Whether you compete at in-hand or ridden show events at an amateur or affiliated level, success relies on keeping your horse calm and collected so that he can perform to the best of his ability and be judged fairly on his conformation, condition and movement.
The show ring, however, is a unique and unfamiliar environment and competing there presents challenges that may cause spooky, restless and uncooperative behaviours in your horse.
Here are some of the most common causes of excitable behaviour and tips on overcoming them:
Horses are smart and like us; they find comfort in the familiar.
Training will help your horse to understand your expectations and respond appropriately, so before you enter any show event, be clear on the competition or class requirements and prepare your horse for them with adequate training.
Note that training is just as important for you as your horse. Any tension or anxiety you have about your performance will affect the way you ride and this can unsettle your horse or pony so get plenty of practice!
Injury or discomfort
Even minor injuries or discomfort could trigger negative behaviours, particularly in a show ring environment where there are other potential stressors.
To avoid this, make sure that your horse is suitably warmed up before any training and that sessions are not excessive. Your horse will need time to rest and recover too. If you rely on specific show tack, test it thoroughly during training to ensure that it doesn’t pinch or aggravate your horse.
If you suspect that something is causing your horse discomfort, seek advice from your vet and trainer.
In the build-up to a big event it can be tempting to alter your horse’s diet, exercise and training regime but changes can be unsettling.
If adjustments to your horse’s usual regime are necessary for show ring success, they should be introduced gradually so that any regular routines are maintained as far as possible.
Creating opportunities for your horse to relax and fully settle in at the arena before stepping into the show ring will help him maintain a cool, calm and settled head during the competition.
When planning the logistics of attending an event, allow plenty of time for your horse to recover from time spent in transit, and to familiarise himself with the sounds and smells of the arena environment. You should also warm up adequately in preparation for your class.
Maintaining your horse’s regular feeding regime can help stabilise his behaviour, but when training for a show event, changes are sometimes necessary to help your horse maintain his condition and health so be sure to introduce a new horse feed gradually.
Any restless or uncooperative behaviours can be caused by overfeeding or an excess of starch and sugars in the diet so review the following:
Forage should account for most of your horse’s feed but when preparing for show events in the spring, fresh grass will naturally have a higher energy content and this can cause negative behaviours.
If your horse is unable to maintain his weight with forage alone, perhaps because of increased exercise undertaken during training, then avoid giving them mixes or any cereal based feeds as they all contain starch.
When additional calories are required, look for feeds that provide energy from fibre and oil or try a supplement such as magnesium that can promote calm behaviour.
Balancers are concentrated feeds which contain negligible levels of energy, starch and sugar but are rich in the vitamins and minerals your horse needs to maintain its overall health, vitality and condition.