We all want to make the best show we can, but it can be difficult to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. But to be competitve, especially against horses that are being prepared by grooms and pros, we need to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Here are some mistakes to avoid to make sure you are representing yourself, your horse, and AOTs well.
Turnout means the appearance of the rider, the horse, and the tack. Too often I see AOTs skip a few steps in this department. It’s certainly not intentional, as we all want to look our best, but sometimes time gets away from us. I try to do as much as I can in advance, like cleaning my tack, and then plan out my day so I have enough time to hit all the steps before I get in the saddle. That said, even with lots of planning, I’ve found myself scrambling at the last minute! Practice makes perfect, so if you have to run through things at home, that’s the time to do it. You want to hit the ring looking as polished as everyone else!
- Well groomed horse. Double check to make sure the horse didn’t pick up any fresh stains, and if their coat is woolly or standing up from their sheet or tailset, dampen a towel and lay the hairs down. White hair should be clean and bright.
- Freshly clipped muzzle, ears, bridle path and pasterns. I like to keep a small, battery-powered clippers in my show trunk for last second touch-ups.
- Clean and picked tail. Make sure it’s not wavy from the braid. Pro Tip: Spritz the tail with Show Sheen or water before you unbraid it. Take the braid out and pick the tail. The dampness will straighten the hairs as you pick through them.
- Clean hooves. You don’t need to black them (I use shoe polish instead of hoof black – dries faster, washes off, and doesn’t dry out the hooves) but at least make sure they are clean and buffed.
- Clean ears. Take a damp towel and swipe the inside of the ears to remove dust.
- Clean, well fitting, good condition tack. Don’t show with tack that’s held together with shoestrings and electrical tape (last minute emergencies aside). Make sure all equipment, including your bits and stirrup irons, is clean and polished, and that it is all properly fitted.
- No hair flyaways. Put long hair in a bun with hairnets to hold down any strays. If your hair is too short for a bun, secure it neatly so it doesn’t bounce around under your hat brim.
- Well fitting suit. You don’t need an expensive custom suit to have one that fits well. Just make sure it fits! Jods and coats should be long enough, your shirt collar should be snug, and your coat shouldn’t be too loose or too tight.
- Rolled hat brim. This is easy to do and you can do it at home before you leave for the show. Bring a pot of water to a strong, rolling boil. Hold the hat over the steam for a few minutes. Roll the brim and then remove from steam to let cool. Do this in small sections at a time around both sides, and then steam the front and back of the brim to “dip” the brim downward a bit towards your face. You might have to do it a few times if the brim is really flat, but it’ll eventually roll. You can also ask someone from one of the traveling tack shops to do it while you’re at a show – they usually have a steamer and most don’t charge for the service.
- Matching gloves. Your gloves should match your jods, hat and boots. And don’t go without! It looks very unfinished.
- Clean boots. Have someone wipe off your boots – top AND bottom – after you get on the horse.
- Underpasses on jods. Nothing looks sloppier than jods that ride up. Make sure you have underpasses on – and bring spares with you to the ring!
And while you aren’t judged on this – I feel it’s a positive statement to make sure your stall area is also “turned out” well. You don’t need fancy curtains and matching show sheets, but at least keep the aisle swept, your stalls clean, manure buckets emptied and all visible tack and equipment neatly stored. A neat aisleway leaves a good impression on anyone passing by!
A well behaved horse is not necessarily the same as a well trained horse. Everyone shows horses before they’re 100% ready, and that’s ok. Shows are sometimes the only way to find out what we need to work on. But you want to make sure your horse will at least BEHAVE. This means no rearing, no refusing to go forward, no taking off, no leaping through center ring, no spinning in circles… Your horse should not endanger anyone else in the ring or negatively affect anyone’s ability to show. If your horse goes around with its nose out or takes the wrong canter lead, that’s fine. You might not place well, but at least the horse is not misbehaving.
And remember – if you aren’t sure about your horse’s readiness, there’s nothing wrong with taking a horse to a show and just working it. True, it’s not free, but it is a valuable step in a horse’s training. Exposing them to new things without the added pressure of showing is a great exercise, and you’ll find many pros do it for just that reason.
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