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Keep Showing: Recovering from Mistakes in the Show Pen with Beckey Schooler and Jenell Pogue

Imagine this: you are in the middle of the show arena, all by yourself as you work your way through a brilliant pattern. Everything is going just as you’d practiced until…it’s not. You overturn on your pivot, and it throws off your line for your next maneuver. What do you do now?

Making mistakes in the show pen is one of the most unnerving aspects of showing, but it is also something that we, as riders, need to know how to handle. GoHorseShow had the opportunity to talk with two trainers, Beckey Schooler and Jenell Pogue, about the best ways to move on when things don’t go quite as planned in the arena.

First things first: don’t panic

Even though your first instinct when you experience a mishap in the middle of a class may be to worry about whether or not the judge saw it, that is actually the last thing that a rider should do. When it comes to handling mistakes, whether it be a spook or a break of gait, it is important to make sure you take the right approach in order to avoid worsening the situation.

AQHA judge and trainer Beckey Schooler of Delta, Ohio, said that when a horse would spook on the rail, “you should close your legs, take a hold of its face, press it back down into the bridle and continue on.” This approach allows the rider to regain the horse’s composure without creating a huge scene by schooling, or making the horse more frightened by dwelling on what caused him to spook in the first place.

Trainer Jenell Pogue, of Jenell Pogue Performance Horses in South Bend, Indiana, spoke along similar lines when it comes to recovering from a “spooky situation” in the show pen.

“Without schooling, you can always just try to stop and start again,” she explained. “But, the hard part about being on the rail is that you also don’t want to interfere with anyone else. So before you just react, you need to check your surroundings and then decide ‘okay, do I need to grab with two hands? Do I need to move off the rail, do I need to move back onto the rail? But a lot of times, just stopping and starting again will help, along with keeping your focus on where you want to take them, not what they’re spooking at. If you do that, a lot of times they will just regain that confidence and keep going.”

Rather than reacting before you think your way through the situation, taking a moment to assess what is going on around you is absolutely vital to recovering quickly from a mistake. Though it might feel like a drawn-out event, odds are it will be over and done within a matter of seconds.

Try not to dwell on the mistake, it’s probably not as bad as you think

Particularly in the pattern classes, when the judges’ eyes are on you for the entirety of the time that you are competing, even the smallest mistake can feel like the end of the world. But fear-not, life, and your ride, will go on. Beckey Schooler explained, “If you have a mistake, and you think it’s awful, it might not be. You should just keep showing. Remember, a mistake is only one maneuver, and you have a lot more maneuvers to get through that could help your score recover from your mistake.”

Learning how to take the point-of-view that it is okay to make mistakes is “one of the hardest parts of learning to show,” according to Pogue. “If you drop your body or drop your eyes,” she said, “the judges are going to be looking for the mistake. If you keep your composure and your confidence, they’re not going to notice a mistake. The more you keep showing, the better.”

We’re always told to look ahead when we ride. In its literal meaning, looking ahead keeps a rider focused on their surroundings. Metaphorically, looking ahead to the next maneuver, rather than staying stuck on the overturn, the spook, the crooked back, or whatever else may have happened to go wrong, will undoubtedly help to make the rest of your ride stronger.

Turn the negative into a positive

Making the best of a bad situation is much easier said than done. It is challenging to take a mistake and see what you can learn from it, rather than being upset about its effects. If you can adopt this attitude when it comes to mishaps in the arena, though, you will find that you are much better off because of it.

Jenell Pogue told us, “For the pattern stuff, the best thing you can do is to keep going through your pattern. If it’s a bad enough break of gait, or you’re off your line enough that you can’t get to your next part, just go back through that part and start it again. Just use it as a schooling opportunity to go back through your pattern.” As a rider, the ability to recognize when it is an acceptable time to turn from show-mode to soft schooling is essential to continued success. It will help both horse and rider regain calm, collected confidence going forward.

Pogue continued, saying, “As long as you don’t over school or make a big deal out of it, the judges are going to let you get back to your line and correct your error. Yeah, you’re obviously going to get disqualified and not place, but use it as a schooling opportunity to make the best of the rest of your pattern.”

Mistakes are a fact of life, and certainly a fact of showing horses. Our partners in the show pen often have a mind of their own, and sometimes that means that we might not always be on the same page. Take comfort in knowing that everyone who enters the show pen, regardless of talent level, at one point or another, will have some sort of error. Learning how to handle the mistake and recover from it is the key to maintaining a positive attitude about imperfect rides, and a vital skill that will help take your performance to the next level.

About the Author – Kassidy Lammers is a freshman at the University of Dayton from Delaware, Ohio. She has been showing Quarter Horses for seven years, and currently shows her gelding, Smooth After Midnite, in the all-around events under the guidance of Jeff Geiger.