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First impressions: How you can improve your show ring presentation

By DANA HOKANA / Horsetrader columnist - March 3rd, 2010 - Q&A Dear Dana

You know the old saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!” When you and your horse enter the show ring you are speaking loudly without saying a word! You and your horse show that judge or those judges many things. Like, for example if you are ready for your class, if you are confident or nervous, or if you have paid attention to detail and if you are tuned up and ready to show.

I encourage you to become mindful, pay attention to the details that often make the difference between first place and fifth place. The judges only have a few moments to make their decision as to who will be their winners.

Find out what their judging standard is, what the rules are for your association, what the standard for your event is, what guidelines are they taught to judge by. Then honestly assess you and your horse. Where do you fit in your breed and event standard? The rules are constantly being revised so keep abreast of the rules you show with. Many trainers and riders get very caught up in their own opinion of what is good, but they miss the mark because the judges they show to are being trained and guided to judge a different standard. A great tool is to have someone video you riding, see yourself from the viewpoint of that person in the middle of the arena.

I am going to give you a checklist to make sure that when you enter the arena you give your best show ring presentation possible!

#1) Your Appearance

  • Be clean and neat – most importantly be neat and orderly.
  • Have your hat shaped and clean – pay a professional to clean and shape your hat. Most top horsemen and women take great pride in their hat. You can tell a lot by the shape of a person’s hat.
  • Make sure your clothes are color coordinated and well matched.
  • Make sure your saddle blanket is clean and neat and covers the pad that is underneath the blanket. Also make sure the color of the blanket compliments your outfit.
  • Pin you numbers on straight and neat and make sure they are visible to the judge.
  • Make sure your shirt is tucked in and pressed.
  • I feel that women or girls should not wear blouses or shirts that are low cut or revealing. Remember, look professional and represent your breed and event well.
  • Women or girls with long hair, make sure your hair is neatly put up in a ponytail or bun. If you have stray hairs hanging down, secure them with hairspray or pins.
  • Make sure your saddle, bridle, and bit are clean and if you have any silver, make sure it is clean and polished.

#2) Your Horse’s Appearance

  • Make sure your horse is clean and well groomed with no mud, dirt, or shavings anywhere visible on your horse.
  • Clean your horse’s hooves – for large shows I hoof black or oil my horse’s feet.
  • Mane, forelock, and tail should be brushed and tail clean to look full.
  • Wipe the mouth and nostrils out and around the eyes.
  • Fly spray your horse well so that he is not bothered by flies.
  • Use polishing spray to add shine to your horse. (If your horse has a long hair coat, apply sparingly as this can make his coat look oily.)
  • Make sure his tack is well fitted and know your association’s rules so that you are sure all of your equipment is legal.

#3) Your Ride

  • Sit up tall and confident. Use good posture and horsemanship while riding, show you care. A rider who is slouched over will detract from the overall appearance of the horse. You want to compliment your horse, not to detract from him.
  • Sit square, don’t twist your upper body or lean towards your rein hand.
  • Be quiet with your hands.
  • Look up and show your confidence. When you ride looking down at your horse you give the impression that something is about to go wrong and you need to fix it. Put your hand down, look up and show your horse.
  • Keep breathing. Breathe deep through your diaphragm. This helps you to sit back and keep your seat where it belongs on your horse.
  • Flow with your horse. Learn to get in rhythm with your horse’s gaits. Move with your horse’s movement, not against it. You will create a pleasing picture moving in sync with your horse.

#4) Your Attitude

  • Your expressions, mannerisms, and body language tell the world your attitude. Your attitude often tells of your expectations and your expectations definitely determine your results. So…attitude is everything. Spend as much time on your attitude as you do on your horse’s grooming, picking your outfit, or even practicing your event.
  • Show confidence, remember the saying “Fake it until you make it”. Everyone goes through periods when their confidence is low. You won’t move beyond that if you give in to fear or lack of confidence. Coach yourself, speak positively to yourself, encourage your self. You can do it too! Prepare as well as you can, because when you know you are ready, that builds confidence.
  • Practice visualization – visualize in your mind the ride you want to have. Sports psychologists and coaches have proven visualization works – expect the best. Once you are in the arena you’ve done all you can do, so expect a great ride. We usually get what we expect.
  • Be on time for your class. Be at the back gate ready when your class is called. Often the judges are watching the exhibitors as they are preparing to enter the arena. Let them see you acting positive and confident.
  • Put a good expression on your face as you enter the arena, smile.
  • Be courteous in the ring, don’t just think of yourself. Give other exhibitors room when passing.
  • If a problem arises, handle it smoothly, and then go back to showing.
  • Be a good sport whether you win or lose. Even the biggest winners have lost their share of classes. Gracefully accept your placing and remember it is just one person’s opinion.

Don’t take it too seriously or be too hard on yourself if you don’t have that perfect ride. There is always another day. But don’t give up, keep stretching to a new level. Raise your standard, and be the best you can be! Have a great ride!

DANA

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