To follow on from my post on Preparation; the key to success, this post is all about managing things once you arrive. If the show is a small one & I’m not traveling too far, I will arrive either the night before or the morning of competition. If travel time is more than several hours, I prefer to arrive 2 days before competing. This allows you & more importantly, your horse to rest up from the travel & get ready to compete in a relaxed manner.
It is the day before heading off where your previous preparation comes into play. I am not one for staying up until midnight to work, clip, clean, wash & braid. I like to leave the bare minimum for the day before. Feed for the horse is already organized & my show gear is ready. I prefer not to work the horse the day before, otherwise I only do some very light riding, nothing too strenuous. If I am at the show, I like to give them a light lunge or ride in the arena for them to have a look.
The day before competing, I like to do the final clip (face, ears, muzzle) & wash, putting on a clean set of blankets. If I have early classes, I will braid the night before, otherwise I braid the morning of. Now, if you aren’t experienced in braiding, don’t leave it for show time to practice! It can be tiring & requires patience of both you & the horse. Use your downtime to practice just 3 or 4 braids a few times a week, & in no time you’ll be braiding like a pro!
When I arrive at the show, I get my stall bedded down & unload the horse as soon as possible. I fill waters & give hay – I like to put the hay on the ground to get the horse to lower their head, especially after a long trailer ride. Horses are designed for their respiratory system to drain with their head down, with studies showing that fluid starts to collect after just 40 minutes of sustained raised head positions, so this is very important.
Once the horse is settled & taken care of, I head to the show office to collect entries, catalogues etc. I also like to have a look at the arena to familiarize myself with the layout, this certainly helps settle some of the nerves. I do like to keep busy at a show, although at the big ones I also like to take advantage of any quiet times to have a nap or just relax, it can get quite tiring at times. Throughout the show, I tend to do a lot of mucking out of the stalls – it helps to keep the horse & the stall area clean & tidy. I am constantly tidying up the aisle & tack area, this helps to get into the ring clean & tidy yourself!
Prior to my first class, I like to watch some classes if I can, to see how the show management is running things – this can change from show to show & being familiar with it makes things much easier. A hugely important factor is keeping an eye on the class schedule & always listening to announcements – one of my rules around the stalls at a show is when there is an announcement, everyone listens! Always make sure you are on time for your class, I am often a bit too early, but I would rather that than being late! Unless it is unavoidable for things like class clashes, holding up a class due to your own inattentiveness is unforgivable! It shows a lack of respect for both the judges & your fellow competitors, so be on time!
Throughout the show, things can get very busy, you are nervous & you are focused on taking care of the horse, so it can be easy to forget about yourself! Make sure you eat well & drink plenty of water. I always have bottled water, fruit & snacks available & at times have to force myself to stop & eat. Try to avoid junk food as it can leave you feeling dull & heavy, the food at the shows is often expensive as well so I make sure I am stocked up with plenty of good things to help keep me going.
Finally, as you enter the ring, remember why you are there. It is not the ribbon that is the important thing, it is enjoying your horse & the company of like-minded people. It is to compete not against others, but to do your best. At each show, take the time to wander around the stalls & see how others do things. Watch classes, listen & learn. Take the chance to talk to those who are doing well, most are more than happy to talk as long as they are not in the process of getting ready for a class. At the end of the show, think about how you might improve for next time. Always be courteous to judges, show committee staff & other competitors. Most importantly, have fun!
Cheers & Happy Riding!