Rookie Tips and Strategies

One, Two, Three, Whoa

In your spins, count: One, Two, Three, WHOA. If you count: one, two, three, four you are virtually guaranteed to overspin.

Similarly, if you lose count, stop when you think you've completed three spins. While you lost count, you were still moving, so it's likely that you'll actually make four spins. Interestingly, you'll rarely see someone spin three times, but you will often see people make five psins instead of four.

Don't rush yourself or your horse. Keep your hand very slow as you initiate the spin: give your horse time. Don't overcue and drag him into the turn. If you simply wait, he'll probably start to turn (and do so correctly). If, instead, you move your hand too far ove the center of the horse's neck, you'll restrict his movement and make it impossible for him to turn correctly.

For the shut off, practice how much time your horse needs. If you need to say "whoa" a qharter of a turn early, pick a marker that you can use, so that when you're lined up with that marker, you'll say "whoa."

Which way to roll back?

When your stops are in the center of the pen, roll back toward the judges. When you run down the arena sides, roll back toward the wall.

A checklist to be organized when you show

Before the show
Practice for show-ring success. Never practice a pattern at home; instead, practice maneuvers. For example, instead of changing leads in the middle of the arena, change direction AND stay on the original lead. Ask your horse to keep a straight as he crosses the middle of the pen and then changes direction onto the new circle. On the new circle, counter canter 1/4 around. Then change leads. This way, when you get in the show pen, your horse won't anticipate the lead change in the center of the pen and will stay straight across the middle.
Arrive on time. Find out what time you can arrive at the show grounds; be there as early as possible. Plan your route in advance.
Create a checklist for yourself and your horse. Make sure you pack everything you might need, and double or triple check that you've packed everything. Don't assume your things are in the trailer where you left them: verify and mark your checklist. Have extras of essentials you'll need at shows. That way, you won't go crazy searching for a pair of scissors, bobby pin, rubber band, safety pin, etc.
Polish your silver, clean your tack before you leave home.
Pack lots of water; horse shows can be hot and dustry; if you're dehydrated, you won't be at your best.
Remember to pack your competition license, your NRHA card and breed papers (if applicable)
Bring your checkbook
Instead of focusing on winning, set a realistic goal for the show: I will count my spins...or...I will get past the markers before I stop).

At the show:
Get your pony settled in his stall then take a tour of the show grounds. Then study the show pen, the warm up pen, find the bathrooms, visualize your go.
Look over the show schedule and make a plan for your weekend, including when you'll most likely be able to eat and sleep. Allow time for breakfast: you don't want to be low on energy when it's time to show.
Sign up for paid warm ups....these are a rookie's best friend.
Unpack. Put everything where you can find it, organize the tack room with an eye for the frantic hour before you show. Have water bottles on hand.
Find the show office and sign up for your classes. Pre-enter at least one class before you show. Show management appreciates having entries completed before the last minute.
Put your number on your show pad.
Get your show bridle ready to go.
Make sure you get a good night's sleep
Get up early so you can warm your horse up before the crowds arrive. Nothing is more soothing to a rookie than to complete a relaxing warm up as the rough and tumble crowds gather.
Take naps during the day if possible.
Keep everything the same at the show: Use the same bit, saddle, routine, etc. that you use at home.
Don't take yourself too seriously. Every mistake you can make has already been committed by non pros before you. They have dropped hats, reins, drawers...broken buttons, bridles and every written rule....run through bits, into fences, judges, and photographers....lost their stirrups, their way, and their lunch...fallen off and fallen over...gone off pattern and created new patterns. Remember: No matter how badly you do, show management will always let you show again!
Plan your pre-class warm up: 12-15 horses go in an hour normally depending on the drags and the pattern.
Try to find the wins in every go: Congratulate yourself for having the gumption to enter the pen; reward yourself for meeting your personal goals (or getting closer to meeting them).
After your class, write down your maneuver scores. You will be surprised how they improve over time regardless of the total score.
Say "thank you " to the show staff and your friendly gate keeper.
Be kind to your competition.

After the show:
Give yourself and your pony a few days off for a job well done.
Unpack, put things back where you can find them again.
Wash everything so it is ready for the next trip.
Think about what you would like to improve for the next show.


Pattern Logic

All run in patterns (1, 7, 9, & 10) start with a right spin. You never back up at the end of a run in pattern.
On pattern 1, 2, 4, and 7, the stops are past the end marker. Of these, only 1 & 7 are run in patterns. On pattern 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, & 10 the stops are past center. Of these, 9 & 10 are run in but only past the center.


Release the tension!

You'll put in a much better show ring performance if you can relax: Try making a light comment to someone as you walk in, and do it with a big smile. This will help to to lighten the tension some, and make everything much less stressful.

Rotate the wrist of your free hand--any movement will help your muscles relax. Or yawn or move your head from side to side.

In the pen, smile--and remember to breathe (if you breathe deeply, your body will automatically relax).

Remember to take your time--count to five before doing any maneuver.

As you ride each maneuver, focus on communicating with your horse: clance at his head and ears. If his head is tipped to the outside, your outside rein is probably too short; try to even the reins so that your horse is between the reins.

Don't think about the maneuvers you've completed (that score is recorded) or the maneuvers to come (you'll get there soon enough). Stay "in the moment" and perform the maneuver that's called for.

Getting ready for your go

Figure out when you should be ready to go in the ring.
Estimate that each go will take 4 minutes; each drag, about 6 minutes. Run in patterns may go faster. Green horse or rider classes may go slower (we like to walk very slowly to the middle if we can). Pattern 3 is a slow pattern.

Here's the schedule one non pro uses:
I plan to be *on* my horse 15 draws ahead of time.
Plan to be at the in-gate 3-4 horses ahead of time.
I would rather be early than late so I tack up 25 horses ahead and keep track of how fast the class is going, any scratches, etc.
Rookie classes and classes on the last day of the show have many scratches.
Know what draw is in the pen.
Have a dependable buddy who can hang by the gate and come let you know when they are 5 horses ahead of you. That way you can just work on your warm up and not worry about time.
When they are 5 horses ahead, you can work that problem maneuver one last time...or...get your horse thinking about the first maneuver in the pattern.
You need to be at the gate 3 horses ahead or the gate keeper will get you. I do anything I can ahead of time, following the principle of "that's one less thing to worry about".
So, I might get my show outfit on 2 classes ahead, put my chaps on 30 horses ahead, get the splint boots ready, etc. When you are at the gate, check your number, take your nose band off, put your chaps on, roll your sleeves down, and secure your hat.
Mentally, go through your pattern again and again. Find someone you can tell the pattern to.


Break a maneuver into manageable parts

The sliding stop and rollback, for instance, consist of 5 individual components:

1. the lope/run around the end
2. the approach
3. the stop
4. the rollback
5. the exit from the rollback
If you think about managine each part of the maneuver, you'll be likely to increase your score. Remember, an awful lot of the minuses in scores for stops are the result of the approach (too fast, so that the horse is slowing down rather than gaining speed when the stop is initiated; running toward the wall instead of in a straight line, for example). "U" turn rollbacks, in which the horse makes a small half circle instead of rocking back on his hocks for a 180-degree turn are also common--and costly.


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