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The Most Common Horse Show Mistake-Changing Routines
Equine Training
Monday 8th of November 2010 04:54 PM

Article Credit-Lynn Baber

Consistency Reduces Resistance - iStockphoto
Consistency Reduces Resistance - iStockphoto

Showing horses successfully takes a great deal of time, commitment, expertise, and financial investment. But, whether from frustration or nerves, many riders get to the show and set themselves up to fail before they even walk into the arena.

The number one mistake exhibitors make is to keep training their horse once they arrive at the show. Horses go to shows to perform what they already reliably know how to do. If you are not getting consistently good rides at home, you probably aren’t going to luck into a winning performance at the show.


Different horses have different needs for pre-show preparation just like their riders. Each horse will have its own best type and length of warm-up before a competition. Some horses just need their muscles warmed up with a light trot and others need an extensive work-out before they are able to get focused on the job at hand. The owner or trainer needs to know when their horse hits that happy place between fresh and washed-out and keep the warm-up routine consistent and effective.

Many trainers work their horses too hard before the show and get a lackluster or poor performance because the horse’s best was left in the warm-up arena. Others don’t allow their horses adequate time to work the kinks out and get both mentally and physically ready to give their best.

Don’t Pick a Fight

In nearly every warm-up pen across the country horses with shined coats, polished hooves, and wearing spotless tack are confronted by finely attired riders who suddenly begin to pick on them just before they enter the class to compete. Such riders try to get one more little bit of training done by spurring a gleaming side or bumping a tender mouth with a correction bit, as they frantically try to train their horse in the few minutes that remain before their number is called.

Why pick a fight with your partner right before you go in to “dance” together? Riders who get after their horses (usually for no good reason except nerves and inexperience) with such behavior are like a bride who slaps the groom across the face right before she walks down the aisle to marry him. Sure doesn’t make much sense and does not produce great honeymoon results.

What would happen on “Dancing With the Stars” if the professional dancer stomped on the toes of their celebrity partner and yanked a delicate arm trying to make a final “adjustment” in their position right before taking the floor before the studio audience? Do you really think such an outburst will improve the score the two earn from the panel of judges?

Stick With What Works

Take the saddle and bridle you use at home along to the show. If your training tack is not the same as your show tack, spend the last week before your event riding in your show outfit at home. Don’t change bits, don’t change spurs, and don’t adjust your stirrups right before a show.

Maintain the feeding and riding programs you use at home at the show. Make as few adjustments as possible to the routine your horse relies upon.

BeHorse Expects the Partner

Your For every rider who gets to a show and wonders where the horse is that they ride at home, there is a horse who wonders who that stranger is who showed up to ride them as well. If you want your horse to perform the same way at the show as they do at home, then ride them the same way you do at home.

Show your horse at the show. Train your horse at home. Your horse cannot be consistent if you are not consistent. Pick a fight with your horse and you will get resistance. Respect your horse and he or she will return the favor.

Go show, but have fun!

Copyright Lynn Baber. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Read more at Suite101: The Most Common Horse Show Mistake - Changing Routines

The BIG question: Is your trainer right for you and your horse?
Equine Training
Thursday 15th of April 2010 04:02 AM

Article Submission By: Samantha Harvey & The Equestrian Center, LLC

About Me

Refining my level of awareness, assessment, sensitivity, and timing has allowed me to find within myself and to also offer to others the tools and aids to clearly communicate with their horse to build a quality partnership whose foundation is built on respect and trust.

As the horses begin to shed their winter coats with spring shining its sunny rays down on us, the warmth tends to give fellow horsemen the extra boost to get motivated for the upcoming riding season. I find myself inundated with “Ask the Trainer” questions, calls and emails from riders deciding to “finally” get back into the swing of things, and both horses and owners finding themselves having to think, communicate and learn the ongoing process of quality horsemanship.

Having come from the “mainstream” riding world many years ago- it is sometimes hard for me “keep it in perspective” of what the general public experiences in “regular lessons.” For me personally as an instructor I feel it is my job to assess where the horse and person/rider are HERE and NOW on this specific day, rather than assuming that we’ll “pick up” where we left off in the last session.

I’m always amazed as I hear stories of the services people actually pay for and the lack of manners and respect both them and their horse are treated with. And yet, if the student doesn’t know otherwise, they keep going back.

For me, I feel that my student must have a trust and respect for what I’m offering them in order for them to truly be mentally available and get the most out of what I’m trying to share. This is no different than how I see people working with horses, the same trust and clarity must be present so that “growth” is possible.

I overheard a few other “instructors” talking about how “draining” it can be to teach. For me, I find an excitement that comes from me having to assess, think and communicate in “real time” in order to offer the student prudent information. They then have to translate from their brain, to their body, to their horse in order to influence a desired change.

Most scenarios in today’s society allow for a delay, gap or lacking in quality in communication and clarity. With horses, my philosophy is to ride or “work with them” EVERY SINGLE STEP. And trust me; there are a lot “steps” (literally) in a ride.

Many students don’t even realize the “process” it takes for me to subtly create a working relationship with them in order for them to literally understand what it is that I’m saying. Just as with a horse, if the person is unwilling to hear and understand the concepts I am offering, then what is the point of teaching them?

I never have a predetermined “we must accomplish this” agenda before we begin a session. Wherever the student is mentally and emotionally on that give day will cause me to gauge how much information I can offer and how well they can digest and experiment with it and their horse.

My main goal is fun and safety. The more the student can participate, the more I can offer. Too many times though even the word “lesson” has a negative association because of the one-way communication between instructor and horse. I can’t recall how many occasions I’ve sat on the fence watching lesson after lesson with the instructor literally repeating the same five sayings, (“head up, heals down, more, push him, good, etc.”) and always responding AFTER the student performed.

The other part that I’m always shocked at is how much the horse is IGNORED during the session. I know that sounds funny but really, they tend to be when the instructor’s goals are so “set in stone” that there is no consideration that their lesson agenda may not be appropriate for that horse at that moment in time.

I think there is a lot of pressure that people feel from a society full of “instant gratification” and therefore feel that they must offer a gigantic change with each lesson. But really, if the goal of the rider/student is quality, what’s the rush? We spend a minimum of 12 years between elementary, middle and high school on just the basics of educating, never mind all of the time the parents at home are continuously teaching “real life” information. Why would we expect both us and our horses to “know it all” within a short period of time? The famous “X” days of training, starting a horse, etc. always makes me smile. I can’t imagine someone enrolling their child in school and being told that in “X” number of days, their child will know this, this and that. The fun and pleasure I get from working with both students and horses is the continual ongoing process and journey, not just the end result.

I truly believe more students would enjoy the “process” of educating themselves and their horse if they understand what, how and why they were doing what they were doing. But too many times they have become “handicapped” for relying (literally) on the instructor for every part of the ride and have lost all ability to think their way through a ride.

So the next time you are about to take a lesson, audit a clinic, read an article in a magazine or watch a “quick fix” DVD on horse training, take a moment to really assess the quality of the information being provided. Is it clear? Is it appropriate for where you and your horse are at in your learning process? Did you both come away with a warm “fuzzy feel” after the experience or was there a “blank” feeling of “never going to get it?”

Even if you don’t have years of experience with horses, trust your gut. Take care of you and your horse- he’s relying on you to make the best decisions for the BOTH of you! It’s okay to try different instructors, ideas or philosophies to experiment with. Your top priority is to do what is best for you and your horse, even if it means stepping away from that “world class trainer” or proven Olympian- trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, and my horses are better for having had the ability to say “no.”

Good luck, Sam

Response 1
Friday 16th of April 2010 06:41:12 AM
Submitted by: Geoffrey Pannell from: Inman Valley Australia
Well said Sam!! I too, wonder how these coaches stay in the business when they treat their pupils sub-humanly. My philosophy is a mirror image of what you have so eloquently written here. Cheers Geoffrey
Response 2
Saturday 17th of April 2010 09:00:25 AM
Submitted by: slc2's
There is no one answer and there is no one right solution. A lot of times, in my experience, riders don't like 'the truth'. A top trainer tells them flat out the truth, and they don't want to hear it - that to reach the goals they've stated, even just to improve their performance at the level they're at, they've got to work harder, and expect more of themselves and their horse - a quicker response to the aids, more consistent obedience, better fitness and self control of their body, their emotions... Advanced competitive trainers with legitimate knowledge and experience bringing horses and students up the levels, have a great deal to offer. Watching one of them bring a horse along in dressage is a very, very different thing. Their timing and clarity in teaching more advanced work simply is better than less experienced riders/trainers. Many of them are very sensible and practical. They may have worked with some of the top masters in the history of the sport, or even many of them. They learn an economical, efficient way to advance horses, a way that minimizes miles, detours and mistakes and drilling. They can learn to adjust their methods to different types of horses, and to be very sensible about what horses are selected to move up the levels and which should not be required to do so. Some top riders simply aren't good instructors or trainers. They've ridden trained upper level horses that they have purchased trained to Grand Prix. It is wrong to look down on that and say it takes no skill - it is phenomenally difficult and takes a great deal of skill, a very specialized skill. But it is a very different skill from bringing students along on less perfect, less trained horses. Other trainer/riders simply aren't good with people. Horses are far easier to train than people, and some riders simply aren't good at communicating with and teaching people. Some are just a little greedy and dishonest. You may find yourself buying a horse their friend in the next county 'churned' to them for a quick sale...or you may find your horse winds up being a vehicle for the trainer to publicize himself. You may find your horse doesn't actually get ridden when you're not watching, but are paying for it to be ridden, or that it is ridden by a student when you're paying for full time training. Sure, there are all sorts of things that MAY happen. SOME upper level riders don't make good trainers or instructors. SOME are in too much of a rush and push horses too hard and too fast. Some trainer/riders simply don't have the experience, the seasoning, the mileage. They may have won some very prestigious medals, but that still doesn't mean they have the seasoning, the mileage, to always know what is best for you to do. A trainer with experience at the top levels of sport, with the physical ability and feel and experience and knowledge, the ability to make good recommendations for the right reasons, think about the horse first always, and communicate honestly and in a straightforward way, to say 'I'm sorry' when they make a mistake(because even the best make a mistake...)....this is a very rare and special person and a gem.
Response 3
Monday 3rd of May 2010 07:48:38 AM
Submitted by: Meghan Namaste
Bravo! I am "trainerless" at the moment because the only trainer in the area that I trust cannot come to my chosen boarding stable. I tried out another trainer who didn't listen to anything I told her about my horse; she just went on with her agenda without paying attention to what my horse was telling us. She pressured me into doing what I knew was wrong for my horse, and it not only set our training back, it contributed to my mare having a major arthritis flare-up. I actually think working on my own has made me a better rider and trainer. I may not fit into someone else's definition of perfection, but ultimately I'm training my horse for me, and I know the way that works best for both of us. Another plus is that I can put the money I could be spending on lessons into more important things, like supplements and chiropractic adjustments for my high-maintenence horse!

How to Get Your Horse to Trust and Respect You
Equine Training
Friday 3rd of April 2009 06:33 AM

Is your horse stubborn and hard to lead or do you just want your horse to trust you more?


1. You should always be careful around unfamiliar horses, first and foremost. To develop a strong, successful relationship with your horse, you should always be firm and gentle. Talk quietly to your horse, pet and groom him gently, but do not let him disrespect you. If he rubs against you this can be dangerous (he can bowl you over and injure you etc.) push him away, and stop patting him. A rule of thumb is that you can come into the horse's space to pet him, but he cannot come into yours without being invited. This leads into the concept of being the Alpha horse and asking for your horse's respect.

2. Then your goal is to teach the horse to respect your space by teaching him to back away from you. There are several techniques to teach a horse to back up. You can shake the lead shank at him, tap the lead rope with a whip or stick, or tap the horse on the chest. In each case, you simply keep bumping or tapping until the horse takes a step back. As soon as the horse steps back, reward the horse by stopping the cue and letting him rest. After the horse rests, ask again for a step back. By being consistent in asking and responding to the positive steps of your horse, you should be able to teach him to back. Subsequently, you will need to make the horse back every time he gets pushy to reestablish his respect and your authority.


3. Try walking around, if he follows you that means that he accepts you as the alpha. If not, gently coax him to you. Once you have established that you are the alpha, your horse should trust you and respect your space, since horses are natural followers they will follow you when you lead them.


  • Seek a knowledgable horseperson to help you as well as answer any questions you may have.

  • Never hit a horse on the face or head, as he could become head shy; and reprimand a horse immediately after he has misbehaved. Wait too long and he will not understand what he did to deserve a reprimand.

  • Cuddling and petting is fine, but can result in a sour, or pushy horse - best kept to a minimum, and only when well deserved.

  • Try to keep the treats to a minimum so your horse comes to you and not the treat, and so he does not become 'nippy' or agressive when looking for food and treats.

  • Usually, you should not ride a horse or even get on him before you know he has respect for you. Riding him when he disrespects you could result in an accident. Only intermediate-advanced riders would be safe riding a disrespectful horse, because they would know how to handle the horse.

  • NEVER punish a horse more than about 5 seconds after he has done something wrong. This will result in him not trusting you, because to him when you punish him several seconds after he misbehaves, he doesn't understand why you did it and thinks you are randomly hitting him. in some cases it is better just to ignore bad behavior and reward good.


  • If your horse is aggressive you must be careful or you will get hurt.

  • Try not to hand feed treats too much, this can create an undesirabley nippy or agressive horse that accepts treats every time he nips or pulls a face.

  • For the first few days of building trust, it is probably ok to hand feed the horse treats, but after that you should always feed them on the ground or in a bucket or feeder. This will still earn you more trust from the horse, but no bad habits come from it.


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