcingle and bridle, very loose sidereins on occasion. I did essentially the same kind of thing I did u/s to see where he was. Sometimes the lunge was actually easier than u/s because he could be stupid on the lunge without me on his back, and once he was finished that was it--I had my good horse the rest of the day.
In hindsight, I wish I had been more adamant about changing his feed, but I was really timid to speak up as a junior. The trainer insisted the grain and alfalfa were good for him, and she raised hell when I asked for him to be taken off the alfalfa after two years. But that horse didn't need that kind of energy. It made the rider's job that much more difficult. He also had a thyroid problem. ack.
He did calm down into a solid citizen around age 8, and it was easier to tell what might bother him on a show day--the most common factor would be he got BORED. He was much, much worse about 2'6'' classes where he could go charging around and still make it over. He was much better behaved the higher the fences were...
At home, the big and best change I made was the last year that I owned him and showed him, it was me on his back except at shows. He got ridden six days a week, beit in lessons, light hacking in a field, or long flat work sessions in the ring. He liked consistency, and I never had to question whether or not my horse had gotten worked (it had been a problem in the past).
If we are staying a few days, I try to send my hunters out for hacks with the Pony kids on them! The kids love it, and the horses get to have a break from my more serious schooling. They come back and are ready to work... After a quick nap and some hay! I am lucky enough to have two who are well adjusted enough to handle random kids popping on them, this isn't a blanket idea for just any horse
With my OTTB, I try to do the bare minimum. Its all about conserving energy with him. We warm up quickly on the flat, get around each jump once in schooling (he's green) and then trot around once on a loose rein.
However with other, hotter horses, I like circles. Not small cranked small circles...just bending them around my leg until they realize they have to listen and putting them to work in a more repetitive manner until they get bored and use up some extra energy. Obviously serpentines and figure 8s are great for that at home but tend not to work in a schooling ring!
I have a tendency to pick "dead" type horses, and we do the jumpers, so perhaps I'm not very relevant to this conversation
But I want my jumpers to go around like hunters, and I'm on my own and completely oblivious to performance-enhancing anything (beyond Gastro-Guard anyhow, which has been a brain-changer for one of my horses).
With that out of the way....in the grand scheme of things I agree with Renn/aissance. I've found that each of my horses needs a different approach to show up at the back gate attentive, relaxed, but "up" enough to jump clear.
My mare was perfectly happy to sit in her stall all day (she wan't a big fan of walks, but that wasn't surprising since she would also stand in her stall all day at home if I didn't kick her out). At riding time we would do a minimal warm-up and then liked to stand for 4 or 5 horses. She then needed to GALLOP into the ring (no weenie canter for her!), back up a few steps, and then survey the course. Skip any of those steps and she just felt the tiniest bit off of her game. I also had to be super aware of the footing. She was jumping outside of her scope and I suspect that even the tiniest bit of "looseness" to the footing caused her to get anxious. Fix that with studs (which we occasionally used in what people would consider good footing in the indoor rings) and she was much more focused and relaxed. Because of her I always think about footing and feet if I have a horse that gets anxious in the show ring at certain venues (where I used to suspect the venue itself).
My OTTB has been an interesting case. I spent the first 3 or 4 years at shows avoiding the schooling ring because it would wind him up mentally. So he got taken for as many walks as I could manage through the day (with me, with friends, with helpers....anyone willing to take the boy for a walk!). He finally mellowed out about crowds a bit and I was stoked to get to start schooling before our classes again (it's unnerving to not jump or even hack beyond walking before a 1.40m+ class!). Buuut....the last couple of years I've spent most of my time showing at one of the big venues up here. The GP field is grass and the schooling area is eurofelt (or something similar....blanking on the name). It turns out that my guy can't transition between two different footings. So now I send my helper up to the grass area above the ring to walk and walk and walk and walk some more (~30-45 min) before our class. I walk my course, meet my helper at the back gate, get a leg up, and then straight into the ring. He also hates studs. I'm way to chicken to put no studs in his feet for a big class, but I now way under-stud by normal standards.
Because of those two horses, I've also changed my warm-up for my babies. When they're jumping fences that I consider easy for them, I no longer use more than 1 or 2 warm-up fences, and if the class is 1.10m or lower I'll often go in with no warm-up fences. Instead, I focus on loosening them up and getting them to feel responsive and focused with 15-20 minutes of long-and-low (and forward) warm-up and some basic dressage (HI/SI, leg yields, transitions, etc.). As soon as we have that we walk into the ring.
Well I'm no hunter but I do want my horses calm and focused.
I like to saddle up nice and early and just walk. All over the show grounds. I also like to have a good 20mins flatting on one horse before I even jump. It settles him and gets rid of his nerves.
I had one horse who would get annoyed if you spent too long riding her around so I used to do a lot of in hand walking or I would pony her off my other horse. That was always good fun. I'd put a bridle on my other mare and jump on bareback and lead the other around. Most show grounds in aust have a heap of room so I'd go out the back with them and have a fun canter and gallop too.
I think it's just about getting their legs moving. As long as I do that my horses are happy.
I think the biggest thing I did that I don't see too many other "A" circuit owners/riders do is handwalk/handgraze pretty much all day long. It's the best way to acclimatize a hot horse or a young horse - everything's less scary when they're eating. Plus the de-spooking opportunities at big shows are kind of awesome.
"The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief
If it can't get off the trailer/be pulled out of a stall, tacked up, hopped on, hacked for 10-20 minutes, jump 4-6 fences, and hang around until it's time to go in the ring, it's not in my barn. Period.
I WILL NOT own something that needs any true form of "prep". I can count on ONE hand the number of times I've spun a horse on a longe at a horse show. And absolutely none of those times were for more than 10 minutes (usually closer to 5 if my hunter felt like he wanted to buck a bit. He kicks his heels up twice in each direction and then walks. And that's that). And out of the 40+ horses I've owned or leased, I can remember 3 that needed to hack in the ring in the early morning. And even then, it was for 20-25 minutes with lots of walking.
This is my hobby. This is my happy place. I have lovely animals with great brains who win in excellent company. I didn't pay 6 figures for them, either. In fact, one of them who is legitimately the easiest horse I've EVER sat on (auto everything, awesome self-carriage and weights absolutely nothing in your hand, lovely mover, 20+ jump, seeing eye dog when it comes to finding the jumps, lives out 24/7 and will hack out alone or with company all day long) was purchased for WELL under 10K.
Except for a gram of bute at night to my seasoned critters and daily Gastroguard at horse shows because it makes ME feel better, if they need drugs to show, they aren't going to the ring. Hell, my jumper broke out in hives one morning at Westbrook and very legitimately needed Dex. I scratched him for the day, I didn't see the need to a) show him after he'd been hivey and b) show him on something as strong as Dex. I will never understand this whole "better living through chemicals" when it comes to show horses. If it can't do the job unaltered, find a horse who can.
Nine out of ten times, you'll get it wrong...but it's that tenth time that you get it right that makes all the difference.
My prep started at home. My hunters were ridden a lot and everywhere. Long trail rides on the mountain 4 days a week (w-t-c-g and sometimes jumping) + 1 flat school and 1 ring work. Loads and loads of wet saddle blankets.
Then at the show, we showed up and either hand walked or rode. My gelding would get strong if the fences were under 3', so we didn't do the under 3' classes.
When I returned to the hunters years later, followed the same prescription except that I added extensive hand-walking because my mare was a fruit loop. We started her at the local level until we could keep her from building on the course (she'd been a low level eventer, and her default was to fly at the jumps in a blind panic). I rode a lot of imperfect courses until I could get her to stop doing 5s in 4 (unfortunately she'd add if things *weren't* scary.
The most important part of it was realizing that it was a journey with the horse. Showing was the end result of the hard work we put in at home and not the pastime itself. So we used showing as the test of whether our program was working. We also chose horses for temperament first, then conf, then ability. My trainer never got on my horse - she would show me something while mounted if I really got stuck. As a result, I could ride through the behaviors that were less than perfect on the show grounds...
My guy was not really strong or hot, but he does/did (he's semi-retired) have a motor. I would get up and give him a good 30-45 hack in the morning that included mostly walking all over the grounds and maybe 15 mins of trot/canter work. He'd spend most of the day with me walking around the grounds like a dog on leash. When it came time to show, I'd do a very minimal warmup and go right in the ring, sometimes without jumping. It worked great for him
Fils Du Reverdy (Revy)- 1993 Selle Francais Gelding
My equine soulmate
Mischief Managed (Tully)- JC Priceless Jewel 2002 TB Gelding
When I did the hunters, a good hack out in the morning was always my routine. The length of time depended on the horse (or pony); with Nikki, I might be out for up to an hour before she'd really relax, but with a pony I showed in the greens, it might be 10 minutes. Same pony usually got a long schooling session the first day we were at the horse show - probably about 45 minutes of flatwork with a few jumps mixed in - and then would be perfect for the rest of the show. When I borrowed my friend's eventer and did the hunters with him, I had a very similar routine to the pony's.
This should not be interpreted as me saying that my way with Nikki worked and I had astronomical success in the hunters but I usually had a decent time.
Now doing the bigger jumpers, I usually take Nikki out for some flatwork in the morning just to get her stretched and warmed up before we show later. She is not one where you can do a lot of flatwork before you jump; she gets very grumpy (chestnut TB mare wrath), so I have to get my flatwork done early in the day and just hack around before we start jumping later. If we have a big class that day, I'll put a magnetic blanket on her when we get back to the stabling area. We usually don't start warming up over fences until we're 4 or 5 horses out; she takes about 8 schooling fences to be ready and she isn't one to wait at the gate. Like PNWJumper's mare, Nikki gallops into the ring, halts, and backs before we start. She also likes to have caulks in, although it does not matter whether she's jumping 1.50m or 3', she just is more comfortable when she has that extra grip.
She does get [a legal amount, obviously] Robaxin when we are on the road showing. She also gets Ulcergard when we're showing. I can't say whether she NEEDS the Robaxin or not; I know I can jump around big tracks on her and not give her any and she'll be comfortable, but I'm asking an older, small horse to jump around courses that are pretty big. She loves her job, and I don't see a problem with giving something prophylactically to ensure her comfort. God knows I take painkillers when we're showing over the bigger fences!!
Best thing I ever did was breed my fancy moving completely spook proof mare (who did have a motor) to a fancy moving quiet minded stallion.
Then raised the offspring myself with slow careful progression.
What I have is a fancy moving QUIET young horse who gets easier to ride every day and is very close to being completely made at his current level of showing.
I echo the handwalkers, my horse gets hand walked at every show as soon as he gets off the trailer and throughout the show as needed. I learned that he gets a tummy upset at overnight shows so ulcerguard is now in the tack trunk.
Weekly massage and chiro/acupuncture as needed. Magic Cushion hoof packing after jumping schools or shows. Very limited Robaxin use after hard days, especially if he then has to stand in the stall all night.
Long slow warmup. Proper flat training so he's not abusing his body while working. Very limited jumping, maybe once a week not including shows. My horse is seven and I expect him to last a long time.
"Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?" Sun Tzu, The Art of War Rainy Stash
Some of the issues here are that most owners cannot go 200 miles+ each way for a week or two as is required for most USEF rateds in most areas of the country. So you have to depend on selecting the right horse, keeping it a good program where the show routine is not so different from every day at home and trying to send it with what you believe is an ethical trainer-you have to trust them...and some are sure undeserving of that trust.
With mine, I was always budget constrained but swapped a little drop dead fancy for proven tractability. I don't care if it moves and jumps a 10 if it can't get to the ring without a fight and other "prep" to make up for the fact it's a dink or, needs a career change.
It also frosts me to see people paying up to 3k a month (or even more) in basic trainer charges and home board PLUS 200 or more in "day charges" and show "training" charges and "pro rider" fees when trainer really depends on $7 (including disposable syringe) worth of crap to do THEIR job in getting it to the ring and make up for THEIR mistake selecting that horse.
We have some older deadbeats posing as trainers who have failed at various other professions but have fooled clients into thinking they have mastered this one. And we got underqualified "glorified Juniors/AOs" who jump on the easy train to hide their lack of ability on selection, training and riding.
But ask me what I REALLY think.
BTW, I would be out there in the early AM with mine, preferably out of the ring if that was possible, and maybe buzzing by you out on the CC course at KHP. And hand grazing in the PM IF I was there. And, of course, sitting around the tack room watching the world go by...and what was going on in my barn.
When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.
I think the single biggest factor is choosing a horse that is inherently suited to the task.
Yes, I know they are expensive.
The OTTB I campaigned for a while was a huge talent. He was the hack winner in any company, had a beautiful jump, a ton of scope... the whole package. The late, great Ronnie Mutch called him one of the best jumpers he had ever seen. He was also the most difficult ride I've ever sat on, and I always knew the minute I got on at a show whether I was going to win everything or be hanging on for dear life.
You could not make a single.tiny.mistake of any kind on that horse on the bad days. (And most days could be made bad by a small mistake - like being six inches off his preferred distance to a 2' warm up vertical.)
I won a lot with him in all three rings, and you could dress him up for almost any party; hunters, jumpers or equitation. I also had a lot of very depressing days when there wasn't any approach to prep that would get the job done.
The prep that worked best for him was to get out and play a little on the longe line early in the morning. Not running him off his feet by any means, but letting him blow off a little steam. I'd generally hop on him about 30 minutes before we showed to let him to a bit of hacking, and then could jump TWO jumps (one in either direction, preferably verticals) before heading into the ring. Never did figure out why that was perfect sometimes and a complete disaster others.
Anyway, I still have that one and he is semi retired now. I gave up showing him because I didn't get to show that often, and it just wasn't fun for it to be such a crapshoot.
I bought another horse to show that has been point and shoot easy since the first day I sat on him as a 4 year old. You can pull him off the trailer and go right to any ring and trust that he will jump around. He requires ZERO prep.
********** We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.
One of mine is a great older guy who has been to a million shows, but even so, can get a little looky/spooky/distracted and a bit quicker to the jumps, which worries me because I am 60 years old. Don't want to do too much lunging especially at his age (16 now), and I don't want him to do too much jumping in the warm up ring, with the pooer footing and limited space.
One thing I do is ask my trainer to give him a good canter in the ring in the morning before the show (I am lucky that she usually has time), and I have her take him in a class or two before me. Her ego is not involved if she does not win them, and she is good enough to hide his freshness. Lots of time, I just have her ride him on schooling day too, and take my other horse for confidence!
I also try to do everything I can to make sure the 16 year old is physically comfortable at shows. He wears his soft rides at night, and gets ulcergard. Plus a low dose of Robaxin, I can tell when he has had just enough becaus his stride is softer and longer. I guess the Robaxin is not "purist" but I do not see a need to be extremist about this.
I agree with the people who are advocating good breeding for minds. My "confidence horse" is spookless, and he comes from a QH line known for good minds.
Last edited by ToTheNines; Jan. 5, 2013 at 04:39 PM.
My horse can get VERY hot. I try to do the opposite of what a normal person would do. The less the better.
We school on school day. Hack around the ring, jump all the jumps and we are done.
Morning of show I get on a hack for about a half hour, walk him out put him away, get ready, bring him out about 15-20 minutes before we are posted to go and walk, walk, walk, then we trot and canter a bit. Then I walk, walk and walk. We go into the ring and bomb around the course. Walk in between if we can. I do not do anything besides hack in the warm up ring because anything besides a light hack will have that horse belonging in the jumpers....
If a horse is nervous or spooky, hacking it won't help 1/2 as much as holding him at the back gate/schooling area for the day. Let him get so bored by all the activity around him that he tunes it out. 20 minutes is not enough. Get a soda and sandwich and a folding chair and be prepared to camp out in the middle of chaos for 6 hours.
My old trainer never feed grain/swet feed at shows. Hay only -- as much as he wanted.
Another horse I owned was a flighty, ditzy mare. Full of talent if you could get it out of her. -- Her program was to warm up 30 minutes ahead of time, then take the saddle off and let her stand under a tree for 25 minutes. The saddle was slipped on and, literally at the back gate, the rider got on and was doing up his girth as he walked in. He would ask for the canter and slip around the jumps before she woke up enough to be her ditzy self.
I have also heard from people that those magnet head bands can relax a horse's brain. So can accupressure.
Point being, every horse is an individual and must be treated that way. If hacking calms a horse down, then hack the horse. But if hacking the horse gets it wound up, then you have to get inside the horse's mind and figure out how to walk in the ring with a horse who can let his talent shine through.