Increase Your Show Ring Confidence
Borrow a trainer to increase your show ring confidence.
By AQHA Professional Horseman Lynn Palm with Christine Hamilton | October 19, 2010
The American Quarter Horse Journal
To practice for what’s needed in the show ring today, a rider has to be able to think and know her horse. That way, if she starts to have a problem in performance or competition, she can come right back and correct it.
Today, judges are looking for functional riders. The days of the trainer preparing the horse in the warm-up ring and then putting the rider on him at the gate to go in and win – that isn’t going to work any more.
It’s no secret that getting better in the show ring begins with preparation at home and at the horse show. Here’s what I suggest.
What To Do at Home
Improving your competition confidence doesn’t begin with practice, but with perfect practice. I picked up that phrase from my friend Jane Savoie, dressage coach and author. You have to know to craft a perfect practice for you as a competitor in your sport.
For me, that means having a plan.
1. Know the rules. Read your rulebook and ask questions from judges or professionals if you don’t understand something.
2. Write down your goals, your objectives for what you want to accomplish for a competition. Write them out monthly, weekly, daily, whatever works for you, so you can see what you want to work on with you and your horse.
3. Establish a perfect warm-up for you and your horse. Find exercises that allow you both to loosen up your muscles and joints. Different positions can be a good warm-up such as posting at the trot or riding in two-point – those are both great for flexibility, balance and timing.
4. Work on a specific subject or exercise for the core of your practice, something that works toward your competition goals. You might choose lateral work, pivots, flying lead changes, better speed control at the lope, serpentines – be specific. You can ask your coach for help on how to work on those items. You have to set what you want to work on and how.
5. End your practice with something you and your horse do easily. It can be as simple as walking on a loose rein and letting your horse stretch, a turn on the forehand or trot-walk-halt transitions. Make it easy so you and your horse end positively.
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6. Think about your ride. When I put my horse away, I take the core of my lesson and think about what I liked about it – always start positive – and what I need to improve. That’s what builds confidence, decision-making skills and a consistent performance in the show ring. It’s building the knowledge of what you’re supposed to do and how to do it.
What To Do at the Show
In a lot of ways, what you do at the show is a continuance of what you work on at home.
1. Ride with a positive attitude. A horse knows every word you’re thinking. Ninety-nine percent of a horse’s performance is our positive or negative thought process.
If you start to doubt yourself, your pattern or your performance in any way, or if you come up with “what ifs,” you will more than likely not succeed.
If someone comes up to you and says, “Good luck” and you say, “I’ll try to do well,” that’s a negative! You have to turn it around and say, “I’m going to do well and have fun”; that is positive thinking.
2. Get the feel of the arena. Arrive early enough at the show that day or the day before so you and your horse can get acclimated to the arena. I work my horse on a longe line first, to let him play. If he is feeling good and is fresh, he can’t absorb his surroundings. I go around the entire show grounds on the ground to see where he is insecure; wherever he is insecure, I spend time there to let him get comfortable.
Plan your ride in the arena. A lot of people will go in and lope, but I like to walk to find out where my horse stays relaxed and where he gets distracted or insecure. That’s where I know to be keener with my communication during my ride. For patterns, I walk around the outside of the ring if possible, on foot or on my horse. You can see distances better from the profile, between cones or poles or where your jumps are.
Most shows allow competitors to walk a course before the competition, and this is a must. It allows you a chance to build your strategy, which, to me, is the most fun part of competing.
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3. Get by yourself and visualize your ride – the pattern, rail work, whatever you’re going to do. Think about your strategy. Be honest in a positive way about your weak areas. You have to be realistic about your weak areas as you build your strategy and be positive and specific about them. You might think, “I’m still weak at my left turnaround, so I’ll take it slow and precise and try to plus the right turnaround.”
If you visualize your go and be specific, your subconscious mind and muscle memory will kick in for you in your performance, give you the positive reactions you need without thinking.
4. Warm-up well, not long. At a horse show, I love to see a confident, smart rider not tiring out her horse with too much of a warm-up.
I always want to be able to warm-up my horse in 10-20 minutes before I do my 10-minute performance in the ring. I think it gives me the best chance at having my horse at his best. My goal is for the warm-up to not last more than 30 minutes unless I do a lot of walking.
Figure out your horse’s best warm-up at home, and time it so you know how to plan for it at the show. When do you feel him start to get sharp and relaxed to your aids in transitions and maneuvers? That’s when you want to get into the ring.
And don’t let him “die.” A lot of people will warm up and then wait at the gate and socialize with their friends. No! You need to keep your horse walking so he doesn’t get “cold.”
5. Analyze your ride. I coach people to always come out and say what they really liked about their ride. Be specific: “I liked the control I had at the canter in my right circle.” Then find what could be better: “I looked down when I asked for the departure and my horse took the wrong lead.” That’s the subject for your next perfect practice session. But don’t come out of the ring and say, “My ride was perfect.” That’s unrealistic. Riders who do that end up blaming the judge or other competitors for what went wrong.
Good sportsmanship will always be recognized by those on the outside of the ring – friends, competitors, judges and people in the business. That’s who you build your reputation with as a competitor. Any time you display good sportsmanship, you will shine.
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6. For a long-term competitor, the ribbon is not the most important achievement. The most important achievement in any judged event has to be your performance – and your horse’s performance – a personal best.
Always respect your horse, and never sacrifice him for the performance. The person who blames the horse is a short-term competitor. Most of the time, the horse would have been better if she had been better.
To be a good winner, you’ve got to be a good loser. Life is not filled with every day being a day that you can smile about. But you will be a winner if you can take those bad days, turn them around and get through them. And keep moving ahead.