"If they are shown fully prepared, they never learn how to do it incorrectly, so they remain good show horses for a long period from the very beginning,” advised Jamie and Jason English. Photo © Ali Grusha

Tips for Showing a Maiden Horse

You’ve found a prospect that shows some real talent and are working towards its maiden voyage around the show pen. The untapped potential of “what could be” is exhilarating and you are looking forward to your first trip. Preparing a prospect for the show ring can be a long, but rewarding process, with bumps and twists along the way. When you think you are turning a corner, you have to regroup and start over.

However, the feeling of accomplishment will be immeasurable as you take your very first steps together in the show pen. Making sure you and your horse are adequately prepared can ensure that your first experience together in a competitive environment is a positive one.

We spoke to some of the best in our industry when it comes to developing maiden and prospect horses. World and Congress Champion trainers, Jamie and Jason English of Jason English Show Horses, Nick and Carmen Mayabb of NCM Show Horses and Beth Case of Highpoint Performance Horses all shared their advice about showing and riding a maiden horse. With their help, we put together a list of tips to make your inaugural trip around the show ring a positive one.

Get experience – Just because the horse is maiden to the show pen, doesn’t mean it has to be new to the entire horse show experience. Be sure your maiden horse has had the opportunity to experience all the things about a show outside of officially competing in the pen. Mayabb completely agreed, “Do your homework. Make sure you have had them in the arena and that they are comfortable with their surroundings.”

The sights, the sounds and the smells can all be distractions to a horse new to the scene. English also told us, “The most successful thing that we have done, and seems to work, is to have your horse prepared. Take it to a lot of horse shows to get a lot of experience. That way, your horse is more likely to ride the same at a horse show as it does at home.”

Know your horse – As with any horse, knowing best how to prepare and ride are things you can nail down before you ever get to the show grounds. “Do your homework. You need to know how tired you can have them, but yet still let their legs be fresh. Practice those things at home, so you are not trying to cram it all in at the last minute,” Mayabb told us.

Knowing your horse is crucial to piloting it correctly and to the best of its ability. English gave us this advice, “It depends on how much confidence the rider has in their horse. If it’s very ready, I like to show them very confident and bold. However, if I’m not quite ready, I like to ride with a little caution and take it slow, to not make them nervous.”

Make sure they are ready – You may be pushing to reach a big goal or trying to have a maiden horse prepared for a massive show, but be sure they are capable, both mentally and physically. “You want to make sure they are not shown until they are as close to being as ready as possible. If they are shown and not completely ready, it can cause more problems.” English told us.

The goal of showing maiden horses is to set them up for success by creating a positive experience. As much as you are anxious to get in the ring, showing a maiden horse too soon can cause issues in the long run. “They can learn bad habits before they even know their entire job. If they are shown fully prepared, they never learn how to do it incorrectly, so they remain good show horses for a long period from the very beginning,” advised English.

Embrace it and have fun – Embrace the innocence and inexperience of your maiden horse as it might work in your favor. After all, if you don’t know about something, you don’t worry about it. Mayabb told us, “The best thing about showing a maiden horse is 95% of the time, what you have outside is what you have inside. Sometimes, the very best ride you have will be the first one.”

Case agreed, “Showing a maiden horse is the most fun because they have no idea what’s going on and they don’t have any bad habits yet.”

Being prepared, knowing your horse, finding the right time to show and having fun are all things a rider should do when they are developing and showing a maiden horse.

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 horses, Shady Impulse and Doctor Phil Good in the western all-around and futurity events under the guidance of Ryan and Andrea Kail.