Spring is here and that means the horse show season is ready to begin in earnest! Horse shows are definitely their own wonderful, odd and sometimes overwhelming worlds. This blog post is the inside scoop on some things you should know as your headed out into the glorious horse show world this year.
The first and foremost important thing to know is that when your trainer signs your entry blank at a horse show, they are now held liable by the USEF and the horse show for everything pertaining to this entry. They are financially and legally liable, they are liable for your horse’s behavior and they are liable for your behavior. When you break rules, not only do you have to suffer the consequences, so does your trainer. Not only can we be fined by the USEF for breaking rules, we can also be sanctioned as well, meaning that we can be kicked out of horse shows for any length of time. That’s not so good for business.
Horseshows do not work on a credit system. Please be prepared to pay your braider, entries fees, vet bills and farrier bills by the end of each horse show. It is a small community, these people WILL remember you if you don’t pay them. Most horse shows still only take check or cash, some will take plastic. Braiders ONLY TAKE CHECKS. Most vets and farriers will only take check or cash.
Please be aware of horse show closing dates and get your checks and deposits in early to secure your spot. We ask for deposits at the beginning of the horse show because we need money for operating expenses for hotels, transportation, supplies, feed, etc. If you don’t pay your deposit, we cannot put your horse on the trailer to go to the shows because we cannot afford to pay for these things out of our own pockets. For this reason, we also require two checks made to the horse show, one that is blank for entries and one for the stall fee which will be cashed as soon as the horse show receives it. Horse Shows will not accept your entry or release your number without that open check and stall payment. Most horse show stabling is in tents which the horse show has to pre-order, therefore, stall fees are non-refundable after the closing date of the entries, no exceptions.
Grooms are really, really important. They work very hard to keep your horse safe, healthy and happy. They are at the horse show long before you arrive in the morning and stay well after you leave and are on call 24 hours per day. During that time they may have little time to stop for food, or even a bathroom break. Please treat them kindly and with respect. They make very little pay, so if they do a good job, please tip them. The industry standard is $10-$20 per day. Grooms also always appreciate coffee, bottled water, lunch… well actually pretty much any food and maybe a cold beer at the end of the day.
It is your responsibility to get to the horse show on time in the morning and to the show ring in time for your classes. We will do the best we can to keep track of the rings and remind you where to be when, but in the end, you need to keep track of your show ring. Most of the horse shows have websites with time estimates and ‘how many lists’, make yourself familiar with these websites. You can usually check these websites around 7 PM and there will at least be a count of how many people in each class, and if you’re really lucky, estimated start times for each class. To gauge the timing of a ring, you can plan that Jumping rounds take about 2 minutes per trip and flat classes take about 10 minutes per class. A solid plan to make sure you make it to the ring on time is to start by arriving at the show at least one hour before your class starts. When you arrive, locate your ring and check on its status with the gate-keeper/starter (more on these guys and gals to come), some rings run early, but most run a little late. Check to see when your trainer has checked you into the order as well, so you can gauge when you should show up at the ring. While you’re at the ring, check out your courses and learn at least your first one. After your trip to the ring, head back to barn and check to be sure that you equipment is all laid out for you horse with the right bit, martengale, etc. The grooms normally do this in morning, but as a good horseman, you should always check to make sure it’s what you and your trainer want your horse to wear to the ring. After this it’s a waiting game, and you may need to keep checking in at your ring several times. Plan to be at the ring for your course walk if you have one, and are at the ring with your horse about 10 trips out from your spot in the order. It is important to note that trips or rounds are not the same thing as horses. With some divisions they have multiple classes showing at once, so 10 horses could mean 20 or 30 trips. Finally, stay in touch with your coach and/or the head groom about all things related to timing. A quick text message about your status can go a long way to a smooth day.
Get to know your gate keepers and be nice to them, they can help your day out, or they can make your life a living hell. Sometimes they may be a little curmudgeonly when you first meet them because they have pretty high stress jobs and they get bitched at on the regular. 95% of them are actually pretty nice once they realize you’re not going to be an ass-hole to them. As with grooms, tip the good ones if they really help you out of a jam. It’s the thought that counts, a DD’s card for $5 works.
The story is pretty much the same for Horse Show Secretaries regarding their stress-level and crusty exteriors. Your best bet is to leave interactions with them to your trainer. We have relationships with these ladies and gentlemen and can get much more from them than you can. Normally your trainer or road manager with check you into the horse show, pick up your number, make sure you’re in the right classes every day and pay your bill at the end of the week. If you do feel the need to do business with the secretaries, be polite and patient.
Your trainer really will make it to the ring, you don’t have to go it alone. Most of the horse shows we attend have multiple show rings running at one time which means that there will inevitably be some conflicts at some point. Unfortunately there is a horse show expression, “hurry up and wait,” and at some point you will fall victim to this phenomenon. When you are ten out, text your trainer, if they are running late, let your gate-keeper know. If there are 10 or less left in the class, same deal. If you are starting to panic because you’ve lost your trainer, talk your gate keeper, they can almost always track your trainer down and it is their job to help coordinate everyone at the horse show. If you’ve done your due diligence learning their name, bribing them with diet cokes, and being nice to them, they will always help you out. Conversely, if you walk out of the ring and your trainer says, “Good job! I gotta fly, we will talk later,” it’s because they are late for another ring and they will find time to talk to you later in the day, maybe over that cold beer you’ve brought for the grooms.
Watch and learn. If you are unhappy with your performance at the shows, it means you have more work to do. Spend more time at the show watching people who ride better than you do. Watch the other people in your division so you know what the winning combinations look like. Spend more time in the tack.
Dress appropriately. You are in extremely mixed company at a public event. This is not a bar, a dance, the disco, a date and this is certainly not the beach. If you need further direction, ask your trainer. Along the same lines, watch your language and your tone, you can actually get in trouble with the stewards and the federation if they feel as though you are being inappropriate or abusive. Don’t make negative comments on other horses or riders, you never know who’s parent/S.O./friend/trainer is standing right next to you. Better yet, don’t even think negative comments on other horses or riders, you’re not the one on that horse at that moment, so you have no idea what’s really going on.
Eat protein, drink water, get plenty of rest, don’t be hung-over. Despite what the meat-heads at the gym say, you’re an athlete, so take care of your body. Along the same lines, horse shows are outdoor activities, think rain gear, sunglasses, sun screen, layers. Nuff said.
The most important thing to remember is to keep things in perspective and enjoy yourself. The reason why we are all in this sport is because we love horses. Horse shows are an opportunity to show off your amazing equine partner, gauge your progress, further your education, watch amazing horses and riders, visit new places and spend time with horse friends both old and new. Enjoy the ride!
Your scheduled lesson time is the time at which your training session starts. To maximize your training time, you and your horse should to be ready to rock and roll at that time. Leading up to your lesson, you may want to arrive to the barn 45 minutes before the start of your lesson to allow yourself ample time to properly prepare yourself and your horse for the lesson.
The process of properly grooming and tacking your horse up takes solidly a half an hour. In this time, you will potentially bring your horse in from the paddock and allow 5 minutes in their stall to have time to urinate and drink fresh water. While he is in his stall, this may be a good time to lay out your tack and equipment. The grooming process will take a solid 15 minutes as you will need to pick his hooves, give him a good currying all over his whole body, brush him with the stiff brush and then either the soft brush or rub him down with a towel, brush his mane, pick the shavings from his tail, and wipe out his eyes and nostrils with a towel. This is something that should be done calmly and methodically as it is a time to check in with your horse and establish the tone for your interaction for the day. This is also an important time to check your horse over for lumps, bumps, swellings, wounds and skin crud. Most skin and hoof infections and sores are simply a result of poor hygiene.
Putting tack on your horse may take you another 5-10 minutes, depending on how complicated your tack is and whether or not your horse wears boots, etc. Remember to take you time with polo wraps and boots as inappropriately applied boots and polos can actually damage your horse’s tendons and ligaments, as well as cause uncomfortable rubs. If you are not confident in your abilities – ask someone for assistance. Be gentle when putting on your tack, only tighten the girth one hole at a time, and be sure that it is not too tight so that your horse doesn’t become “girthy”. If your horse tries to bite you when you tighten the girth, it is usually a reaction to discomfort.
Many people need a few minutes between tacking up and getting on to use the rest room, put on their helmet, boots, spurs, etc. Please be sure that you attire is neat, well-fitted and appropriate. Appropriate attire includes breeches with tall boots or paddock boots and half-chaps, a belt, a well fitted shirt and a helmet with long hair either braided or under your helmet. Please no hooded sweatshirts, tank tops or big baggy clothing as it can be difficult to see the rider’s position.
You and your horse should head into the ring 10-15 minutes early. It takes a few minutes to tighten your girth, adjust your stirrups, do a final check of your horse’s tack to make any minor adjustments that may be needed and get on. Once you are on, please start walking your horse on a loose rein 10 minutes before the start of your lesson - this is so important for the health of your horse and your long-term success with him. Ten minutes of walking at the beginning of your ride, is needed for your horse to warm-up properly. In that ten minutes, his muscles will create heat which allows for more flexibility. His joints with have a chance to spread lubrication around, allowing them greater mobility and reducing risk of long-term damage. There will be increased blood flow to tendons and ligaments, which along with the muscles, will start to slowly stretch out increasing flexibility and thus reducing risk of strains and tears. So many soft-tissue injuries in horses are caused by some combination of improper warm-up and a lack of fitness and fatigue. These are all issues that are preventable with proper care and maintenance, including 10 minutes of loose walking at the start of your ride.
There may be lessons backed up on either side of your lesson, so when you enter the ring, please watch for what the previous lesson is doing so that you can get on your horse without getting in their way or impeding the trainer’s view. Arriving to your lesson on time and prepared allows ample time for your training session and for the person in the lesson after to also be on time. Be sure to also bring to your lesson a positive attitude and an open mind. Trainers are often excited to answer questions, but they are usually best reserved for the end of the lesson.
After your lesson, plan to take another 10-minute walk to cool your horse out properly. Muscles, tendons and ligaments need to cool down slowly to lessen stiffness and the horse’s breathing needs to return to normal. When you return to the barn, your horse should not go into his stall until he is cooled off and breathing normally so that he doesn’t drink too much and colic. It may take another half an hour or so to clean up your horse and put him away. In warmer weather he may have a shower, have his legs toweled and then grazed or walked until he is well on his way to being dry. In colder weather he needs to be allowed to dry with an Irish knit or cooler and then curried and brushed until all of his sweat marks are gone. Crunchy sweaty hair doesn’t insulate very well and makes your horse more susceptible to skin irritations and rashes. Horses can even develop blistered skin from sweat irritation so putting you horse away clean and dry is absolutely as important as bringing him out for his ride that way. No matter whether your horse is groomed or showered, he also will need his feet picked and painted with Effol before he goes bed. Now is a great time to apply treatments to any thrush, scratches, wounds or skin crud. He will need whatever blankets are appropriate for the weather and be put in his stall or paddock with hay and water.
After your horse is away, or while you are waiting for him to dry, that would be a good time to clean you tack and give it a quick check for cracks, wear and dryness. Finally, put all of your tack away, check that any laundry, blankets, brushes etc. that you used are away, and sweep up after yourself in the aisle. For your half-hour or forty-five-minute ride, you can easily spend 45 minutes at either end preparing and caring for your horse. Taking the time to go through this process will ensure that you and your horse are safe, healthy, happy and get the most out of your training sessions.