Training Is Done At Home

We wish the warm-up ring at many shows could be a lot less crowded and a lot quieter. But that often isn’t the case, even when the shows provide enough space. This is because too many people use the warm-up ring at shows to train their horses. They forget – or they’ve never learned – that training is what you do at home, while warming up is what you do at shows.

The warm-up routine is something that should be figured out in advance. Sure, that plan can change depending on the weather, whether it’s early or late in the weekend, and just ’how the horse comes out of the stall.’ The plan should be aimed at helping the horse and rider to be at their physical and mental peak just as they enter the competition arena. They should loosen up their muscles and perform the specific exercises that will put them on their game. Anything more will subtract from their performance, not add to it.

Unfortunately, we see too many people training at shows, and we don’t mean the people who are showing for the express purpose of mileage or to give their horse or student an easy outing. It happens with the people who are also out to win that day.

With all the shouting from the rail, you can hear it as well as see it. Instructors fill the heads of their students with too many ideas just before they’re due to compete, so the students lose confidence in what they already know and also lose concentration. The horse feels the rider’s uncertainty.

Or the rider and trainer could be trying to spiff up the horse: Let’s get that halt squared up, or let’s get a quicker response in the rein-back, or let’s fix the drift to the left before the fence, or let’s get him to change clean to the right. Then, in the show ring, when the horse moves in the halt, or resists in the rein-back, or changes late behind, they blame the horse for not reading their minds instead of themselves for confusing the horse just before he’s asked to perform.

There’s an old maxim with horses: You get less at shows than what you get at home. If your horse drifts before a fence at home, he’s also going to do it at shows no matter what you do in the warm-up. But if he learns to travel straight to fences or do clean changes 99 times out of a 100 at home, the odds are good that he’ll have developed the confidence to do those things well in the heat of competition.

People become confused and resentful when they’re overworked and underpaid. A horse that is asked to both train at a show and then perform at his peak will respond the same way, and giving him an extra carrot at the end of the long day won’t make up for it.

-Margaret Freeman