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Schooling Shows

The schooling show is the most inexpensive way to learn to win. It is not a competition, but an opportunity for you and your horse to develop familiarity and comfort in the show environment.


Les shares his thoughts about the importance of the pre-show practice warm up, how he compares his horse's warm ups from one show to the next and other vital information to keep track of; in addition to having the right goals and mindset for the show to set up your horse for success.

Pre-Show Preparation

In other articles I have talked about preparing yourself to think like a winner. Now I want to talk to you about the physical things you can do as well to help you achieve success in the show pen. This will include pre-show practice warm-up, pre-show schooling shows and your preparation the day of the show.

Pre-Show Warm-up Data

The thing that works really well for me is to keep a log book; it doesn’t have to be big, it’s just a little tablet that will fit in my shirt pocket. I keep all my info from my schooling shows in this log. I record the temperature and the altitude – although everyone knows weather can affect their horse’s behavior, but they don’t always realize that altitude can affect horses especially going from a low altitude to a high one.

Save the big stops for the big shows - don’t use up your horse

I keep track of my warm up time in the log, such as how many minutes I walked, how many minutes I loped, and how did the horse act during the warm up; was he fresh when I started or dull?

I also give my horse a physical condition rating on a scale of 1 to 10; 1 being soft and 10 being fit. A soft horse will obviously tire more easily in the warm-up than a fit horse. After the show is over I put the results down, maybe the horse was too fresh and needed more warm-up because it was cold or maybe I did too much and he was dull in the show pen.

Everything changes from show to show (unless you are lucky enough to have lots of local shows) but if you have all your data entered into your log book then you will have a plan of action for every situation. This takes the guess work out of your warm-up and that is a big boost to your confidence.

Even if it’s just a schooling show use your show bit

Schooling Shows

Schooling shows are critical. I think they are the most inexpensive way to learn to win. You can throw your money on the line and go enter one big, recognized show and learn by losing if you want to. OR you can get all the information and education that is necessary to win at several schooling shows. Schooling shows are for getting a feel for your horse at a show, they are not for training. You do that at home.

Schooling shows are to make your horse (and yourself) familiar and comfortable with the show environment. Once he is comfortable he will respond at a show the same way he does at home.
At a schooling show I will enter the class that I am preparing my horse for and follow the same routine that I would at a big show. I won’t ask my horse to stop hard; if he stops at home he should stop at a show. Instead I will use this as an opportunity to make my run downs perfect.

Another reason I don’t really stop hard at a schooling show is that the dirt is probably not going to be as good as the dirt at a big show. If I get there and the dirt isn’t good then I might take extra precautions with my horse’s legs; wrapping his legs and then putting boots over the top.

Even the shock of just galloping on hard dirt can tear up a horse’s legs especially if he’s a little fragile anyway. Support boots are a good idea at schooling shows because for the first few shows you’ll probably put a little more time on him to get his performance where you want it to be.

Don’t go to a schooling show with the idea of being judged. The fact that there is a judge at a schooling show has no influence on how I am preparing my horse. I listen to the response I get from my horse to know whether or not I’m on the right track. I rely on my own judgment and experience but I also believe in the saying that, ‘You’re only as good as your ground help.’

A pair of eyes on the ground that know you and your horse know what you should look like, are invaluable. This person doesn’t have to be an expert; they just have to know what you and your horse look like when you’re both at your best.

We’ve all had the experience of thinking, “Boy this is going great”! and found out that it didn’t look nearly as good as it felt. And vice versa, you come out of the arena and say, “That was terrible”. only to find out from your ground help that the schooling looked great.

Wear your show clothes to a schooling show - your horse knows the difference!

Let me re-enforce that the schooling show is NOT a competition; keep your competitive attitude on ice when you go to a schooling show. It will be counterproductive, just as showing off at a schooling show is counterproductive. When you feel like you have the pedal half down and you’re getting a really good response, the best way to mess things up is to put the pedal all the way down. You are using your horse up instead of building him up if you do that.

The worst thing you can do is to hurt your horse in the arena. You can do a lot of different maneuvers in these sessions; you can gallop to the fence again and again if he is anticipating the stop. If he loses concentration on his circles stay on the circle until he concentrates with some respect. You set the horse up and then do something else. If you can’t set him up then he’s not ready to go to a show.

I want respect and response from my horse in the arena but I don’t ever want him to be afraid in there. I just want him to be a little better than he was the last time, I don’t want to exhaust him trying to make him perfect. A little better is good enough.

You should wear the same type of clothing that you do at a big show and make sure that you are using your show bit. Horses recognize the smell of the starch in your show clothes; they notice your chaps, hat, etc. and are smart enough to figure out that these accessories mean a horse show.

If I don’t feel comfortable taking my horse schooling in his regular bit then he’s not ready to go to a show or it’s time to try a new bit. It can be helpful to change bits as the horse is usually more respectful of a new (not necessarily stronger) bit.

Also, you should unbraid the tail and groom just as you would for a real show.

I’ll make notes in my log about what I did and I’ll also write what my next response is. Writing something down – for some reason – gives a better mental picture of the track I’m on. I get a clearer picture of what I’m doing, do I need to change it, what part of it isn’t working; it just comes out better.

Going to several schooling shows is not just good for the horse; it’s good for the rider. You will learn how to think when you’re under pressure. If you use the schooling show to its full value you will learn ring awareness.


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