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Dear Dana: How do I prepare my horse for his first show?

By DANA HOKANA - Horsetrader columnist - November 21st, 2013 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: I’m taking my horse to his first show. Do you have any tips on how to prepare him? I’ve taken him to one show previously, where I just rode him around to expose him to the sights and sounds. He was pretty good considering, but he was jumpy and whinnied a few times.

DEAR ELAINE: I like to be very mindful to do all I can to build a good, positive experience for my horse at his first show. However, there are some things you just can’t control.

Here is how I introduce my young horses to the show experience. If possible, I take another horse with me — an older, experienced horse. If I have someone with me, I will have them ride the older horse around with me on the younger horse to see all the new things. Your young horse will be comforted by the older horse’s calm, confident reaction to his surroundings. Most horses will watch the reaction of other horses and will often respond like they do. If one spooks most likely the younger one will, so bring a good quiet horse, if possible!

The other very important thing that I do is to lunge my horse really well when I get to the show. I also work my horse real well in the days prior so that I am not starting off at show day with a fresh horse. When a horse is green, or unexposed to new things, I feel that it is very important that their energy level is not too high. Everything is magnified in a horse’s mind when they are fresh, so have your horse worked down in the days prior to the show — and be sure to lunge him the day of the show. Also, if your horse is lunged early in the morning and stands around for a few hours, he will recharge or rebuild his energy back up, so be prepared to lunge him again if you need to.

I also want to encourage you to not get frustrated if your horse isn’t as good as he is at home. Every horse is different. Some horses are nonchalant and relaxed about new places and events while other horses are very sensitive, afraid and reactive. You are his coach — his team member! Do your best to keep your expectations reasonable, and if he doesn’t meet, them don’t get frustrated or mad. Just be patient and realize that this particular horse may need more shows than another horse to be comfortable and quiet at a show. If he spooks or is nervous, just stay relaxed and soft and smooth. If you start getting mad at him, you will make it worse by compounding his fear and nervous energy.
Your goal is for him to leave that place feeling that it is OK. if you react wrongly, you will give him more to get over, so don’t expect him to perform with quite the focus and perfection he performs with at home!

I am always very curious when I bring my young, green horse out to a new place how they will react. I would say more than half of young horses are quite afraid at their first show. Then small percentages are really easy going, and another small percentage is just a nervous wreck. I get excited when I find that horse that is relaxed everywhere he goes, but he is the exception rather than the rule! Remember, if he spooks, don’t jerk and spur and scare him more. When I am on a horse that is afraid of something on the rail, I will stop and stand until he settles and relaxes. I will pet him and talk to him, I often wait until he takes a deep breath and releases his nervous energy! Do everything in your power to make it a good experience and each show ill get better and better!

In my opinion, if you have the ability to, the ideal situation is to take your horse to a two- or three-day show. That way, he has days to settle and leave that show feeling like shows are a good thing!

Good luck to you!
Dana Hokana

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