Show prep. You may think this is a funny time of year to be thinking about preparing for shows, but now is actually the perfect time to consider how you go about your preparation. Without the pressure or stress of an upcoming event, it is a great time to really assess how you go about getting ready.
I’m by no means an expert but I have had reasonable success, winning State, Regional & National Champions, Reserves & Top 10’s in hand, under saddle & dressage both here in the US as well as back home in Australia. With each show prep, I always learn something & try to refine & improve the way I do things. Thorough preparation really is a key element to success in the ring & helps to minimize stress & nerve levels.
Pictured right is friends horse that came to me just 5 weeks out from the Australian Championships. He had been with another barn but the owner was unhappy with his condition & performance. He lacked topline & for his type, needed a lot more condition. I adjusted his diet, feeding him 4 times a day & worked him in a pessoa 5 times a week for a maximum of 15 minutes. There were many tears shed when the work paid off with the title of unanimous Australian Champion!
Of course, all throughout my training, I am working on improving myself & my horse. However, when a show is approaching, the focus becomes a little more acute on how the horse looks & performs. You can’t have your horse at his peak 100% of the time, so you need to be able to start refining in the lead up to the event, so as to hopefully reach that event looking & performing at your best. Here’s how I prepare.
Ideally my prep begins about 6 weeks out from the event. I take a very critical eye to my horse. I assess his condition; how does his topline look? How is his overall muscling & body condition? Do I need to start pulling his mane? Is he a little “gutty”? Am I going to need to clip? This is the stage where, depending on my assessment, I adjust diet & start to really set a work program. I prefer to avoid introducing anything new at this stage.
If the horse is going to be braided, I pull the mane gradually over several weeks rather than in one go. It’s much easier on the horse. If the horse has a heavy coat, I prefer to clip no earlier than 2 weeks out, unless the coat is really shedding heavily. In the mean time, I work the coat with a lot of brushing with the curry comb! Its amazing what it can do for the skin & coat! Pictured below is a home bred horse prepared with pessoa work & natural (unclipped) coat.
A work program for a saddle horse might look something like this:
Day 1: Pessoa
Day 2: Flat work with poles/small jumps
Day 3: Flat work
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Flat work
Day 6: Hack out
Day 7: Rest
Of course, the work program is very much determined by the individual horse. If I need to build more topline, I would probably put in another day of pessoa work (a brilliant excercise for building topline provided you ensure the horse works properly). I also very much like to ensure the horse hacks out & perhaps does some jumping in the field to keep them fresh. Days off are also very important. It can be tempting to stay working on the arena to try to work on specific issues, perhaps transitions or the like. Avoid the temptation! You need to work on the horses mental aspect as well as the physical. You don’t want to end up with a sour horse at the show just when he needs to peak! Have the work schedule on your tack room wall, it helps keep you on track & is wonderful if you have a number of horses to prepare.
Over the course of weeks 5 & 4, I steadily increase the intensity of work. The demands of travelling to & competing in several classes at a show requires a horse to have reasonable fitness levels. Once a week I critically assess condition & topline, making adjustments in diet & work if necessary. I try not to look at the horse in this manner any more than that, as looking at them daily makes it difficult to discern any changes.
Week 3, along with continuing to assess condition & work, I now start to look at my show box. A good show box that holds everything you need is invaluable. Take everything out, tidy & restock anything required. I am a super organized person at shows & like to know where everything is. There is nothing worse than rushing around trying to find what you need when the pressure is on!
Week 2. Continue to assess & work to the program. At this stage I like to go through my clothes & make sure I have everything together, clean, in coat bags & ready to go. At the 2016 Sporthorse Nationals I had 2 in hand outfits & 4 riding options for the 2 horses I showed. If you are showing over several days, you need to have sufficient outfits to be able to present cleanly each day. This is the week I also like to start getting gear together & cleaned. Its during week 2 I might clip if need be. If I do, the horse then gets a hot oil treatment.
Week 1. I actually now back off slightly in the work. Ensure the show box is stocked with everything needed. Mid week I like to organise feed. If it is a smaller show I might make up individual rations in bags. For a longer show I take everything I need & mix at the show. Mid week is also when I clip legs & face. I generally leave ears, bridle path & muzzle the day before competing. I do leave eye whiskers on.
If the event is a big one, hopefully you will have the schedule of events. Write down the days/times that each horse is competing & in which event & become familiar with it. This can really help keep things calm & running smoothly at a show & is invaluable if you have multiple horses.
The day before leaving I pack everything that can be packed into the car & trailer. The car gets checked over (oil, water, air etc) & also check the the air in the trailer tires. I also like to fill up with fuel so that I can hit the road the next day without needing to stop too soon. I like to think that by this stage, I have done everything possible to arrive at the show having “left nothing at the barn” in terms of both equipment needed, as well as effort applied!
Managing the horse & yourself at the show is another important aspect & will be a topic for another post!
Cheers & Happy Riding!