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Prepping for Training

Preparing for a horse show goes far beyond just making sure you have your tack polished and your clothes spot-free. And preparing your horse for a show goes beyond just riding every day. We must be deliberate in prepping our horses for training. Your horse should be in good physical shape before jumping into the deep-end of training. You won't be able to show at all if your horse sustains an injury.

Patience and lack of pressure are extremely important when training a horse. A horse has a natural flight response to perceived pressure. And when has going fast ever done anyone any good? Did you ever truly learn anything cramming for a test the night before? Same goes for horses - they need repetition and an extreme level of patience to learn new things. If your horse is already unfamiliar with what you're asking him to do throwing in a new environment is not going to help things. Schooling shows are great - it's all in the name! They give you the atmosphere and experience of a show but with significantly less pressure.

Be deliberate. Think of a specific goal and then plan on how to get there. You've always thought about entering in a dressage schooling show. That's the goal - ride one training level test. Now break the test down. Horse not great at circles? Start incorporating circles into your regular training routine. Going to one of your normal shows? Work on circle in the arena while you're warming up. It's much easier to work on smaller, specific goals than one large goal as it can be easy to lose focus without a clear plan.

Start small. While your horse should be in somewhat decent shape it's important to set up a healthy training schedule to get your horse in top physical condition. A human athlete doesn't just sit around all winter and then get up and run a marathon. If your horse gets semi-regular exercise during the off-season the following is a good rule of thumb:

  • Two months before is when you should start conditioning. Start with 30 minutes of flat work per day. Depending on your horse's condition - add 15 minutes every week or so.
  • About one month before is when you should start focusing on your actual discipline. Focus on circles, flat work, or work on increasing the height of your jumps.
  • One week before is good for drilling down training even further. Still have one small problem area? Work on that - focus on what you need to improve and don't over train on the things your horse is good at.
  • One day before is a good day for any grooming and hand walking if you get to the show early. Otherwise, light schooling is perfectly acceptable.

Most importantly - you can never be too prepared!

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