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Baby's first show! Advice?

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    Baby's first show! Advice?

    I'm taking my new five year old mare to her first recognized dressage show tomorrow, off property. I've owned her for a month but we've been doing really well together and my trainer/coach is excited for us (more excited than me possibly).

    We did one schooling show on property, where she was mostly fine, but a little spicy/nervous in the warm up ring (she's unused to riding around lots of other horses, and threw a couple mini bucks/got quick and jumpy a couple times when other horses were cantering towards us/coming up behind).

    This is also my first time taking her off-property. She's a fairly quiet mare, but she can be minorly spooky at new things (she is a five year Hanoverian).

    I've ridden young horses at first shows before, but it's been a very long time. I'm planning to get there in time to hand-walk her around the ring during the lunch break/ hand-walk her a lot in general when we get there, then longe a little bit, then warm-up with my coach (she'll be coaching others too). My mare is also being trailered with her best friend from home - a little worried she'll get separation anxiety at the show, not sure.

    I'm not worried about our tests - at home we can do training level in our sleep/ got 75% at the schooling show. I'm worried about shenanigans of shows in general and mostly just really don't want to fall off.

    Any advice? Thank you!!

    Edited to add - this is also her first show period. Her prior home didn't show her.
    Mr. Sandman
    sand me a man
    make him so sandy
    the sandiest man

    Manage your own emotions. If you can keep yourself calm and relaxed, any excitement she creates will disappear quickly. Focus on it being a good experience. Don't worry about the class itself. If you get in the ring and show it's a bonus. If you scratch and hand walk all day, but she ends up having a good experience, you won.

    Make sure you keep your eyes open in the warm-up ring. Do your best to keep her out of situations that may make her feel uneasy - like being close between the wall and another horse.


      As above... plus I would bring treats and do a lot of hand walking. Then see how the day progresses. Then come back and tell us how it went and what you learned.


        With my baby’s first show in 8+ years (shown as a three year old and set to pasture until I restarted him), I had zero expectations whatsoever. That way, everything he did that wasn’t inherently dangerous was wonderful. My mindset and my control over my emotions made the day run super smoothly as I was never disappointed in him.

        If your mare tends tends to be slightly jumpy, I suggest doing groundwork before and after she gets on the trailer. This immediately gets her focus on you, even if there are tons of distractions. Back her up, yield her haunches, walk her around, but have her undivided attention until she settled next to you like she does at home,

        I would also suggest lunging as close to the arena as you can get. Let her see it while she’s doing something she’s comfortable with. If you can get in the arena before your test just to let her look, that would be even better.

        Keeping food in front of her will also help with her nerves if all else fails

        Best of luck!!!


          Do you have a friend or SO that exudes calm that can be around for the day? I recently took my baby ottb to her first show and although my husband isnt super horse experienced, hes very relaxed and I swear it rubbed off on both of us. I know you will have your trainer but she will likely be busy with other students as well and sometimes its nice having some backup if things get wild.


            In addition to the good advice above, I suggest getting there early so she can see the environment. Some horses get spooky at the copious flowers and the judges stand, and I'd be sure to walk her around the inside (where she'll do the test) and outside (where the warm-up lap will occur) of the actual arena either before the show or during lunch. See how she does trotting by the stand. If you can, on the ground, walk her straight up centerline and to the judges stand and turn to give you a heads up on if she's "looky" or spooky at it. Recognized shows tend to have a different looking judges stand (well, sometimes!). I have also stood on the stand so the horse could see a person standing on it, and I have fed carrots from the stand. If you can, longe the horse in the arena or near the arena because sometimes horses can handle things at the walk (there's time to process it), but less at the faster gaits. If no one else is in there or there is room, longe the horse while walking so the horse experiences going near or away from the flowers, the judges stand, the warmup if it's nearby, the stands of people, etc.

            Above all, no matter what happens, just remember she has a whole career in front of here and this doesn't matter! Have fun with your new horse and friends! Best of luck to you, report back after the show!

            Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation


              Originally posted by joiedevie99 View Post
              Manage your own emotions. If you can keep yourself calm and relaxed, any excitement she creates will disappear quickly. Focus on it being a good experience. Don't worry about the class itself.
              This. Every show, every time.

              Don't fight. Unless it's the same tiny fight you have at home, and you know you win.

              If you can avoid *wanting* too much, I swear, showing is the most fun thing on the planet. See where you are. Understand that each day is different. Breathe with your weird 4-legged partner. And get off on the little victories.

              Shows give you some bizarro challenge. "Jump this many things in this order in this time/style." Or, '
              "Run 'round this many things faster/fastest." Or do X, Y, Z for no reason.

              It's easy to say if you have a fun horse, but we should ALL have fun horses! JUST GO. See what horse comes out. Ride it. If you're genuinely smiling and having a good time, chances are your pone is, too. If you're not having fun, same thing holds true.


                Don't pick fights (especially the ones that you'd engage in just because "this is the way we do things").

                This is particularly relevant in warmup. Warmup can be chaotic, some horses take a long time to get relaxed in the environment (others never will). Doesn't help when we riders are being excellent stunt doubles a la The Exorcist with our heads spinning around this way and that trying to keep on top of things (and getting more jazzed ourselves). If things start going sideways, it is okay to make a game-time decision to change your plan. This is especially true with a training test - you can get away with a minimal warmup and then forfeiting the ring to find someplace quieter to regain composure.

                Another thought - you won't be able to introduce, confirm, and master a skill in the course of a show. So while shows are excellent exposure and can help with a lot of things (mileage, familiarity, new places, etc), have reasonable expectations! A baby horse who is unfamiliar with a lot of these things isn't going to just come out of the gate and go from "worried" to "perfect" in the course of a weekend. And that's okay! Especially as you say this is her first time off property with you (and your one other warm up experience was a bit spicy), find it in yourself to accept ahead of time that you won't have The Perfect Well Behaved Gem. If she is, then great! What an awesome experience (and a pleasant surprise, and what a good baby horse!) If she isn't, then, well, that's about what you'd expect for her first time in new situations and you're prepared to ride empathetically, calmly, and kindly as you both navigate these new questions she's having.

                Arrive early, walk in-hand around the entire venue. Do a ride (unrelated to ride times or warmup) where you tack up and walk under saddle around the entire venue. For many of my shows, we would trailer in the day before and be afforded the opportunity to ride in the arenas with it all set up (judges boxes, stands, flowers, and all) - good way to get the boogey out of their brains. Bring a zenmaster associate who is perfectly happy to remain emotionally level (added bonus if they can be a human pez dispenser for treats - while treats are not a cure all, I am not above using some good old food motivation to distract a horse and give them a generally positive experience, especially in/around something that might otherwise be startling).


                  If the warmup area has horses who are spooking or even if your mare is overly concerned, skip most of the warmup. Do some walking around the grounds and a bit of trot where you can. At training level you shouldnt need a big warmup, so use lungeing, groundwork, and moving around the grounds before your first test. Assuming you are riding two tests, you can try more exposure to the warmup before the second test when she and you may be more relaxed. (And because you have to face it eventually!)


                    totally agree with MsM Much can be said of simply walking and trot around the grounds where you can and then go in to the ring to work. You are there for a good first experience the "competition " can become issue with more experience, either in the second ride or at later shows.

                    Make it like, oh here we walked around a bit and oh look, here is an empty ring we can go work in there.
                    -- * > hoopoe
                    Procrastinate NOW
                    Introverted Since 1957


                      Original Poster

                      Thanks so much to everyone for this great advice! We did a LOT of hand-walking and then some lunging. She was a little nervous at first, and got a little worried when we had to separate from her gelding friend. She did lots of whinnying, which I expected.

                      But! She settled in really well - lots of treats and patting. We ended up taking the advice of minimal warm-up by accident, since I got so distracted with all the walking that I totally lost track of time and by the time I got on after lunging I had about 10 minutes until my test time. It worked out though - as mentioned, it's training level so it's not like a lot of warm-up was required. She definitely didn't have time to get worked up in the warm-up ring (which was luckily a huge oversize space and not many horses this time anyway). She had a couple of moments in the test where she got tense and broke stride, but no bucks, no bolting - altogether an incredibly brave girl who trusted me and did amazing. Her good moments were exceptional, and we ended up winning the classes, scoring in the 70s and getting high point champion (totally not what I set out for but I'm really proud of her).
                      Mr. Sandman
                      sand me a man
                      make him so sandy
                      the sandiest man


                        Very good! Not sure how you will ever top that kind of a show start. Good photo as well. Cute baby.


                          Yay! Congrats!!!


                            Yaaayy!!! Congratulations! What a star she is!
                            Proud member of the Colbert Dressage Nation




                                Woohoo! Congrats on what sounds like a dream of a first show experience! You two look great!