A Break From Horse Showing

In Part 1 of this series, discover three trail-riding obstacles that will keep your show horse fresh.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Don’t be surprised if your world champion who glides over jumps like a gazelle in the show ring refuses to step over a log in the wide-open spaces. It’s a whole different duck.

To a horse, if it looks different, it is different. It’s crucial to keep this in mind and carefully prepare your show horse at home before hitting the trails.

“If you have a horse who’s used to a routine, like a pleasure class, and you head out to do something different, you might find out how well he is not broke,” explains Marty Marten, an accomplished horse clinician. “Surrounded by fences, you can get away with a lot of things, but it’s a new ball game out in the wide open.”

However, he believes there’s nothing better to keep a horse fresh than cattle work or trail riding.

“Nature is natural for a horse. The arena isn’t what horses were designed for,” says Marty of Berthoud, Colorado. “To their credit, they’ll adapt to do nearly anything we want, but cattle and trail riding really freshen a horse’s mind. My advice to any competitive rider is to spend the same time riding outside an arena that you do inside. That’s tough, but if you just drill a horse all the time, he will get sour and develop what I call routine memory - meaning your horse might become upset or protest doing anything outside a memorized routine.”

If you’re ready to venture outside of the horse-showing arenas, make sure you and your horse are prepared first. In AQHA’s Horse Training Techniques With Martin Black report, you’ll learn how proper balance and communication can help you conquer any task with your equine friend.

Therefore, the key to a safe and enjoyable trail ride starts at home, via exposing your horse to new challenges. Here are three obstacles to try with your show horse:

1. Cavalettis

Cavelettis encourage your horse to step across uneven ground. If you set up two cavelletis in a row, set one higher than the other so your horse has to work a little harder at the second one. Initially, he might not want to try it. It’s OK if your horse hits it. He’ll learn where to put his feet. In all exercises, patience is important. A horse can’t learn confidence from a frustrated rider.

Crossing ground poles is a great preliminary to cavalettis. Whichever you choose, make sure you set them up in different locations when you practice. A horse will get used to doing a task in one area, but might be scared to death of it in another. Again, if it looks different, it is different.

2. Planks

Planks (nailed together) can simulate a bridge. To build a horse’s confidence, cross it sideways first. Then, when you ask your horse to walk the length, keep him straight with your legs - not just your reins.

If your horse can two-track (move forward and laterally off your leg at the same time), use that to keep him straight as you approach and cross, versus pulling on the horse. Also, look at something straight ahead to help keep your body square. Focus, seat, legs and reins are all important in these maneuvers.

To help prep your show horse for new adventures on the trail, review some practical tips in AQHA’s Horse Training Techniques With Martin Black report. In this jam-packed resource, Martin discusses the importance of balance, fitness and communication - all things that will help you in your transition from horse showing to recreational riding. Download the report today!

For an advanced variation, elevate the planks onto blocks. This requires the horse to step up and down.

3. Teeter-Totter

This is an advanced maneuver. By removing the blocks from the ends of this obstacle, it becomes a teeter-totter. This is great practice for uneven ground, swinging bridges or confidence in general. Remember, any time you can put a horse in a difficult situation and work through it together is valuable.

Ideally, the horse should put one foot on the end, so it touches the ground. There will be an element of surprise when it moves, so convey confidence and help the horse with a soft feel. You can also try to balance your horse in the middle, but it’s a difficult task to accomplish.

It’s essential to keep your horse straight between your legs and move him forward and back with a soft feel to play that game.

For more trail prep obstacles, check back next week for Part 2 of this series.

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

After your show horse gets his breath of fresh air, he’ll be ready to hit the horse-showing circuit again. Plan your show season with AQHA’s detailed show calendar. AQHA members and American Quarter Horse Journal subscribers have complete online access to this handy planning tool! Don’t be left in the dark - schedule your show season with AQHA.