Julie Hoefling recently made her debut in a different discipline with a new horse and shared some advice for exhibitors wanting to try something new. Photo © Julie Hoefling

Tips on Showing a New Horse in a Different Discipline

Showing a new horse in a different discipline can be pretty intimidating. Not only do you not know the horse well, but you also haven’t experienced the class either.

Two unfamiliar things and a million different “what ifs” can lead to a lot of nerves, fear and uncertainty. And, once again, horse showing mirrors real life and reminds us that change can be difficult. But your first outing with a new horse in a new discipline doesn’t have to be filled with nervousness, fear or uncertainty.

We put together a list of tips to help you feel confident and excited about entering a new show ring with a new partner.

Trust the horse

Chances are if you are showing a new horse in a new class, trust isn’t the first thing that enters your mind when searching for some comfort. However, to be successful in your new endeavor, you need to trust your horse. Perhaps it’s just you that hasn’t been around the western pleasure pen several times, but your horse has. Instead of relying on your own experience to calm any anxiety, rely on your horse’s skill. Sounds cliché, but sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

Draw upon your experience

Maybe you’ve never executed an equitation pattern, but you have shown horsemanship before. While the classes are entirely different, the basics are the same. Draw upon your experience – you know how to strategize and lay out a pattern, you know where you should make your transitions and you know your strengths and weaknesses as a rider. Focus on what you do and less about what you don’t. See tip below.

Sometimes not knowing is better than knowing

Often when we know something so well, we tend to seek perfection. We notice every little flick of the ear and want to control every movement to make our ride around the show pen perfect. We want things so perfect that we can start to pick at or fix things that don’t need to be adjusted, costing us a great trip. We’ve all heard the phrase, “ignorance is bliss” and in this case, it very well might be. Not knowing everything you need to know, may be a good thing. Your focus won’t be on seeking perfection but making your entrance into a new discipline a positive experience for both you and your new horse.

Be realistic with your expectations

We’ve all seen an exhibitor get a new horse and make their debut in a new class and instantly, this new team rises to the top. While we all wish for this seamless transition, you have to be realistic in your expectations. True teams take time to build and your goal when showing a new horse in a new class should be to make it an enjoyable experience for both of you. Let go of expectations, especially those related to class placings and shift your sight to performance related goals such as getting your diagonal going both directions or making sure your back-up is straight.

Fully accept the challenge 

When you decide to head down the path of riding a new horse in a new discipline, you need to take the challenge wholeheartedly. This means to thoroughly understand the pros and cons of your situation and embrace the change. Challenging yourself can feel good and exhilarating, but it can also bring thoughts of disappointment and failure if you don’t approach it with the right mindset.

Change is hard, and not everyone is willing to accept that kind of challenge. Reward yourself for your bravery and be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone. It is not easy to be “new,” so you need to give yourself credit for having the courage to look at this challenge with determination and excitement.

About the Author – Julie Hoefling was born and raised in Akron, Michigan but now resides in Cave Creek, Arizona with her husband, Jerry. She works at Central Garden & Pet (Equine Division – Farnam) as a Brand Manager over grooming, wound and leather care. Julie shows her horse, Shady Impulse in the Western All-Around events under the guidance of Ryan and Andrea Kail and recently leased the horse, Justin Beamer from Kim Lloyd Wright to try the Hunter Under Saddle classes.