We Ask the Industry: The Dos and Don’ts of Taking a Prospect to Its First Show
Picture this: it’s your first day of kindergarten. You walk into a new school building with busy halls full of other children and teachers. Some kids are crying and clinging to their mom or dad’s legs. Other kids wave, smile, and walk into the classroom with little fuss.
You join your class and learn the days of the week, why two plus two equals four, and how to read and write. Your new environment is exciting and challenging; it is day one of the rest of your educational career.
As fall fades into winter each year, a similar phenomenon occurs for prospects in countless barns across the country. In these barns, they, too, begin day one of their career as trustworthy partners for their future riders.
Come spring and summer, one of the most significant milestones for prospects is their first time at a horse show and it’s critical that they start their experience off on the right foot. We asked several experts advice on how they introduce their prospects to the new, and often fast-paced, environment at horse shows.
Troy Compton – Have your basic ground control established before you get to the show. Be sure to get their attention right when you take them off the trailer. They will nicker and do colt things, but you can’t let it get to you. All of that will go away with seasoning and hauling around. A young horse needs to be hauled before taking it to its first show. Take them somewhere with a small atmosphere, such as a friend’s house. Don’t just leave them in the stall when you finally bring them to their first show. Get them out often. Be smart about it and longe them to get their energy down before you get on. Some horses take more time than others, so be aware of that. Don’t expect too much from them once you get on. Walking them around and seeing the sights can be a successful experience. Try to put them in good situations to build confidence, but don’t protect them too much. Just ensure they get the whole experience; at the end of the day, you want your horse to enjoy the horse show.
Blake Carney – I think it’s essential not to do it too soon. So many people believe that exposing them to everything is what it takes, but I prefer to have a baseline in riding and respect where they trust you enough to work. Letting them scream in a stall and go crazy on a longe line while staring wide-eyed teaches them nothing for their future. Yes, they will likely do those things, but if you show them that the expectations at home and the show are the same, they will gain confidence much quicker. I also hear so many people say, “we are just going to show them to get experience.” I don’t think horses’ brains are wired to know the difference between being in a class or not, but they will remember what was scary. Wait to show them until they are ready, and make sure their “tag-along” experiences make them feel at home.
Alyse Roberts – When taking a young horse to his first show, I do not have huge expectations for him. I prefer just to let them settle in and see the sights, and I already know that there’s a good chance he may not ride around there as well as he had been, leading up to the show. However, I do like to take them to a longer show (instead of just a weekend show) as I believe they need several days to adjust and get used to being away from their comfortable life. So, if you’re at a longer circuit, you have the time to let them adjust and settle in, then you have the time to get something accomplished and know what you need to work on when you get home from the show.
Jamie Dowdy – No expectations. That’s relative, of course, but I don’t fight how they feel…anxious, nervous, reactive. I look for each ride to be a little better than before, but it might just be a simple difference in a walk. Small, positive improvements are all I look for. Horses feel a lot, so building confidence in an overwhelming, new environment is essential.
Lauren Stanley – DO have as much homework done at home as you can before getting to their first horse show. Having a solid foundation to fall back on when they are experiencing new things gives them (and you) much more confidence. DON’T expect perfection. They aren’t usually aren’t going to step off the trailer and be perfect little angels their first time out. But that’s where having a solid foundation comes into play and allows you to get to where you need to be more accessible. DO reward their little victories. Did you survive your first ride? Rejoice! DON’T judge your horse’s future career on one bad experience. Learn from your experience and go home and work to make it better for the next time.
Tessa Dalton – The biggest thing I would say for taking a young one to a horse show is to pony it around a few times before you ride it around. I like to pick shows that have enough room to get the young ones out a few times a day and be able to ride around everywhere. The main thing for us is exposure and having a safe environment for the young ones to learn the ropes. I take them out when I know it won’t be super busy to keep their mind open and as positive as possible.
Travis Born – Do your homework at home, and don’t take a young horse to a show before you feel confident you can make it a positive experience. Get them broke enough at home that if an issue arises at the show, you can work through it. Also, be sure you’re taking them to a show that you have the time and space to work through something if you need. Finally, remember to be patient, build their confidence, and trust your training will come through, because you only get one shot at making the first show a good experience.
Dodie Howard – This is a massive part of what we do. I usually suggest to everyone that, let’s take them to a show to see the sights and ride around with no pressure before we decide on a show to show them. I think this helps the youngsters with no pressure to perform and gives them a chance to get comfortable in a horse show setting. Some settle in way more quickly than others. It may take a couple of outings to see the world. It depends on that individual, but rushing into anything never works out for the owner, trainer, or horse.
Gavin Pope – DO your homework preparation at home first to have an idea of what to expect at the show. DO go to the first show with a small enough bunch where you can be sure to give each horse the full attention they need from you…no need to take more than you can comfortably handle. DO go to the first show with small, simple goals in mind that will ensure a positive first show outing for both horse and handler. DON’T let your horse’s first show disrupt others’ day. Baby moments are one thing, but blow ups or melt downs are another. DON’T place the young horse into a situation that may endanger the horse or others. You may have a plan or goal in mind, but recognizing the need to adapt or modify from that is crucial.
Erica Owen – DO make sure they longe. The last thing you want is a fresh baby stuck in a stall because they can’t go on a line. Always have Perfect Prep on hand just in case there is a possibility of overstimulation. It works wonders and helps them have a positive experience. Prepare as much as you can before you leave home. Not every scenario can be replicated, but exposure to as much as possible before a big show is critical. DON’T ride or longe at first during the busiest time of the day. Give them time to get used to things without too much distraction. DON’T lose your cool. Babies can be broke one day and not the next.
Austin Gooding – We always make sure our young ones are exposed to a lot of different things at home and handle things well before we attempt to take them to a show. And if you have to spend the first day or two of the show letting them take things in before you ride, that is okay too. I always try to do my best to set them up for success. For example, if people are longing all over the arena and there is not much room to ride, I’ll wait until it clears out. Little things like that can make a big difference in gaining confidence in young ones at their first show.
Beth Clemons – Well, the biggest DO I can think of is building confidence. They will be worried, whether they outwardly show it or not. So please find time to camp on them and let them relax. The most significant DON’T, I would say is, don’t expect them to ride around the first day like they do at home.
Spike Brewer – When taking a youngster on a first road trip, being patient and slowly introducing them to new experiences is the best idea. Every horse is different, so some handle things better. But the most important thing we focus on is making it a positive experience for them.
Do you have tips you’d like to share to help others when taking a prospect to its first show? Let us know in the comments.