What is your secret weapon to help you prepare for the show arena? Let us know. Photo © Tiffany Anne Photo

Competitors Share Their “Secret Weapons” in the Show Pen

The definition of a weapon is “gaining an advantage or defending oneself in a conflict or contest.” Whether it be a certain mindset or a particular outfit, an exhibitor’s “weapon” can set them apart from the competition.

Have you ever looked at World and Congress Champions and thought, “what is their secret to success?” Is it maybe a lucky showmanship jacket? Or a visualization technique? Do they have a routine they go through before they show?

GoHorseShow asked several top exhibitors and trainers to share their “secret weapons” for success in the show pen. Many competitors named things from an outfit that makes them feel good to their support system that gives them an extra boost before they go into the arena. Read what exhibitors said they use to have that extra “edge”.

Susan Juroe – I practice the night before an event and just do a little warm-up the day of. 
Secondly, I’m the person who, on time is ten minutes early. That means hair, makeup, numbers, equipment, order of go has got to be done so when the zipper in your chaps malfunctions, you have crisis management cushion. My trainers, Tim and Shannon Gillespie, review the very, very basics of riding as I am entering the pen. Adrenaline can wipe out a lot of learning so hearing “look up”, “keep your hand relaxed”, look where you are going” is the last thing I hear and very useful.



Austin Gooding – When showing young futurity horses, my secret weapon is Gail Hought hackamores. It’s like the difference between riding in a Tom Thumb snaffle and cathedral compared to other hackamores. We also have a Don Brown hackamore that fits some with a thicker muzzle a little better. There’s a reason these master braider’s work is so coveted.





Cori Cansdale – I get my confidence in the show pen from my horse. Just knowing that he always gives me his 110% both in and out of the arena allows me to also give my all.





Ellexxah Maxwell – I think my secret weapon is my personality. When showing horses, the judges see the same pattern 100 times in a few hours, and eventually they’ll all look the same. The rail classes can get tedious too, continually doing the same circle after circle. The 14-18 is normally the last pattern class or the next to last class for the rail stuff. So, it’s important when you go in the pen to have your own persona. Even if you are shy outside the pen, go in there and act like you’ve never lost. It’s important to not only show confidence in yourself but in your partner, as well. I always go in the pen and act like I’ve never been nervous, like I’ve never screwed up a pattern. First impressions are everything.

Kip Riley – I have two “secret weapons” that help me feel more confident in the show pen. They are preparation and visualization. Nothing makes me more confident than knowing that I am prepared. My motto is ‘sweat the details’. From my clothing to tack to grooming, these things must be perfect. They help make that extremely important first impression and are all completely within my control. Then I practice until I can’t get it wrong. This can be tricky because you must determine how much your horse can handle without becoming ineffective. Because I show the pattern classes, I do a lot of short interval practices and only pieces of the pattern so my horse doesn’t have the opportunity to anticipate. The second secret weapon I use is visualization. I plan in my head how my perfect pattern will go. I visualize not just the geography of the pattern, but how I will anticipate my horse’s strengths and weaknesses. Of course, the best laid plans rarely come to fruition, but by being prepared and visually planning how I want things to go and knowing what to do if I need to adjust, I take most of the guess work out of unexpected circumstances. There is no better feeling in the world than standing at that cone and knowing that you look great and feel great because you are completely prepared.

Brittany Russell  – I would have to say the thing that makes me feel most confident when I’m showing is a great outfit. An outfit that fits well and stands out from others. When you look good, you feel good and usually when you feel good, you do good. How you present yourself and how you dress says so much about one’s personality. You can for sure make a great first impression with unique and well put together style.



Brooke Bradley – 
For me, being confident in the pen all boils down to being prepared. I work hard to be ready for the shows and have great trust in my horse. My trainer having confidence in me also helps. A few show rituals we have are, my mom always tells me “You got this!” and, when he’s at the show, my friend’s Uncle Jimmy will come up to me and do “Shake-n-Bake” from the movie Talladega Nights. It always makes me smile going into the pen. Wearing my lucky socks never hurts either.



Lauren Stepaniak – People who know me would say that I am superstitious and have things I think are lucky – a certain color vet wrap, specific leg wraps, a lucky baseball cap or sweater. I can get a little extreme. My secret weapon, especially at that big shows, is when I’m sitting at the in gate, I pet my horse once and take a deep breath. At that moment, there is nothing else you can do, you’re either prepared or you’re not prepared. It’s either going to go well or its going to go poorly, and all I can do is show the best way I know how. That pet and deep breath just kind of centers me and then it’s showtime.

Amber Daniel – I don’t feel there is a specific item, piece of clothing or tack that boosts my confidence in the pen. I feel most confident when my support team is there to cheer me on, and when my horse and I are well prepared.






Jennifer Kasper – I consider the thing that gives me the most confidence in the show pen to be the amount of practice and time put in at home. I know that sounds cliché, but to me, there is no better confidence than knowing you prepared yourself and your horse to the best of your ability. Not only in the saddle, but out of it as well. I make sure my horse looks good physically and my tack is clean before I get to the show. This is a huge stress reliever and leaves me more time to focus on the bigger things once I am there. Overall, when I get into the show pen, I have confidence in knowing I am prepared to show to the best of my ability.


Angela Cawsey – I think that my main ‘secret weapon’ to helping me feel confident in the show ring is knowing my patterns inside and out while simultaneously ensuring that my mare does not know my patterns. She’s often too smart for her own good. I practice all the elements of the pattern but must be careful that she doesn’t learn it and try to anticipate.




Austin Lester – I just recently started showing the Performance Halter with my mare A Fancy Rodder aka Shelby and my secret weapon for the halter would have to be peppermints or peppermint wrappers. When it comes to peppermints, they are Shelby’s addiction. When she hears a wrapper, whether it’s right in front of her or from a mile away, she puts her ears are up. Another one of my secret weapons would have to be my outfit choices. I am colorblind so, when it comes to my outfits, Carli is pretty much in charge of putting my outfits together and she is the bomb at it. When I jog in the pen or walk in for the halter and my outfit looks great, I know it’s time to give it my all.

Amy Sue Marie Brown  – I was just discussing this with a few of my friends at the Novice Championships West in Las Vegas. I’m a total music junkie, so when I ride into the ring and there’s a good song on, I instantly get into the zone. I sit up a little straighter, and I can feel myself become more confident in myself and my horse. I can relax and focus all my nervous energy into something without being distracted.



Melissa Shetler – I guess I don’t have any “secret weapons.” Blood, sweat, and tears are the only response I can think of. Horse showing is unpredictable and I just try to be as prepared as possible and aim for the best.





About the Author: Cat Guenther of White Lake, Michigan is in the 11th grade at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. She has ridden horses for the past 8 years and has been showing Quarter Horses for two of those years. When Cat is not at the barn, she focuses on her small business “Behind the Bit Tack Sales”. She hopes to one day attend Michigan State University and study to become an equine veterinarian.