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GoSmart with Charlie and Jason: Preparing to Show in Western Riding and Trail

GoHorseShow, in partnership with SmartPak, is 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 over 100 World Champions and 200 All-American Quarter Horse Congress Champions.

Exclusive to GoHorseShow, GoSmart with Charlie and Jason gives you access to these top trainers like never before. It’s no secret that Highpoint Performance Horses hold the titles as the kings of the western riding, winning the Senior Western Riding at the AQHA World Championship Show for 12 straight years in a row.

vitalsignsaregood_jasonmartinAQHA World Show Senior Western Riding Wins 2005-2016

2010–VITAL SIGNS ARE GOOD (pictured right)

The reputation of Charlie Cole and Jason Martin as World level trail exhibitors and trainers is equally legendary, and both classes stand at the forefront of their all-around talent as their signature events.

Read on as they discuss strategies for common problem areas, such as suggested amount of practice leading up to the show and at the event itself, what’s important in the show pen, and how the two events of western riding and trail are remarkably parallel.

How Much is Too Much Before the Show?

charlie cole smartpak trail clinicAs you approach your next horse show with goals to show in western riding or trail, the debate is always over how much practice is too much. Cole advised that practice truly does make perfect for both trail and western riding – at home. “You can’t over practice if you’re the one doing the asking,” he explained. “I practice my lead changes and going over poles nearly every ride. I want to be as comfortable going down the cones or over the poles as possible. The more you get you and your horse relaxed and listening to you, the more control you will have and your ride will appear more effortless.”

Martin does the same but notes that breaking up the pattern helps immensely, especially when it comes to western riding. “I don’t practice the whole pattern, but we always have a line set up, and I practice it every time I ride a horse,” he revealed. “It’s about getting horses comfortable with the line. Horses that over anticipate just haven’t had the kinks worked out yet. You can’t fake it and get plus one.”

jason martin2The goal of practice, Martin added, is to have the horse comfortable enough to know its job but listen for cues, whether completing a trail obstacle or a lead change. For example, a seasoned trail horse knows how to lope the wheel, and should wait for the rider to bring him out of the wheel. The same holds true for a western rider. “If a horse changes leads before you actually ask, then you don’t have full control,” he said, “Anticipation isn’t a bad thing. It’s a sign the horse knows its job. But you have to control it.”

Part of the practice routine at home can include utilizing technology tools to improve. Both Martin and Cole video their horses at home and at the shows so they can review their rides. Martin cites an experience he had with a junior western rider whose changes felt poor.

“I’d think they felt awful and then I’d come out of the arena and someone would tell me that I had an awesome ride, so I have watched videos of me on this horse to get a better idea of what the horse looks like during the class. I would be constantly fighting with this horse if I only went by what I felt.”

Preparing for Both Events at the Show

charlie cole trail where do i signAt the show, preparing for the class should be the goal of the warm up time. Schooling or practice should be kept to a minimum.

“I really try to avoid getting into training mode during my warm ups. I want my horses to be relaxed and focused and not nervous at all when I walk in the show pen,” said Cole.

That includes not over-practicing, as it can result in leaving your best rides in the warm up pen, suggested Martin. “It is like over spinning too much in the warm up pen before showing in the reining. You shouldn’t change your routine, and the rider needs to be confident in their horse and their abilities to not overwork their horse to the point the horse is tired and stressed out.”

When it comes to classes like trail, Martin says that it’s particularly important not to overdo it. “A thinking horse is always preferable over an anticipating horse,” advised Martin. “We try not to practice the trail course for ourselves. You don’t want to say ‘one more time’ to yourself in practice.” If a problem arises with a particular obstacle, Jason recommends an alternative approach: “If you’re at a big show and you’re having problems with an obstacle that requires a jog in and stop, I wouldn’t keep practicing that obstacle. I would practice another obstacle, especially one with the same trot in and stop.”

charlie cole suncircuit 2016Having a practice strategy at the show for events like western riding are standard routines for Cole. “At the Congress and World Show,I like to practice late at night when the arenas are less crowded, and I’ll try to get in the arena two to three nights in a row. I want to make sure my horses are comfortable in the arena. Usually, the last night before I show I ride the pattern one to two times and I’m done.  Again, I avoid too much training the closer I get to show day.”

Cole also added that taking your horse’s individuality into account plays a big part in its preparation. “During my warm up time for a class, I try to keep it short and sweet, but horses are all different. For example, when I was showing VS Code Red in western riding, his warmup consisted of a couple lead changes and going over the pole.  He was a very low energy horse and very easy. Lope Out The Doubt seems to take longer to warm up than most, so I get on him about thirty minutes before. He seems to take longer to loosen up and focus but when I give him the time he easily is ready to show,” he said.

In the Pen

Once it’s show time, Cole explained that his judging career very much influences how he approaches the classes as a rider.

JasonMartin__2016AQHAWorldShowbyKirstieMariePhotography-42“When I’m judging western riding or trail, I’m looking for horses that perform with style and smoothness with little or no visible cues from the rider. So this is also how I practice and how I try to show. I want my horses to show and perform as if they are happily performing with smoothness and willingness. I don’t like to see riders exaggerating their lead changes or their body movements over poles,” said Cole.

In addition, Martin emphasized using the show pen as a tool to enhance the horse’s performance in either event, since they both require similar approaches to practice and preparation and some of the same maneuvers.

For example, one way showing in trail influences western riding is loping or jogging the log, which can be just as much of a plus or minus opportunity in the western riding scores as in the trail. “I would recommend everyone to show in the trail to get used to loping and maneuvering over the logs. Work on your timing and feel confident about the log as much as you do your lead changes,” said Martin.

While the particulars of practice and show strategy are just the tip of the iceberg for getting horses ready, the kings of western riding and trail have much more knowledge to share on some of the hardest events in the all-around field.

GoHorseShow sells their bestselling videos on western riding here. Watch for more SmartPak features with Charlie Cole, Jason Martin, and Jim and Deanna Searles.

Photos © Kirstie Marie Photography, Kaleena Katz Weakly, Delores Kuhlwein, K.C. Montgomery