8 Tips for Your Horse’s First Show

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When it comes to bringing a horse to his first show, even the most experienced competitors can get a bit rattled. But according to horse show judge Jennifer Moshier, making that first experience a good one can determine how horses and riders enjoy the show circuit in the future.

“One thing builds on the other,” says Moshier, who judges horse shows in a variety of disciplines including hunter and western dressage. “The key is keeping the horse calm.”

The advice sounds like a no-brainer, but even Moshier admits that it can be tough to follow. So here are her recommendations for making the most of that first horse show outing.

Schooling Show

Be Choosy

Because not all horses have the same tolerance levels for the noise, activity and other equine distractions that characterize most horse shows, Moshier recommends that owners choose show environments in which their horses are most likely to be comfortable. Most of the time that means taking part in lower level competitions or fun shows.

“Or, if you have the opportunity, go to a clinic, which is somewhat like a show environment, but a smaller environment,” Moshier recommends. “If you go to a show, minimize tension by choosing one where people will not be competing at a high level.”

Ride Outside

Riders who compete in ring classes usually practice within the confines of an arena. But getting horses used to new distractions takes riding outside of familiar environments.

“If you’re used to riding in the ring, take you horse out into the field,” Moshier suggests. “Also, take a ride with other horses so your horse gets used to having others around.”

Simulate

For many riders, simulating a show class means rehearsing a pattern until both horse and rider know it cold. But according to Moshier, preparations should also include duplicating show conditions including key elements such as entry and exit areas and the location and size of the judge’s table at home.

“Let the hose get used to seeing all those things at home so that he isn’t seeing them for the first time at a show,” Moshier says.

Get There Early

A rushed rider is more likely to create a nervous horse, especially in an unfamiliar environment. So Moshier recommends helping the horse acclimate to new surroundings by arriving at the show venue early.

“Even go there the night before if you can get a stall,” Moshier suggests. “If not, get there early show day so you have time to prepare yourself and your horse.”

Stroll the Grounds

Generally, competing is the point of most horse shows, but sometimes just bringing the horse to the venue is a valuable investment in its future performance.

“Go there just to ride,” Moshier recommends. “Get the horse used to being there with you, then if you’re both comfortable, try a class or two.”

Step Down

Riders that do decide to compete should choose classes below their usual competition level, just to give the horse a chance to perform well in the new environment.

“Pick a walk/trot class even if you usually ride at a higher level,” advises Moshier. “You can always ride to your usual level later.”

Lower Your Expectations

When it comes to introducing a horse to the show circuit, winning is not everything. In fact, riders would do well to expect that their horses will fall short of their at-home performances.

“People always say, ‘We ride over planks and taps and we open gates, at home and my horse has never skipped a beat,’ but when a horse is at a horse show for the first time, it’s a good idea to set the lowest standard” Moshier recalls. “Remember that if a horse is 100 percent at home, he may be just 50 percent at the show.”

Lighten up

Finally, Moshier advises riders to relax, lighten up and enjoy their horse.

“The key to bringing a horse to a show for the first time is keeping him from becoming tense,” Moshier says. “And ultimately, he is going to get that lack of tension directly from you, so just lighten up, relax and enjoy being there.”

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