If you’re starting a young horse, it can be a bit nerve-wracking when you take him to his first show, but it doesn’t have to be. If you follow our seven tips, your first hunter/jumper, dressage or eventing show should go just great.
On the Road Again
Get your horse used to getting on the trailer and going for short trips. Take him to a friend’s farm to go trail riding, or sign up for a few lessons at a local barn. Going in the trailer should be a stress-free experience. Don’t try loading him for the first time on the day of the show.
Passing on the Inside
Your horse must get used to having other horses around him. Ask a few friends to ride with you at your barn or take a few group lessons in an arena at another barn. Practice riding next to, behind and in front of other horses. And approach horses from both directions. Some young horses panic or get excited when another horse invades their space. If you ride with other kids as much as possible, it shouldn’t take long before your horse is calm around other horses.
Take your young horse to a few shows but don’t enter any classes. You may have to pay a shipping-in fee and sign a waiver, but spending some stress-free time at a show will be worth it.
Lead your horse around the show grounds and let him take in the sights. If he’s calm, let him nibble on some grass as a reward.
If you’re allowed, ride your horse in the warm-up arena and let him stand around the horses waiting to enter the arena. Let your horse spend quiet time tied to the trailer too.
Take it Easy
When you go to your horse’s first show, enter a class you know your horse will ace. Stick to easy flat classes at first to introduce your horse to the show ring. Stay close to the rail and try to stay out of everyone’s way.
When you decide that your horse is ready to jump at a show, enter a class with fences that are slightly lower than you’ve been jumping at home. Make sure you’ve jumped fences with fillers (flowers, brush boxes) at home before you attempt them at a show.
There’s No Rush
Give yourself lots of time to warm up properly. If you’re late to the arena and rushing around, your horse may get nervous and act up. Make sure you have at least a half hour to warm up before your class. This gives you plenty of time to warm up your horse the same way you do at home.
Please Excuse Us
If your horse is being really naughty in the arena and you think you might fall off or he might hurt another horse, don’t freak out or lose your temper. Stay calm and focused. Simply signal the judge and ask if you can leave the arena.
Once you’re back in the warm-up area, school your horse until he calms down and starts listening to you. You may need your trainer to help you.
If your young horse remains unsettled after an hour, it’s best to take him home and try again another day.
Time to Go Home
Staying at a horse show all day can be tiring for a young horse, and all of the new sights and sounds may be a lot for him to handle. Choose small or unaffiliated shows where you can enter your baby in two or three classes and then head home so he can get some rest and wind down from his exciting day.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!