I had some one ask if I could give them some good tips for the show season. This is a good question and yes, as a veteran of the show ring I certainly can give you some good tips. It doesn’t really matter what discipline you are in, as showing is showing and it takes its toll on both the horse and the rider. (the horse in this photo was my 27 year old Thoroughbred Albert in a lesson with a 13 year old girl. I kept him sound and healthy until his heart gave out at the age of 31, he never took a lame step, in spite of 9 years as a racehorse!)
Fitness: first and foremost for the BOTH of you! This is probably the place where most people go astray, they start training too late and then the horse has injuries or lacks performance because they simply are not fit enough. Start now to be showing in May, as it will take you a good 4 months to get a basic level of fitness. Start with lunging regularly at just the walk and trot, then add poles and cavaletti after a couple of weeks to increase the horse’s cardio and strength. The pole work allows the horse to work all 4 quarters of its body equally; it aids in self carriage and builds strength through using the large muscle groups. Go slow and gradually increase the work, as overtraining will result in injury and poor performance.
Diet: if your horse has been just eating hay all winter, then now is the time to add some grain and a good vitamin/mineral mix. Any athlete performs much better on a good diet, high in nutrition but low in sugar, so cut out beetpulp, check the sugar in your hay and eliminate molasses. Too much sugar can make the horse high as well as cause inflammation, so conditions like arthritis will worsen. I personally keep my horses on the same diet year round, adding more grain if I increase the work, as I never take them off supplements, they take less time to get fit, as the nutrition is always in place. I feed cracked oats and barley, which actually has a low glycemic index, salt, flax and Pureform Vitamin/Mineral supplement, that’s it! And my grain is always soaked to dissolve the salt and vitamins and prevent colic. No processed foods in my regime, as I don’t see how boiling the food to nothing can possibly be good for the horse. With grain I know exactly what I am getting, I feed by dry weight, and I can really closely monitor the intake and adjust accordingly. Accurate feeding is paramount to a healthy horse. Bear in mind that a horse’s digestion takes 3 months to adjust to any diet change, so don’t expect immediate results. This is why you need to start changing the feed now in preparation for the show season and the increased caloric demands of more work. Always go with quality rather than quantity. A hungry horse or one that is not getting the right nutrition in the form of minerals and vitamins, will lack stamina, get injured more easily and take longer to heal, and may also be cranky because they are hungry and not satisfied. Poor coat, dry skin and bad hooves, and stiff tight body are more signs of a mineral deficiency.
Tack check: check your tack and make sure it’s in good repair and fits properly. Also get your show clothes out and try them on, make sure you still fit into everything. Get your jacket and all your clothes into a separate garment bag and have them all cleaned and ready to go, so on the day of the show you can just pick it up and go.
Make Lists: one for you and one for the horse. Write a master list and keep it in your trailer or tack box, and check off the items as you pack them.
First Aid Kit: always pack first aid for you and the horse. Make sure you have bandages, vet wrap, poviodine scrub, electrolytes, Polysporin, surgical tweezers (plastic) animal lintex and a wound wash from the vet. Scissors, witch hazel, flyspray, Optrex for eyes, and bandades for you! I personally carry something to pull shoes if I have to and wire cutters, along with a full arsenal of medical supplies, including a shot of banamine in case of colic and there is no vet around. You never know!! Extra buckets and a hose for water too.
Check out your trailer and truck: make sure if you are hauling your horses yourself, that your trailer brakes and wheel bearings are in good working order. Also the hook up for the brakes and your hitch, nothing worse than having a trailer come loose from your truck! Choose a good professional to do this for you, someone your friends recommend and everyone goes to. Make sure your licensing and insurance documents are up to date and current.
Manes and Tails: if your discipline requires a pulled mane and tail, start that job now so you don’t have to do it all at the last minute, it’s easier on the horse if you do some every week so they don’t get sore from the pulling. If you need to work on a long flowing mane and tail like the Arabs and Friesians have, then wash and braid the mane and tail now, to avoid tangling and you will have them looking their best with all that hair intact by the shows. Above all, remember that being prepared and organized helps you stay much less stressed, and you can enjoy yourself more – yes shows are supposed to be fun! So if you are not having fun, figure out why and address the problem. Go out there and have a good time!!