Showing Off: Maximize Your Strengths & Minimize Your Weaknesses – with Bruce Walquist, Jenn Wheeler & Troy Compton
One of the most highly anticipated moments leading up to a horse show is when the patterns are released. Then, weeks before the event, trainers and exhibitors prepare their horses for whatever the judges might throw at them.
Once the patterns are released, the actual prep work seems to begin. Knowing what will be in the pattern allows riders to test their equine counterparts and realize their expected strengths and weaknesses for the upcoming show.
We asked top trainers Jenn Wheeler, Bruce Walquist and Troy Compton for advice on showing off their horse’s strengths once they arrive at the show.
Pre-Show Game Plan
Top all-around trainer Bruce Walquist sits down with his clients to review the pattern once released. He believes in taking the time to look through each maneuver, both written and drawn, to evaluate which areas are their strengths and weaknesses.
“We work on the weaknesses at home. We try to make their weakness as good as possible, so they aren’t true weaknesses,” Bruce shared.
Jenn Wheeler agreed and explained an exercise she uses to help her horse and rider combos become a better team through their strengths and weaknesses.
“I think mixing up drills to work on both sides of strengths or weaknesses gives horses more confidence in pattern classes. I think they know what they are good at, and when you let them do the easy things, mixed with the harder things, they learn to try with their hearts and don’t resent working harder.”
Both trainers want their horses and riders to feel confident in all their maneuvers before entering the show pen. The best way to build confidence is through practice, and the best place to practice is at home. When it’s time to show, it’s time to show off what you know.
Show Time Attitude
Sometimes, the key to showing off your horse’s strengths in a pattern is based on pure showmanship and attitude. Fortunately, the judge doesn’t know which elements will be your strengths and which will be your weaknesses when you step into the pen.
The late, legendary trainer and showman Doug Carpenter said it best when he explained his theory on showmanship in the pleasure pen.
“It’s called showmanship, and it’s mainly about professionalism in both appearance and attitude. Your horse not only has to be the best mover, but he also has to look like a winner. And you have to look like you’re riding the winner. It’s not too difficult to do when you have a perfect ride. But when conditions are less than perfect, that’s when the true showmen stand out. It’s also how they’ll beat you time and time again.”
Wheeler added to this idea by saying, “Part of showing is not showing…don’t show what you don’t want the judge to see.” Jenn elaborated, “You’re essentially just ‘putting on a show,’ and the human eye reacts positively to positivity. If an element isn’t as fast or perfect as you’d like it to be, making it smooth or conservative is a smarter move. On the other hand, it’s hard not to like a go that’s pleasant and looks easy.”
We can work on conveying this through both physical practice and visualization techniques. How a rider expresses their opinion about their run is critical to the overall impression.
Show Time Techniques
Troy Compton relates showing to performing a dance. “You have to figure out how to make your pattern flow,” he explained. “It’s good to show off your strong points, but blending the maneuvers is what separates the good from the great riders.”
“It’s just as important to show off your strengths as it is not to over show them. So, don’t give up points by being reckless.”
Walquist also encourages his riders to show their strengths while not losing too much ground because of their weaknesses. Bruce has specific instructions for his riders to show their strengths in a pattern.
“I have them go for it in the elements that they are strong in. Get a few extra points in that area so that they can make up for the spot that they don’t shine in,” he explained. “If a horse and rider are good in their extended maneuvers, then they should ride strong and confident in those. If they excel in their lope overs, then they should add a little extra rein and show it off.”
Walquist concludes by reminding his riders to stay smooth and correct in areas where they may have difficulties.
Bringing out your best in the show pen requires knowing your horse as well as yourself. So, sit down with your trainer to hone in on your strengths to help give you the confidence you need for when it’s time to show.
Address your weaknesses at home and devise ways to keep them smooth while showing. Jenn said it best when she reminded us that “every rider is born with talent just as the horses are, so show off your strengths!”