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Getting a horse to its first show

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  • Getting a horse to its first show

    What are some tips/ideas you have to help a young horse survive their first show? I have a 5 yr old that I am planning to take to a lower class show next month. What can I practice at home to help him be prepared for show chaos? I really want this to be a pleasant experience for both of us. He is so chill, but I am curious what he will act like at shows. What was your experience when you took a horse to their first show?

  • #2
    Make sure you are over prepared for the class you choose to enter and go to the show with the goal of having a good experience instead of "we're going to go to our first horse show and compete in X". Other than that, there isn't really a ton you can do at home.

    Some are easy going and just need a second to look around and then they're confident showing. Others come off the trailer like they were just teleported to Mars and they might be better off hacking around the show grounds and going home. You won't know until you get there


    • #3
      I have taken a lot of horses to their first show. First of all, make sure they have been on a few field trips and are comfortable loading/trailering/unloading. Secondly, make sure they are used to being ridden in the arena with other horses, and with other horses passing, etc. Thirdly, recognize that the first show is about "going to the show" and "going in the ring" and "experiencing a warmup arena" not about a particular class, ribbon, etc. So, for example, no matter how well or how high a young horse is jumping at home, the first show invariably is a local show and we do a cross rail type division. It's so tempting to try to make a first show something more--people are invariably excited to show off their young horse. If you make the first show a very easy, ho-hum experience you will create a building block of confidence that will help you reap the rewards later in the show season.


      • #4
        Take him to a show to just “hang out” before he ever goes to one to compete. Let him relax, enjoy the scenery, take it all in, and process it with zero pressure or time constraints.


        • #5
          I’ve taken a few youngsters to their first shows and it’s gone reasonably. The key I’ve found is to figure out what works for them at home to get them settled, focused & working – then doing that at the show to the best of my ability. I try to go with very low expectations but clear goals –for the horse to be able to focus on me and the job. In return I need to be calm and focused myself – I find that having a dressage test to work through, or a course of jumps to navigate gives both myself and my horse something to concentrate on – vs worrying about horse eating bushes/tiger concealing judges box/what everyone else is doing.

          Prior to their first show I’ve always taken them out and about for lessons, trail rides etc so that they are used to going to different places. Generally I plan to give them a really good workout the day before, preferably with lots of cantering (as appropriate to the fitness level) – this also brings all the dirt to the surface of their coat so they clean up really well. Feed tends more towards fibre than concentrates. Mine live out 24/7 so nothing changes there.

          I pick the first shows carefully – something that’s going to be fairly quiet & low key and it must have a decent warmup area. I arrive with a decent amount of time but not hours extra – I plan to get there, unload, tack up & get on pretty quickly – exactly how I would for a lesson. In my area there’s generally no space to lunge. Once on, if the horse is fairly relaxed I’ll walk around on a long rein for 10-20min. If horse is a bit up then I’ll work on what’s best for that particular horse – my current horse it’s working in walk, being very chill and letting him take his time, but keeping his focus on me with serpentines, SI, LY etc etc. Previous horse settled best with a LOT of trotting – just moving out helped her brain.

          If the warm-up is too chaotic I will warm-up wherever I can. I’ve walked horses around the truck park and gone up and down a back driveway (unused). I much prefer going in the ring with a horse that has a warm body and cool mind – even if we’ve only managed to do one warmup fence (or none!)

          If you have a few obliging friends you could practice a warm-up ring environment – starting with all horses in walk and fairly far apart, then gradually increasing speed & proximity.


          • #6
            Have you been taking him places yet? If not, I would start there. Take him to a local barn or friend's, take him to a trail ride, wherever, but take him places so he's familiar with how that piece works in a relaxed environment.

            Then pick a very low-key schooling show - perhaps at a local barn's facility or someplace where you know it's not going to be a hyper or intense atmosphere.

            The key of green horses is being flexible. You make take him somewhere and he loses his marbles, even if he's been completely calm everywhere else. Be ready for that and don't have expectations about what you want him to do. The goal should always be to get him relaxed and confident by the time you leave. That may mean you handwalk and graze for 3 days and never get on, and it may mean you show in the crossrails, and it may be different at each outing for a while. Stay aware of the environment. If you have to get up a 4am to be able to school in a quiet arena at a hectic show, do so. If you get to the schooling arena and it's mad chaos, give it a try, but be willing to scrap it if he's just getting increasingly nervous. Positive, confidence-building experiences. Never tolerate bad behavior on his part as he needs to learn to behave in a variety of circumstances, but don't get upset, and set up up for success by thinking ahead.

            Continue to build his confidence with outings, and as he's ready, you can increase the intensity or atmosphere of the show.

            FTR I don't think us hunter/jumper folk tend to travel our horses to enough variety of places early on. My husband's western/rodeo horses have been everywhere, seen everything, and they're so chill. I'm now of the opinion to take the babies all sorts of places. Go trail ride, or go to a local open show, or to a reining barn, or whatever. Teach them to stand tied at the trailer. Get them used to seeing different stuff and they will be so much more level headed than they will otherwise.

            Also, it's helpful to establish a routine that you follow at home and then replicate at the outings. IE if you always longe at home, his first few outings should be at a place where you can longe beforehand. The routine will be familiar when everything else isn't. And definitely take him a little tired. Don't give him a week off and then go somewhere - or if you do, don't be surprised if he's fresh!
            Jennifer Baas
            It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. (Aristotle)


            • #7
              if you have the time, it's worth it to trailer to a show just to hand walk around before your actual riding debut. that way he can be fresh and wild and learn that it's a low stress environment. no pressure to get on and do anything.


              • #8
                yep take him on a field trip first and bring some barn buddies for both him and you.


                • #9
                  If they are OTTB I take them to three shows on a lead shank and three shows just riding around with no showing before I show them. And a couple of other low key field trips too. What is the point of "showing" if they are just going to have a melt down? IMHO. Works for me.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by LookmaNohands View Post
                    If they are OTTB I take them to three shows on a lead shank and three shows just riding around with no showing before I show them. And a couple of other low key field trips too. What is the point of "showing" if they are just going to have a melt down? IMHO. Works for me.
                    To me that sounds excessive for an OTTB. Most of them have seen way more things than many other young horses. I took my OTTB to a few lessons at another farm. I may have done one trail ride with a friend. His first show was at a local very small very low key show. The majority of the jumping classes for the whole show were cross rails, 18'-2' verticals. Only a few classes at the 2'6" height. Most of the horses there were lesson horses. Everything was just laid back.

                    I went with the idea that if I didn't actually show then no big deal. I took him in 2 flat classes and 2 cross rail jumping classes. We trotted all the jumps, wiggled down the lines but got around quietly. We weren't cantering jumps at home yet either.

                    If I had gotten there and he was too looky then yes I would have stepped back and just hung out. But I went with the plan to ride and show with the option to step back. He was pretty chill at the lessons at the other farm with other horses in the ring so I expected him to be that way at the show.
                    Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)


                    • #11
                      Its always so much difficult. Go trail ride, or go to a local open show, or to a reining barn, or whatever. I took him in 2 flat classes and 2 cross rail jumping classes. That way he can be fresh and wild and learn that it's a low stress environment.
                      Last edited by 6zayn; May. 17, 2019, 12:04 AM.


                      • #12
                        You have gotten a lot of good advice, but has your horse been off the property several times before? Is he currently at an active barn, riding in rings with other horses, trailered before? If so, take into account his reaction to those things.

                        What I would suggest too. Don't let yourself panic! You should be cool as a cucumber. I start young horses and take them out to shows, and the worst thing you can do sometimes is overly coddle them and keep so much pressure on them that you actually suggest them to be nervous. Depending on the type of show, if there is an option to stable the night before I like to do this. I like to hack around the competition, let the horse hang out by the end-gate. I take them out and let them graze. I may take them for a long hand-walk. But in every time I handle them, I'm attentive that they are focusing on me and where we are heading. (With my young stallions, they can look, but not talk.) It's similar to your own horse, if they aren't accustomed to new things or a show environment don't panic if they want to look or get a bit distracted, that's normal, and that's when you just step in a give a "Come on boy, walk on"

                        Your horse will pick up on your own demeanor and reactions. If you know yourself, and feel like you will be nervous, bring a friend or a trainer to come along with you.