GoHorseShow.com in partnership with SmartPak are pleased to continue the highly popular column, GoSmart with Charlie and Jason. Team SmartPak riders, Charlie Cole and Jason Martin have achieved success beyond compare. Since founding Highpoint Performance Horses in 1992, they have trained nearly 150 World Champions and nearly 300 Congress Champions. Their next GoSmart column is a Highpoint Team effort of providing tips on showing at the Congress.
Anyone who has shown at the Congress knows that is a challenge to get your horse shown in such a carnival-like atmosphere. At times, the weather, crowds and banging aluminum stairs also throw another wrench into preparing your horse at the largest show in the world. Over the years, wind has whipped through the holding tents leaving many horses frazzled and caught off guard. While it is smart to stick to your game plan, Congress is not like your regular horse show. Often times, there needs to be some changes to your normal routine. We asked the Highpoint Performances Horse Team, including some of their clients, how they survive the greatest show on earth. Here are their top-10 tips.
1) Arrive Early – “You have to prepare a little extra to show in the Celeste,” Highpoint trainer, Charlie Cole states. “The arena is a little more electric due to the large crowds and intensity felt in this arena. The noisy aluminum stairs in the Celeste also adds an extra element that must be dealt with as well as the arena is just spookier than the others. You also need to get your horses used to the holding areas and tents that you will be going in and out of….this show is the only one where I arrive a lot earlier than the others. The horses need a couple extra days to settle in and get used to the surroundings.”
2) Ride at Night – Charlie and Jason both recommend riding at night when there aren’t many crowds. Sometimes that happens to be 2:00 in the morning. “I ride at 11 pm, so it’s just me most of the time,” Jason told us on Tuesday following winning the Senior Western Riding with Heavenly Mac (pictured right). “I never ride during the day in the crowd.” Charlie also rides at night when he is practicing lead changes or one of his clients is practicing for the pattern classes. “It is impossible to find space to practice an entire pattern during the day, so we do that at night. During the day, we might ride sections of the pattern, but we never attempt to do the entire pattern because there is too much chaos.”
3) A Longe Line is Your Friend – “We tend to prep them a little bit more at home and longe them and ride them a bit more than at a normal show,” Cole states. “There are hot walkers, longe lines, and treadmills all at your disposal that come in handy at this show and we utilize all of them.” Highpoint assistant trainer, Brad Ost says to make sure you, “Go the extra mile.” Ost says that he gets them tired but at the same time he keeps them feeling good by using a P3 or Theraplate. “Then, don’t forget when you hit the show pen that it’s show time. After working all year, this is the time to have confidence and be a good showman.”
4) Ear Plugs – Since ear plugs are legal, they come in handy at a show like this with wind, rain, constant flapping of flags, and loud noises at every turn. “We use them on most of our horses,” Charlie says. “It just takes that extra edge off of them at the show. If you know of areas that spook your horse, try to avoid them at all costs,” Cole says. “Some horses do not like overhangs or loud noises above their heads. It may also work better to walk beside your horses rather than ride them on the concrete through crowds of people, golf carts, dogs, and other horses.”
5) Prepare for Different Arenas – Highpoint client Darcy Reeve who shows legendary horses, A Certain Vino, and Ima Petite Classic, recommends practicing in all the arenas you are showing in–The Coliseum and the Cooper Arena are a lot more cramped than the Celeste. “For me personally, I have to prepare to show off the rail in the Coliseum. With Vino being so big and that pen being so small, it’s pretty much expected that I will have to be off the rail a little. Other than that, I try to think of it as a normal show.”
6) Have a Positive Mindset – Livvie Van Lanen who shows All But Sudden in the Youth events says that you must maintain a positive mental outlook. “I love the Congress and think that this hyped atmosphere may be more exciting than any other show. Jason and Charlie always motivate me to show my best and with the most confidence in every class. As always, having a positive mindset is necessary and will help you succeed in the arena. Without confidence in your skills or your horse, there is no way that you will achieve your goals. In order to stand out in the arena, you must believe you do standout!”
7) Make Sure You Standout – Both Highpoint clients Shelby Ratliff and Rebekah Kazakevicius both told us that you need to make sure you stand out in the arena by riding smart and getting good spots on the rail. “Honestly I think you need to learn to like coffee and ride in the Celeste often. You have to standout since the classes are so big, so learning to find your spot is crucial,” Ratliff says, who Tuesday won the Limited Non Pro Maturity on Willy Has Potential (pictured right). “Also learning how to ride around crowds is a plus, especially at night when the arena is packed. I feel like that’s good practice on how to stand out.” Rebekah agrees with Ratliff, “Don’t get covered up and if you do, don’t go back to the stalls because Jason will be waiting,” Rebekah says and laughs. “That’s a true story.”
8) Timing is Key – “I think the biggest thing at the Congress is not to get prepared too early,” says Highpoint Amateur, Cole Gower. “It’s important to be to your class on time and ready. However, with the size of many of the classes and knowing your draw – your class may be many hours in length and you may have a few hours to wait. So timing is key at the Congress.”
9) Roll with the Punches – Amateur competitor Angela Fox says, “My advice would be to roll with the punches. It’s unlike many other horse shows because you do not have ample space and time to prepare like you normally would. When your horse spooks at the flapping tent going into the Coliseum, just smile and go with it!”
10) Peak at the Right Time – “I definitely prepare differently for the Congress,” says Kristen Galyean, owner of VS Flatline who was Reserve Congress Champion in the Junior Western Riding. “It’s so hard to get anything done during the day riding, so I make sure to find hours in the night to get a good session in on my horses or very early in the mornings before all arenas are crowded. Congress is a show you want to peak your horses at, so most my preparation is done in the months leading up to it. My goal is to maintain that peak the entire show. I always want my horses feeling great, so I go over the top with keeping them comfortable and at ease because the Congress can be tough on them mentally and physically. At the same time, you have to remember to take care of yourself and that means grabbing a nap whenever possible.”