Driving your Miniature Horse is one of the most fun things you can do with them, and if you’ve been busy training your horse yourself, you’re probably extra excited to show him off this summer, and I don’t blame you! Training your horse to drive is a great accomplishment and hopefully you’ve become close partners during the process.
A show is different than driving at home though, and you owe it to your horse to do everything you can to prepare them and make their first show a pleasant experience to set them up for a long and successful driving career.
You can never be sure of what you might encounter at a show, but here’s 10 things that you can do to set your horse up for success.
- The biggest concern for horses who are new to the show ring are the other horses. Drivers with different cues, carts with different noises – it can be a lot to deal with. Jamie’s first class she stopped dead and gawked the first time she was passed and I’ve seen lots of horses deal with it in much less responsible ways. So how do you prepare? Get a second horse and driver (invite a friend over to play leap frog!) and – starting gradually like you do everything with learning horses – practice until your horse is completely comfortable with passing and being passed on both sides.
- Classes at a show aren’t very long, but you are asking your horse to work to the best of their ability for the entire time, which is pretty intensive exercise. Make sure your horse is fit enough to do the job you’re asking by doing lots of driving leading up the show. Conditioning takes time, but a horse that is physically ready for the class will have a less stressful show, without any sore muscles on day two.
- Unless you usually have a very appreciative and enthusiastic audience for your training sessions, your horse has probably never heard applause before. He will at the show, and it would be best if that wasn’t his first encounter with it. Organise yourself a standing ovation. You – and your horse – deserve it.
- I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an indoor arena at my place. My horses are generally driving on grass, which isn’t the footing they’ll discover in the ring. If at all possible, get them into a dirt ring prior to the show to practice working in the heavier footing, especially backing.
- Drive your horse again after body clipping. Trust me, it makes a difference in harness fit, and you want your horse to be completely comfortable with his equipment and have everything just right before you put him into such a new situation.
- Use your warm-up. That’s your chance to let your horse get a good look at the arena. Walk a lot, and make sure that you reverse so that he sees how it all looks from both eyes. If you get the opportunity, try to get him into the ring the prior evening or early morning, first in hand, then in harness. The official warmup tends to be somewhat chaotic, so an initial experience when things are quiet will help set your horse up for success.
- Hopefully, your horse gets lots of turnout time at home. Maybe they’re like mine, and live outdoors 24/7. At the show, your horse is going to be stalled, and as a result he’s probably got a little more energy than you’re used to. Add that to his first show nerves, and your horse show nerves, and you might end up with a volatile combination. Get him out of that stall as much as you can – go for a walk, let him see the sights, hang out near the show ring and watch the other driving horses. Use up some of that energy.
- Be confident for him. It’s you that sets the tone of the experience. Even if you’re nervous, talk yourself out of it, visualise a calm and successful class, hum a lullaby or take a shot of whiskey (a little one!) – whatever you have to do to convince your horse that you’re not worried and he doesn’t need to be either. The biggest thing you can do? Breathe. It’s amazing how often we all forget, and your horse WILL notice and be scared because you are. Remember to breathe.
- Don’t be afraid to take a step back. Some horses, despite all your hard work, just might not be ready when they get there. If you get into the warm up and feel like it isn’t going to be a good experience for your horse, the right decision might be to scratch him. Just getting to the show is a huge step in the journey, and you want to keep moving forward, not take a big step back just for the sake of getting into a class.
- Most importantly, you need to manage your expectations. You might be driving a champion in the making, but that’s not how you’re going to evaluate the success of his first show. If your horse completes his first driving class without incident and does everything you ask, then you have accomplished the ideal first step towards all those future titles and you deserve to celebrate!
After the show is over, and you and your horse have had some well deserved days off, it’s time to evaluate how it went. What did your horse do really well? When did he seem worried or lose confidence? Spend some time deciding where your weaknesses are as a team, and make a game plan to work on those issues before your next show.
By attending each show with a focus on making it a good experience for your horse, you’ll be building a foundation for a great partnership!