When it comes to a significant event like the AQHA World Show, you owe it to both yourself and your horse to lay it all on the line," Julian Harris told us. Photo © Kirstie Marie Photography

Go Big to Get that Globe: When to Lay it All on the Line

The higher the risk, the higher the reward. Right? The AQHA World Show is no time to play it safe if you want to #getthatglobe, however, in a sport where correctness comes first, being too risky can leave you making a costly mistake.

Showing your horse in the elite ranks found at the AQHA World show is a bit of a gamble, and when it comes to show-ring strategy, it helps to know when to go all in and when to do your best to play the hand you’re dealt.

We caught a few exhibitors during their pre-world show prep to ask about their strategies on playing it safe versus taking a significant risk in the show pen.

Risks that Pay Off

Many showmen might be tempted to adopt a suddenly cautious mindset when it comes to a big show. This rarely pays off and usually isn’t what make someone a standout showman in the first place.

For example, a showmanship exhibitor, nervous about the winding serpentine back, slows down and bobbles because her horse isn’t used to the decrease in pace. Instead of sticking to their routine, an exhibitor can create mistakes even when trying to stay on the side of safety.

But how do you walk that fine line between caution and smart horsemanship?

Trainer Julian Harris advises, “For me, it is only fair for you to take a risk if you are sure your horse can pick up the slack. Some horse shows make you want to overthink and overdo what you’re used to doing, which can be problematic, but when it comes to taking a risk, your horse has to trust you. You have to build some connection with your horse and know that if you make a big ask of your horse, your horse knows its job and will come through.”

To illustrate that concept, Harris shares, “I was showing a hunter at a major event and we were galloping toward the last fence, a massive oxer. It was a long gallop, and I felt like I had about six choices as far as distances. I thought to myself…I’m going to loop the reins, press and send him on. I made the conscious choice to support him in whatever decision he made, but this was a risk because if he went for the gap, he would have jumped me out of the tack. I trusted him, he jumped brilliantly and we had a huge score.”

As far as taking risks on the rail, Harris explains, “I like to show my horses a little fresh. I ride for the crowd and I like a hunt seater to be exciting and dynamic. AQHA stallion The Mile High Club shows best when I throw the reins to him and let him do his job.”

Harris also feels that when it comes to a significant event like the AQHA World Show, you owe it to both yourself and your horse to lay it all on the line. He reminds, “You’ve worked hard to get qualified and you owe it to your horse to go out there and give it hell. Take a deep breath before you send it into overdrive, and then you give your horse that side eye gesture and you say to each other ‘let’s do this.'”

Upping the Ante (When the Timing is Right)

One key to thinking about pushing your performance to globe-winning limits is to remember to maintain the style of riding that helped you earn your place at the table to begin with. Amateur Lisa Mazurka states, “I like to be conservative and play it a bit safe in the preliminaries. A correct, well-executed pattern may get you in the finals, whereas if you make one mistake, you are out. Getting in the finals is the first goal for all of us.”

Mazurka continues, “However, once you get to the finals, I think it’s time to go big or go home. If you make it to the finals, you are competing with the best of the best and it is a fine line in separating this elite group of athletes. You have to stand out if you want to place in the top five or ten. I think this is a time to take risks, especially if you and your horse feel good in the warm-up pen.”

Some risks have less to do with your ride and more to do with your overall presentation. Amateur Carey Nowacek recalls a considerable risk that put her in the fashion hall of fame and may have helped her on the way to her AQHYA World Championship title in Horsemanship.

She explains, “At my final Youth World Show, I showed in the finals of the Horsemanship in a plain black, fitted, button-down shirt.”

For many exhibitors today, this has become more of a common practice or trend, however, at the time Nowacek made this decision, this was indeed not the case.

Nowacek continues, “I had told (trainer) Brad Jewett months before the Youth World that if I made the horsemanship finals, I wanted to show in a button up to shake things up. Walking into the arena that day, I felt more confident than I had ever been, and it turned out just as I had imagined. I ended up winning in a plain black button down.”

Nowacek also speaks to another benefit of taking a significant risk: the adrenaline rush. “I am always up for taking risks. I love the adrenaline rush and in this sport, there are lots of opportunities to take risks. I say always go for it…take the risk. What is the worst that could happen? There is always another horse show.”

What’s your strategy for playing it smart or going big in the show pen? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

About the Author
A native Michigander, Rachel Kooiker is a lover of horses who loves to write. She competes in all-around Amateur events with her APHA gelding, Hoos Real. She graduated from Grand Valley State University with a BA in English and Psychology and an MA in Curriculum & Instruction. She and her husband Drew operate Kooiker Show Horses, where they stand APHA World Champion Im the Secret.
Photos © Bar H Photography, Kirstie Marie, Ali Hubbell