Show & Competition – Problems & Correction
On this page, I want to cover a topic that plaques tons of people who show their horse in competition.
You can read it below.
However, what I wrote isn't entirely complete.
There are SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES related to certain events… along with the behavior problems associated with horses that compete in those events.
The events are… barrel racing (including most speed or timed events) and reining competition (or any event which includes a repeated pattern).
It's common for horses in these events to develop behavior problems that a rider may MIS-INTERPRET.
Many barrel racing horses will balk and rear when asked to enter the arena to run the pattern… causing the rider to believe his horse has a REARING problem.
In this case, the horse actually does NOT have a rearing problem… the rearing is simply a SYMPTOM of the real problem.
The REAL problem (the root cause) is the horse DREADS going in the arena because he ANTICIPATES having an unpleasant experience in the arena.
The only reason the horse is rearing is to try to prevent something unpleasant from happening.
Take away the "dread", take away the unpleasantness and the rearing will automatically stop.
When you alleviate the ROOT CAUSE of the problem, the SYMPTOM GOES AWAY.
Dread and anticipation are usually the root cause of most problems which plague competition horses.
There are plenty of ways of preventing these problems from occurring… and still have a competitive show horse.
The best way is to give the horse no-pressure variety of things to do in the arena.
You need to enter the arena and do nothing but ride around relaxed. Take the pressure off.
For every hard run you make, going for the win… you need to do at least two no-pressure rides in the arena.
Let the horse know, sometimes the arena is a pleasant place to be.
I've offered some additional solutions below but there is more that needs to be said here. I just ran out of gas before I could cover it in more detail.
Okay, read it below.
Dear Friend and Horseman,
Welcome to another Horse Training Tips Insider Newsletter.
If you ever plan on showing a horse or currently show, this message
is pretty important.
I’m going to talk about the one thing that RUINS more good show horses than anything else I can think of.
It’s a common problem that plagues almost all beginning non pros, in almost all events. And it’s a problem that is every professional trainer’s nightmare.
And to make matters worse, once a truly intelligent horse has developed this problem, it’s one of the most difficult problems to fix.
I’m talking about a horse that has learned to CHEAT his rider when in the SHOW arena.
Professional trainers call this type of behavior “SHOW SMART“.
Sounds like a “good” thing, doesn’t it?
Sounds like it means a horse is really savvy about being shown and tries hard to WIN.
What it really means is the horse is savvy about being shown and tries hard to LOSE.
Of course, the horse doesn’t comprehend that he’s in a contest but “losing” is still the end result.
All the horse knows is that he’s performing in a way that he’s been TAUGHT when in a show situation.
In other words, when being shown, the horse has either been taught GOOD things or he’s been taught BAD things.
After stating the above, most people ask, “Why would somebody train a horse to be bad at the shows?
Isn’t the objective to try to do well”?
Yes, but there is more to it than what meets the eye.
HERE’S WHAT CAUSES THIS PROBLEM
Let me explain how this problem comes about.
It’s a very common scenario.
Imagine you are a decent rider.
In your arena at home, you do a pretty good job of riding your horse and getting him to perform well.
Well enough that you think it would be fun to take your horse to some local shows and compete.
So, you call the show secretary and enter up in a couple of classes.
The night before the show, you start to feel this little “twinge” in your stomach.
A twinge of “pre-show” jitters.
No big deal, most people get a little nervous when they first start showing.
However, next morning while driving to the show, that little twinge turns into a full blown KNOT and you’re starting to get a major case of STAGE FRIGHT.
Once at the show, you saddle your horse and begin preparing him for the class.
You start tuning him up only to discover that your horse is acting DIFFERENTLY here at the show than he normally does at home.
Maybe your horse hasn’t been hauled much and it’ll take a few shows for him to settle down.
Usually though, the MAIN reason for your horse acting differently is because you are RIDING him differently.
Your NERVOUSNESS is causing you to ride stiff and tight.
And your stiffness is causing you to apply the cues in a way your horse isn’t used to, causing him to act weird and perform poorly.
Then, when it’s your turn to show, your horse makes so many mistakes it kind of freaks you out.
In your mind, you’re thinking, “I want to get this over with and get the heck out of here”.
All in all, the show hasn’t been a very good experience for you or the horse.
And since you are new to showing, this scenario will probably re-play itself a few more times until you start to settle down and relax.
This is NORMAL.
And in most cases, no real damage to the horse’s training has been done.
When you start to relax and ride well at the show, your horse will return to his good habits and perform well.
BE AWARE THOUGH…
If you CONTINUE to ride poorly SHOW AFTER SHOW… you will absolutely RUIN your horse for the show arena.
In essence, you will actually TRAIN him to be BAD every time he enters the show pen.
I’ve seen this happen so many times it isn’t funny.
I’ve witnessed “champion quality” show horses turned into mediocre dinks by riders who just didn’t understand the consequences of the mistakes they were making.
After six months of wreck after wreck in the show pen, you couldn’t get those horses to perform correctly if your life depended on it.
The best way I know to get over being nervous when showing is to enter a bunch of classes right in a row.
I mean enter 4 to 6 classes back to back.
You’ll get acclimated, settle down and relax.
And so will your horse.
THE OTHER REASON horses become “show smart” is because the rider neglects to CORRECT the horse when he makes mistakes in the show arena.
Many non pros think it’ll make them look bad if they have to school the horse right in the middle of their run.
So consequently, they just let the horse make all the mistakes he wants.
After a few shows, the horse has figured out that he doesn’t have to work up to par when he’s at the show.
He knows the rider isn’t going to correct him and takes full advantage of the situation.
HERE’S HOW TO PREVENT THE PROBLEM
Okay, so let’s talk about what you can do to prevent your horse from becoming show smart.
First, if you are so nervous at the show that you can’t think straight and relax, you need to get a handle on it.
In most cases, after a few shows, you will start to settle down and be okay. This is normal and nothing to be concerned about.
However, if nine or ten shows go by and you are still so nervous that you can’t relax, it’s time to make a CONCENTRATED EFFORT to get over it.
If you don’t, you risk conditioning your “MUSCLE MEMORY” to always ride that way when showing.
PLUS, you will RUIN your horse for the show arena.
I highly recommend two books that can help you deal with this.
The two books are titled…
“The Inner Game of Tennis” and “Psycho Cybernetics”.
Both are available from Amazon.com.
ALSO, when you are showing your horse and he makes a BAD mistake,
CORRECT him IMMEDIATELY.
Yes, correct him right there in the show arena in front of the judge and everybody.
Don’t make a big deal out of it.
Calmly take a hold of your horse, correct him and then continue on with the rest of your run.
If he makes another bad mistake, correct him again.
You’ve probably heard the old adage, “train your horse at home, not at the show“.
Well, it’s HOGWASH.
Horses aren’t that stupid.
They know the difference between being ridden at home and at a show.
They’ll quickly learn to work great at home and then cheat like hell at the show because they know you won’t correct them.
NOW, if you are not experienced enough to recognize what’s going wrong and make corrections, let somebody who IS experienced (like a professional trainer) occasionally show the horse.
Let the trainer correct the horse in a class or two. This will keep things from getting too far out of hand and keep your horse honest.
FIXING A CONFIRMED SHOW SMART CHEATER
Right off the bat, let me tell you, fixing a confirmed cheater can be pretty difficult.
Especially if the horse has been cheating for a year or more.
It’s way easier to PREVENT the problem than it is to FIX it.
To get your horse to be consistently honest, you need to make the act of cheating UNCOMFORTABLE for the horse.
And in EXTREME cases, your correction may also have to be extreme.
READ THE ABOVE TWO LINES AGAIN.
Start out giving your horse the benefit of the doubt.
When he cheats, DO NOT be severe… just simply correct him.
There is a good chance he’ll see the error of his ways and give it up within a few shows.
However, if your horse refuses to see the light, you are going to
have to be more demanding.
Insist that he works right and if he refuses, you may have to
Be prepared, this rehabilitation period could take a long time.
The last show smart horse I fixed took a YEAR.
DON’T PURCHASE THE PROBLEM
Let me encourage you to not buy a horse that already has this
“show smart” problem.
When you are in the market to buy a horse to show, you need to
If you are a novice, you definitely need to buy an EXPERIENCED
show horse. BUT, that experience needs to be GOOD experience.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to buy a horse that has been shown a
lot by a non pro (unless that non pro was an expert rider/showman).
And if that horse’s last two owners were rank amateurs, I wouldn’t
want him even if they gave him away.
It’s almost GUARANTEED that horse will be a confirmed cheater.
And yes, there are exceptions to the rule but they are few and far between.
If I was spending a lot of money, I wouldn’t want to risk it.
Ideally, buy a horse that has been shown successfully by a good rider who has kept the horse HONEST.
I would recommend you hire a trainer to watch that horse being
shown to see if there are any serious problems.
If there are, don’t buy him.
I’d also want to see the horse being shown more than once. I’d
want to see him shown in different arenas too.
If that isn’t practical, at least watch a video of the horse being shown a few times.
If the horse works mediocre in ANY of the videos, be wary.
WHY WOULD ANYBODY SHOW A VIDEO OF THE HORSE
WORKING POORLY… UNLESS IT WAS A POOR HORSE?
Again, there are exceptions to the above statement but it would sure make me leery.
I do want to point out that “video” seldom does a horse’s performance justice.
The “live” performance is usually way better than it looks on video… especially cutting horses.
OF ALL THE DIFFERENT EVENTS, I believe the most difficult horses to keep honest are reining horses.
The reason is because all the reining patterns are so similar.
The horse quickly learns the patterns and begins to ANTICIPATE the maneuvers.
This really screws up a run.
I mean, within a few shows, most horses figure out the lead changes are coming right after the circles.
The horse will anticipate this and try to change leads before the rider asks for it.
And if the rider isn’t careful, the horse will learn to BLOW through that lead change, too.
Both are very bad things for a horse to do.
Same thing with the run-down and stop.
It doesn’t take the horse long to figure out that whenever he is pointed straight down the area, he’s going to be asked to build speed and then come to a sliding stop.
Next thing you know, that horse will get STRONG on the bit and start CHARGING the run-down.
He’ll also start SCOTCHING from anticipating the stop.
Again, both are very serious problems… especially if you want to get a decent score.
IN A COUPLE OF MY VIDEOS, I go into a lot of detail on how to prevent and fix these “anticipation” problems.
I highly recommend you get my video, “TEACH YOUR HORSE FLYING LEAD CHANGES”:
Also get, “TEACH YOUR HORSE TO STOP LIGHT & COLLECTED” volume 2:
Now, if you don’t already have “VOLUME 1.5”, get it and watch it FIRST.
Without it, you might not understand some of the key elements needed for volume 2.
Here is the link to volume 1.5:
Well, this wraps it up for this newsletter. I hope you liked it.
Until next time, have fun training your horse.