No matter how much you have won or how long you have been competing, there is always room for improvement. Photo © Tiffany Anne Photography

Ten Mistakes to Avoid While Showing

When showing horses, mistakes are inevitable. Wrong diagonals, incorrect position, and ticked poles are bound to happen to every exhibitor at some point in time. However, the greatest mistakes made while showing are not related to penalties in the trail or forgotten patterns. Horse showing, like all sports, is oftentimes more a mental game than a physical game. Because of this, many mistakes made in the show pen are mental. The good news is, they can be corrected and avoided with practice.

Here are ten mistakes to avoid while showing:

1. Negative self-talk
You will never have a good class if you’re not mentally supportive of yourself. The more you say “I can’t” or “I’m not ready,” the further you get from growing and achieving your goals. These negative thoughts cloud your judgment and keep you from truly being one with your horse. Avoiding negative self-talk begins every day when you wake up. It’s a decision you have to make every time a negative thought pops into our heads – to shut it down or let it take over. Eventually, positivity becomes much like muscle memory. It will be your natural first reaction if you flex that muscle every day.

2. Making a bad first impression
Small details matter when showing horses. That doesn’t mean you need the most expensive tack or the trendiest jacket. It only means that when you step in the pen, you should look like a winner from head to toe. A well-shaped hat, well-fitting clothes, and clean, safe tack make a great first impression when paired with a confident gaze. If you were to walk in the pen with ill-fitting attire, a dirty horse, and a “help me” look in your eyes, the judge can read that from a mile away. Coming back from a bad first impression is hard.

3. Not being prepared
Preparedness doesn’t just mean being to the ring on time. A prepared exhibitor will have read the rulebook for the class they are entering and have a strong understanding of what the judges are looking for in a winning ride. They will have gone over every maneuver, both in the pen and in their mind in the hours leading up to the class. By being mentally prepared, a great exhibitor will leave very little up to chance. “Winging it” rarely leads to success.

4. Worrying about your competition
Many times, exhibitors count themselves out before they even enter the pen. They will say “well, so-and-so is in my class, so it’s not even worth it.” However, that is not the mentality of an active athlete. When you shift your focus from competing against other exhibitors to competing against yourself, you begin to evolve as a competitor. Your goals aren’t, “I want to win this class,” but rather, “I would like to have a clean lead change.” and “I would like to sit quieter in the extended jog.” These goals do not rely on any external sources, but only on your abilities.

5. Having a bad poker face
No matter how prepared you are, sometimes, things happen in the show pen that we do not expect. After all, we are showing animals with minds. When these mistakes happen, your job as the rider is to fix the problem discreetly and carry on. However, if you are not discrete, or stop trying altogether because of one mistake, you are throwing away the class. Part of horse showing is learning how to truly show, no matter what is thrown at you, all while still looking confident.

6. Not being aware of you, and your horse’s weaknesses
Every horse and rider have their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Being conscious of these and highlighting the strengths, while avoiding the shortcomings, will lead to a successful ride. For instance, in showmanship, if you know your horse has an excellent and clean pivot, you can push him a little bit more there to plus that maneuver. However, he may also have a weak back so taking your time there can check that maneuver, when pushing him too hard, too fast, may check minus it at best. Not every horse is incredible at everything – allow them to shine where they can.

7. Over Showing
Confidence is key, but overconfidence can be fatal. Whether it’s a coping mechanism for nerves or simply trying too hard, there is such thing as “too much” in the show pen. Over showing may be overarching your back in horsemanship, dropping your heels far too low in equitation, or cheesy smiles in showmanship. By actually using your body to guide your horse, you can exhibit natural and correct horsemanship.

8. Losing focus
Horse shows are notoriously fast paced. Losing focus on the task ahead is easy. However, the second you step into the pen, it is essential to be in tune with your horse. Just like positive self-talk, focus is a muscle you must flex in your daily life to be successful in the arena. A rider that is truly in tune with their horse will be able to adjust on the go, rather than going around on autopilot and hoping for the best.

9. Not learning from your mistakes
One of the biggest mistakes that can be made in showing is not learning from your mistakes at all. No matter how much you have won or how long you have been competing, there is always room for improvement. Learning to be analytical of yourself is the greatest way to grow. For many classes, the judges’ score sheets are available for exhibitors to review. Your trainer or peers may have suggestions on how to improve. Getting in the habit of listening to critiques and setting goals based off of that is the greatest way to improve.

10. Forgetting why we show horses in the first place
Trophies will tarnish, points will lose value, and ribbons will fade. It is important to always remember what it was that drew us to horses in the first place. In the grand scheme of things, not winning a class is not the end of the world. When we remember the kid that fell in love with a horse, and all of the lessons we have learned along the way, that is when we truly win. Mistakes are inevitable, but that doesn’t have to take away from the joy you get from doing what you love.

About the Author: GoHorseShow writer, Kelsey Keathly, is a graduate of Cazenovia College with a degree in equine business management. She spends her time running her graphic design business (Norfleet Marketing), writing, showing her gelding Investers Norfleet at APHA shows, and practicing her photography.

Photos @ Tiffany Anne Photo, Kelsey Keathly, Kaleena Katz Weakly