Summer is a busy season for reining riders. Some of the top events take place over the next couple of months, which means we’re hauling our horses around the country to compete. This means that in order to be successful at those shows, I need to pay extra close attention to where my horse is at mentally and physically when I’m riding him, so that he’s able to peak when it matters.
Here I’m going to go over the three steps I take to ensure my horse is ready to go come show time.
Give Him Time to Reset
There are a few things to consider when preparing a horse for a competition. The first thing I like to look at is my competition schedule. The goal is to try and space out my competitions, so my horse has plenty of time to recover mentally and physically in between big events where he has to be at his absolute best.
For example, the horse I’m riding in these photos is a 4-year-old that I happened to show last year at the NRHA Futurity. I made the finals on him, which means he had to go through multiple preliminary rounds plus a finals round during the course of the event.
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It’s no secret that the Futurity can be a very physically and mentally demanding show—for both horse and rider! So after that event, I gave him a big break before building him back up for the start of his derby career this year. I want this horse to have a long show career and love what he does, so I made sure he had time to reset and refresh, and be eager to come back to work.
But giving my horse a break after a show doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy time in the saddle. The first couple of days after a long horse show, I won’t do much with a horse. He’ll get to spend time in his stall and turned out in the arena or pasture. However, after a few days off, I’ll start to incorporate a little exercise into his routine, because I don’t want him losing all his stamina and strength during his recovery period. This can be an assortment of things. I might stick my horse on a longe line to let him stretch his legs or spend some time on him long trotting him in the arena.
Another thing I love to do is take my horse for a trail ride or go ride around my property. Riding up and down hills can be a great way to build stamina while spending some time outside of the arena.
How much downtime my horse gets depends on the show schedule. After his long break following the Futurity last year, this horse started his derby career by competing at the National Reining Breeders Classic in April. The arena at this show is massive, and it’s easy to run out of horse during the event; I knew he would need some time off after competing there. Because I already knew what my show schedule looked like, I was able to plan out his rest and recovery time and how I would build him back up so that he was at peak performance for the NRHA Derby in June.
Gradually Build Him Up
Once my horse has had some time to rest and recover, it’s time to start building him back up. At this point, I’ve had a few weeks to review my runs from the previous show and pinpoint what it is I need to work on at home. This can vary. It might be something I need to do different in the show pen with my body, or it might be a training issue I need to work on.
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I always like to slow it down so that I don’t overwhelm my horse when I’m trying to build him back up. I don’t need to tackle every maneuver in one ride. Instead, I space it out so I can really focus on mastering one maneuver before moving on to the next one.
Put It All Together
When I’m roughly a week or so out from my next horse show, that’s the time I start to put the pieces together and see where my horse is at physically and mentally. I’ll run through a couple of NRHA reining patterns and get a feel for how my horse is performing. At this point he should be at peak performance going into the show.