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So you’ve decided to enter your very first show. How are you feeling?
It’s important to give yourself the very best chance to have fun and enjoy your day and there are some simple steps which you can put in place which will help you to minimise any feelings of tension and nervousness. In this piece I am delighted that Sean Whiting who is Director of the country and equestrian specialists Houghton Country is sharing his top horse show preparation tips for beginners.
Sean’s tips are all things which are within your control and which you can absolutely do to ensure that you and your horse are prepared and ready for action.
While you’re bound to be excited about taking part in your very first horse show, it can also be very nerve-wracking. But, regardless of whether you’re going to be show jumping or showing off your newfound dressage skills, you’ll give yourself the best chance of enjoying the experience by properly preparing for it.
So, I’m going to share my top horse show preparation tips that will ensure your first competition is as stress-free as possible. My advice should help you to bag some extra points from the judges, too!
Always read the rules very carefully
Even the most seasoned of horse riders know the importance of reading each horse show’s rules very carefully, because they can differ a lot from event to event. So, as soon as you become aware that you’ll be taking part in a particular competition, it’s vital that you get a copy of the rules, pay close attention to them, and start your preparations with these rules in mind.
The rules of your chosen competition will dictate everything, from what you need to wear and how your horse should look, to what you might need to do in order to be eligible to compete at a certain level. It’s also particularly important that you check what tack you can use well ahead of time — especially when it comes to your horse’s bit. This information gives you the opportunity to find and change to an alternative if the bit you currently use isn’t acceptable. Plus, it will allow you to put in extra schooling at home to get your horse used to this change without the nerves and excitement of competition.
If were to ignore the guidelines of your event, you could turn up to your first show and find that you’re unable to compete for one reason or another, or you might miss out on vital points because you aren’t quite presented in the way that you should be — this is especially true in the showing world. So, always check the relevant guidelines before starting your preparations and, if possible, speak to other people competing in similar classes or the show organisers if anything is unclear.
Attend a similar show as a spectator first
If you’ve never attended a horse show as a spectator, I would highly recommend doing so before you compete for the first time. Everything from the noise to the overall atmosphere can be quite intimidating if you aren’t used to it. And, on show day, you’ll also have the added pressure of actually taking part. If you can volunteer to be a groom for the day for one of your friends, this will give you a feel for how everything works ahead of your debut and should help to take a lot of stress out of the experience.
Horse shows can also be a lot of fun for those watching so, while you might be going for research purposes, you’ll have a great time too.
Step up your grooming regime
You should already be grooming your horse every day to keep their coat in the best condition possible but, when you know that there’s a competition the horizon, you’ll want to step up your regime — especially in classes where turnout is an important factor. For example, you may decide your horse needs a bath to get the best possible shine from their coat, or to remove stains or excess grease. All of the horses at competitions look preened and poised so, if yours doesn’t look its best, you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons.
You also need to check whether there’s a specific way in which your horse’s mane and tail need to be presented, especially in show classes. This is often dictated by the breed of your horse and the type of class you have entered. You aren’t typically expected to be plaited up for show jumping classes, however you may choose to go all out regardless, because it’s a great way of giving your horse a professional and polished look.
Make sure you have the right equestrian clothing
It’s not just your horse you need to think about: you’re going to be the other half of the team. So, you need to put just as much work into ensuring you look the part.
The rules around what you can and can’t wear will differ between classes and events so, again, you need to read and follow the relevant rules closely. But, once you have an idea of what your competition look needs to consist of, I would recommend investing in the highest quality pieces that fit with your budget. With equestrian clothing, you often do get what you pay for. So, to ensure you look and feel your best, it’s a good idea to opt for pieces from a reputable brand. Plus, quality horse riding attire can last for years, so you’ll be able to wear yours to plenty of other competitions.
Give your horse plenty of time to warm up
I’m sure you’ve very used to helping your horse warm up before training at home, but I would recommend giving them plenty of extra time before your first few competitions. The noise and atmosphere of a competition is likely to be completely new to them, which can be very distracting, so it might take them a bit longer to get into the right frame of mind. Plus, the more you practise before you head out in front of the judges, the more prepared you’re likely to feel. So, give both you and your horse plenty of time to warm up and get in the right mindset to compete.
Taking part in your first equestrian competition is likely to be very exciting, but also quite stressful. However, by taking my tips on board to ensure you’re well-prepared, you should be able to give yourself some peace of mind.
In our next blog we will look at my top tips for getting your mindset ready for your first show now that you have the practical things in place.