I tried to keep the schooling short and sweet to avoid the craziness that is caused by many people trying to school in short period. My horse surprised me and adapted really well to this routine. Usually she gets a much longer flat session at the show.
Yep, sometimes I think we overestimate what they need—short, sweet, and simple results in less frazzled nerves all around.
I didn't read through posts before I wanted to answer -
Knowing the right people. I feel extremely lucky that I have a friend that will help me work my nut horse or a young inexperienced fellow. He has trained many horses and works with 20 horses a day at the race track for the last 40 years.
What I have learned from him (the pro) be calm; horses feed off you!
Live in the sunshine.
Swim in the sea.
Drink the wild air.
Recently switched to QHs, and learned to tie my horses up. Literally. They learn how to just stand there, patiently relax and take a nap. I do it for 30 minutes to an hour before each ride and they are much more business like to ride. Sometimes they stand tied up with the tack on for 30 minutes after a ride as well. I get the same mental result from lunging or hacking, without the physical stress on the limbs or the increase in fitness you get from working a horse down. Horses were bred to work for hours at a time, and our little 20 minute lunge/40 minute ride routine doesn't do much for them mentally. If you stretch out the time that they are NOT free to move about at will, it becomes more "work" for them mentally and they are more accepting and patient when you are actually sitting on them. I will also do 5 - 10 mins of ground work getting them soft and responsive before getting on.
And like Singmiasong says, with a nervous horse, hanging out ringside for hours works wonders as well.
This is why I cast a wide net. The AHQA folks sometimes do things differently and it works!
In general, it's great to have a horse that knows how to park with the ignition off. So much can be accomplished when they learn this skill.
My horse gets a training ride the first day. I hate when people say that if you need to have a trainer ride your horse first at a show then you shouldn't have it. My trainer is just plain a better rider than me, there for he can get some of the energy out and get him over all the jumps before me. Then later in the day I'll hack lightly and hand walk him around. Next day I'll school in the ring first thing in the morning, and then hack in the afternoon if I don't show that day. I hack in mornings on the days I show and/or give a quick (15 minutes at the most) lunge to let him get his bucks and playfullness out.
This is a horse that showed his first time less than year before I got him and has the mentality of a 4 year old @ 9. This is a horse that used to show on the AA circuit with Robaxin, Dex, Banamine, and perfect prep (and possibly more, this is just the list that they told my trainer) all with a trainer that has recently advocated AGAINST drugs. Now he's on nothing and doing just fine. He's a little up at shows, but it can be taken care of with letting he be in the ring as much as possible, get wrapped with poultice on show days, and gets only occasional chiropractor work.