Just about every horse in my barn needs to be schooled at a show at one time or another, and amateur riders practice and school their horses, too. I’m guessing you’re part of this schooling trend whether or not you ride with a trainer, because the number of schooling runs I see at shows has dramatically increased lately. When you hear a bunch of “zero” scores in a row, you can bet we’ve all been in the arena fixing something, letting a horse relax in the show pen, or working on a problem.
And that’s fine. I’ve schooled horses at shows my entire career. But there must be an element of respect for the judge. Professionals, we must remember that potential new customers are watching us. Amateur riders also set a tone for their own show careers and their horses’ reputations. Whether spectators are newcomers to reining or are heavily involved, they base decisions about where to send their horses, take lessons, and bring their kids to ride based on what they see us do in the arena. Not to mention what horses they buy from whom.
Here I’ll offer six things to keep in mind when schooling a horse at a show.
Tip #1: The Judge Is Watching
Be mindful of overschooling, taking too much time, and going wildly off pattern. Your actions in the arena could leave a lasting bad taste in a judge’s mouth. Take no longer in the arena than you would running the designated pattern, and don’t make the judge’s already-long day stretch even farther. The judge will appreciate your respect of his time and letting him get on with his day.
Tip #2: So Are the Spectators
“What’s going on? Why is everyone getting zeroes?” People new to reining don’t understand that schooling a horse is necessary, so be mindful of the shows where you school your horses. For example, if you’re showing at a high-profile event or at an arena that draws public spectators, reconsider schooling your horse. The spectators came to watch reining and better understand the event—maybe even buy a reining horse and compete.
Know that new riders could be in the stands watching how you ride and what you do in the arena. And don’t forget the online audience. Thanks to live streaming, many of the big shows are broadcast around the world for anyone and everyone to watch.
Tip #3: Take the Zero Early
If I intend to take a zero score, I walk into the arena and grab my reins with two hands. This immediately disqualifies my run and lets the judges know that they don’t have to mark my performance. Why make them go through the mental anguish of noting one penalty after another when my score won’t matter in the end?
Tip #4: Dress the Part
This is part of the judges and spectators watching you. Have enough respect for them to take down your horse’s tail, brush out the shavings, and make him look presentable even if you’re not “in it to win it.” A work saddle and pad are fine, as long as they’re serviceable and clean. Same thing for protective legwear.
For the rider, chaps aren’t required, but do wear a hat and long-sleeve shirt. Leave the hoodie back at the stalls. You’re making an impression, just like your horse.
Tip #5: Listen for the Whistle
If you take too long, over-school, or get too aggressive, the judge can whistle you out of the arena at any time. If this happens, immediately stop what you’re doing, and exit the arena. You’ve probably already disrespected the judge in some manner, so at least leave the pen on a respectful note.
Tip #6: Leave a Positive Impression
When I’m judging a show and a rider signals that he’s schooling, many times I’ll watch what they do so I can learn something from them. A horseman remembers to take advantage of learning opportunities when they present themselves, and it leaves a good impression.
A multiple AQHA world champion, Avila has also won three NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurities, the NRHA Futurity, and two World’s Greatest Horseman titles. He received the AQHA Professional Horseman of the Year honor. His Avila Training Stables, Inc., is in Temecula, California. Learn more at bobavila.net.