The job description of a competition horse can be very different than that of a pleasure mount, but there are some skills that serve all horses well both inside and outside of the show ring. Whether or not you plan to compete this year, spend some time working on the following life skills to maximize safety and minimize stress for both of you.
Get him on board–and off. Practice daily until your horse loads and climbs out of the trailer without hesitation. If possible, accustom him to loading first and last when he’s in a group, and familiarize yourself with handling him solo. Seek advice of an experienced friend or trainer if you run into trouble. Polished loading skills obviously make a show day run smoother, but are just as important for horses who travel only to trailheads or may leave the farm only in an emergency veterinary situation.
Gradually build patience. Teach your horse to stand quietly in-hand next to you for an extended period of time. Start with just a few minutes a day and work your way to nearly and hour. It’s fine if he shifts his weight or pays attention to what’s going on around him, but don’t let him learn or run his head on you, reach for grass or otherwise fidget. This skill will pay off whether you are waiting your turn outside an arena, or if you are simply stopping to chat with a friend over the fence on an afternoon ride.
Tack him anywhere. Develop your prowess for fully tacking your horse outside the confines of a stall. Work quickly but carefully–particularly when you remove the halter to put on the bridle–and teach him to stand still during the process. At shows you’ll often find yourself tacking up standing beside the trailer and at home you may find yourself needing to make a tack change or adjustment in an open space.
Acquaint him with ribbons. So that your horse will be unfazed by its flutter, desensitize him first to a ribbon in your hand. Then slowly bring it closer to his head. Back off when he gets agitated; continue when he’s calm. After a few days of familiarization, he should accept wearing the ribbon on his bridle or halter. Even if you never plan to show, it’s nice to know you can be handed a piece of paper on a windy day while you are mounted without your horse getting upset.
Turn up the volume. Borrow a public-address system or a karaoke machine to introduce your horse to loud noises. Use the machine in his vicinity to acclimate him to a variety of sounds, including occasional feedback. At the show ground, your horse won’t be upset by the announcements and at home, a passing truck or loud radio will be no big deal.
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