Stealing the Showmanship

Stealing the Showmanship

In a highly competitive class, showmanship winners are much more than mechanically correct.
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It has become the catwalk of the horse show world. While western pleasure might have the most glitz and glamour, showmanship has the most attitude and style.

Exhibitors come out on top when they appeal not only to the critical eye - in terms of mechanics - but also to the more artistic eye - showing confidence, poise and flair. Showmanship can no longer be judged strictly on the correctness of a pattern; the competition has become much too tough for that.

“In showmanship, you can steal the class with your personality,” says Holly Hover, an all-around trainer from Cave Creek, Arizona. She relates placing a top-rate showmanship class to choosing from a menu at a five-star restaurant. “Someone might take the fish, I might take the chicken, and someone else, the veal - that doesn’t say any of the dinners are better than the others, just a different taste.”

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According to Holly, this new element of top showmanship comes from the gut - it’s not something you can fake. It develops from experience, self-assuredness and the ability to make a pattern flow into one motion.

“From a judge’s point of view, it’s extremely obvious,” Holly says. “It’s a confidence level that is hard to instruct.”

Mastering the Parts

When a Level 1 exhibitor competes in showmanship, the movements tend to be mechanical. Most Level 1 exhibitors are taught to “talk to the pattern.” In other words, as you complete a maneuver, you talk yourself through it. “Begin at Marker A. Trot to Marker B. Stop. Set up.” It’s all very rigid. Holly compares this to when you first learn to cook.

“You are just happy to get the right amount of ingredients into the pot,” she says. “Then it just cooks - you’re not so concerned with flavor or presentation or it being exotic. You are just happy your macaroni and cheese is edible. As you advance as a cook, that becomes happenstance, and you start worrying about what will go with it, how it looks, how it smells and fixing it up.

“That’s how showmanship works. Level 1 is like a good, old, average macaroni and cheese. By the time you get to the advanced levels, it is exotic. All the basic parts are still there to make it edible, but now it has all this flavor and sensation that makes it stand out from something else.”

Holly says mechanical practice is the only way to start in showmanship. If you start a Level 1 exhibitor out thinking too abstractly, she says, he or she usually forgets parts of the pattern - a flaw that no amount of confidence or style can make up for.

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Holly also notices a difference in the eye contact a Level 1 exhibitor has with the judge.

“I have tried telling my Level 1 exhibitors to look the judge in the eye, smile and enjoy what they are doing,” Holly says. “But they really can’t enjoy it or look the judge in the eye because they aren’t 100 percent confident. The only way to get confident is by repetitively doing the patterns right.”

Watching upper-level classes plays a large part in Holly’s Level 1 showmanship program.

“I make them watch all the time,” she says. “I tell them to look for what clothes they like, what looks good, what they see. If you see a spark, imitate it. Develop a style by putting together all the parts you like. To visually imagine yourself as the best, you have to look around and see what is out there, because that is what a judge does.”