A Blue Ribbon Debut

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Western Horse in Snaffle
Shows bring lots of new sights and experiences for your horse. Take time to let him settle in and get comfortable.

Taking your horse to his first show can be intimidating. But with the right preparation, you can turn a stressful day into a successful one, even if it doesn’t necessarily end with a blue ribbon.

Avid competitors and sisters Morgan and Lexy Parisek from Elgin, Ill., share some of their knowledge gained over 14 years of showing. Between them, they have competed in hundreds of shows across the country and have won AQHA World Championships in hunter and all-around competitions.

Field Trips

If you’ve never hauled your horse anywhere, it’s a good idea to practice loading and riding in the trailer. Nothing is worse than planning to go to a show, only to have your horse refuse to leave home. If your horse is very green about trailering, bring along one of his buddies for moral support.

Plan some low-key field trips with your horse. Haul out for trail rides or lessons, or school at other facilities before his first competition. These can also be done with a buddy horse at first. Outings like this will expose your horse to various surroundings he might encounter at a show. Practicing around other horses also gives you an idea of how your horse will interact with arena traffic.

The Parisek sisters make it a habit to bring new and young horses to spectate at shows. Taking your horse to a show without participating in the actual classes is a great way to prepare for the real deal. There may be a non-competing horse fee, and you should be ready to provide any health paperwork required to be on the property.

Go on your own to shows you’re interested in to see how the schedule runs, scout a nice place to park, and talk to veteran exhibitors. The more comfortable you are, the more confidence you will give your horse.

Start off Right

Schooling shows are a great way to introduce your horse to competition. Some larger circuits may also permit riders to practice show situations in an arena and school over fences seen in a class. You can also contact public show grounds where you plan to exhibit to check for open riding times to acquaint your horse to the facility.

When you’re ready to take on an open show, start with just a few classes so you don’t overwhelm yourself or your horse.

Fit and Ready

“Make sure your horse is fit so you don’t exhaust him at the show,” says Morgan, winner of the AQHA Farnam Amateur All-Around award in 2014.

Just like you, your horse needs exercise to prepare for competition. You wouldn’t run a 5K with no training, so don’t ask that of your horse.

Show Day Tips

“Arriving early is always a must,” says Lexy. “It’s better to get to the show early and have too much time than to have no time at all.”

Nothing is more stressful than being rushed. Arrive early enough to unload your horse, check in at the show office and enter your classes, view patterns or jump courses, get dressed for your first class, tack up and warm up your horse.

Having brought numerous horses to their first shows, Lexy likes to set a routine for her newbies, including a long warm up with 10 to 20 minutes of longeing and a few laps around the arena or show grounds walking under saddle to help her horses relax.

Western Horse Longeing
Longeing your horse can help warm him up and get rid of excess energy before you head to the show ring.

Keep Calm and Show On

It’s easy to lose your patience or become frustrated if you go into a show expecting too much of yourself and your horse.
“Go in with the goal of getting your horse around the ring,” says Morgan. “Shoot for having a similar ride to what you would have on a normal day at home. Don’t expect things to get better at the show.”

Morgan says the best way to succeed is to look at the day as a training opportunity. Don’t make a big deal of mistakes. Take on your first show with confidence and remember that you don’t need to win a blue ribbon to have a successful day!

A freelance writer from Woodstock, Ill., Lisa Kucharski enjoys recreational trail riding and competing in open pleasure shows.


This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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