One week before the horse show:
Make a list; check it twice.
Write down tack, grooming equipment, clothing, first-aid supplies, and other horse-show essentials you need to pack. Don't forget a hose, feed and water buckets, manure fork, registration and health papers, silver polish and rags, training gear, sunscreen, and electrolytes (or flavoring) for water.
One to 2 days before the horse show:
Give yourself and your horse a chance to relax and settle into your new surroundings. For a multiday event, plan to arrive a day or two early to prepare his stall, arrange your tack room, check in at the show office, etc. If you'll be attending a 1-day event, arrive at least 2 to 3 hours early, so your horse has enough time to scope out the showgrounds and settle in before your first class.
One day before the horse show:
1. Go ahead and groom.
Bathe, clip, and band/braid your horse, so you'll have one less thing to do the morning of the show. Then put on his blanket or sheet and a tail bag to keep him clean. Also, slip a slinky over his mane to keep your bands/braids show-ready.
2. Acclimate him to the arena.
Set aside time to ride your horse in the show pen before your class to accustom him to the sights and sounds. Perform a familiar workout routine to help him relax. Incorporate speed transitions and changes in direction to focus his attention on you and take an edge off his freshness. Ride in the middle of the arena, where there are fewer distractions. Once he's relaxed and responsive, gradually work your way out to the rail as a reward. With repetition, he'll soon learn that the rail is a place of relaxation, eliminating sour behavior.
Two to 3 hours before your class:
Feed your horse.
Give him his ration an hour or so before saddling and warming him up (see below), allowing him plenty of time to finish his meal. (If you were to interrupt his mealtime, he might express his resentment when you ride him.)
If your class dovetails with your horse's normal feeding schedule, give him a bite of grain or hay to munch on beforehand. After your class, cool him down, remove his tack, and allow him to eat his normal ration.
One-and-a-half to 2 hours before your class:
Tack up time.
This should allow you enough time to groom and tack up your horse, and change into your show outfit, without having to rush. Plus, it leaves time for a suitable warm-up session.
Forty-five minutes to 1 hour before your class:
1. Chill out.
Take a moment to relax both physically and mentally. Practice deep-breathing exercises and mental imagery, listen to soothing music, or take a short walk. If you're stressed, chances are you'll communicate your tense feelings to your horse.
2. Warm up slowly.
During your warm-up sessions, slow down your hand and body movements, and focus on performing the basics perfectly. For example, practice keeping your horse perfectly straight between your reins at the walk, or work on feeling the two-beat rhythm of his job and moving in cadence with it. Performing the basics will help you relax, and will help your horse tune in to you. During this time, also practice any sports-psychology techniques you've learned to calm your nerves and focus. Don't train or school your horse during your warm-up sessions, or introduce anything new, though; both could increase your horse's anxiety.
During your class:
Relax, do your best, and most of all, have a blast! Don't think of showing as a life-or-death situation, but rather as an enjoyable learning experience.
Kelly and his wife, Marnie, train and exhibit world-caliber Western pleasure horses and coach a select group of amateurs from their training facility in Franktown, Colo.
This article first appeared in the December 2000 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.