Show Ring Ready
TFE ambassador Martha Wyatt-Luth shares her top tips of how she mentally and physically prepares for the show ring.
As we all know, riding is as much a mental sport as a physical one. I have definitely experienced this in my time in the show ring this year. I may be just as physically capable of winning a class a tomorrow as I was last week, but I may not win it again tomorrow because my mind may not be as sharp, I may not be practicing the course enough, my horse may be off his game, etc. Winning a class is like an algebraic formula. All the components must be there in order to make the formula successful. Since riding is a sport done with another animal, there are endless components needed to make the formula work. I do everything I can within my powers to have my horse and I prepared before we enter the show ring in order to have a successful trip.
My horse is not only my partner in the ring, but he is also an athlete. I make sure before each class he is 100% ready to trot into the show ring and compete his best. Since I do not have my own groom I do most things myself for my horse at the shows. This works in my favor; when I walk into the show ring I know that he had a good breakfast with all his supplements, he had a long enough hand walk, he drank enough water, his bridle isn’t too tight, his girth isn’t too loose, etc. Before I tack up my horse each show morning I go through a checklist of his body and its relation to his tack in what I need to put on him. For example from nose to tail, to ears to hooves I visualize everything I need to put on him and take it all out before I proceed in tacking him up with all of it.
Don’t forget about yourself either! Sometimes we may be so focused on our horses we forget that we have to get ready as well. After all, we want to perform our best and be the best rider possible for our horse on course. I visualize the same checklist I used for my horse, for myself. I think head to toe of what I need to be wearing and I get it all out (if I wasn't wearing it already) and put it on. This checklist visual really helps me not to forget anything for shows. Lastly, I plan my ringside bucket of stuff for my horse and a ringside backpack for me. I think about all the circumstances that could happen in the schooling ring and I pack for it.
My usual ringside bucket:
- Two rags (one for my horse, one for me)
- Greenspot Remover (in case I missed one, or if he pooped at the ring and it got messy)
- Hoof pick
- Hard brush (for sweat and dirt)
- Fly spray (you’ll really regret forgetting this one!)
- Crop (because I usually don’t carry one)
- Farrier’s Formula Hoof Polish (The best stuff for hooves!)
- Mesh Sheet or Rain Sheet
My usual ringside backpack:
- Tall boot sponge and polish (just in case)
- Water with my TFE logo sticker (always!!)
- More rags (never enough)
Sometimes I add more depending on the show, but this is usually all that I need. I am naturally a very organized person so this stuff comes naturally to me, but if you aren’t naturally organized that’s ok! It's all about trying different things and finding a system that works for you. It will definitely take time and experience to get there, but after a while the system of organization becomes just a way you do things normally.
The hardest part of being show ring ready for me is actually being in the ring. Getting more experience in the ring really helps me feel more calm and focused. I used to be very nervous entering the ring, my legs would feel kind of numb and weak and I would get butterflies in my stomach. Thankfully they always went away as soon as I began cantering, but it made me less focused on the course before I began and it didn’t help me calm down my horse. Now, as I enter the show ring all I think about is how I will ride the course, keeping my horse calm, and showing him the intimidating jumps before I begin my round. I don’t even think about my legs or stomach anymore. The experience of being in the ring helped most but I definitely have some go to methods of staying sharp in the ring.
#1 Learning the course it the most important thing I do in preparation for my class. When learning a course I first figure out with jumps go with which number on the paper, it helps me understand the layout of the course more. Then I usually trace my fingers in the air of the track I would do on course, using the photo of the course on my phone. Once I understand the track I would take a look at the course in real life and figure it out using the jumps instead of the numbers on the picture. Figuring out the striding in between jumps helps me relate one jump to another, so the course is continuous. For jump-offs it's a bit trickier. Since the order is usually random numbers of jumps I usually memorize the number order first and then figure out the jumps in relation to their numbers (because sometimes they are different) and then I figure out the track using the jumps I just learned. I practice the course by tracing my fingers in the air to where my track would be on course and I speak aloud the course as I go and what time of turns I will do and the striding in between jumps. The striding to jumps in crucial in the jump-off to be efficient with your track to get a quicker time than anyone else.
#2 Having a good track is key to keeping a good pace and finding good distances on course so I usually trace the course in the air a few minutes after I compete to visualize my track one last time.
#3 Having a confident trot on my horse entering the ring and showing him the intimidating jumps/turns before I begin my round.
#4 I keep my horse calm throughout the course by guiding him straight to each jump with good rein contact, leg on his sides to support him to/over the jumps, keeping him on the right track, and using a modified seat to be lighter on his back but having enough contact to efficiently guide him on my visualized track.
#5 Counting aloud my pace by saying 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. This helps me maintain my pace throughout the course and stay focused. Plus, it's under my breath so no one even hears it! It is truly an amazing trick to do because it helps me have a good pace which enables a good distance to each jump and a quick time on the clock.
I hope these tips will help you in the show ring. I always remind myself that even if I don’t place in a class, I went out there and gained more experience, which makes it worth doing. Being show ring ready takes time and experience, so all you can do is get in that ring and have some fun!
-The Fit Equestrian Ambassador Martha Wyatt-Luth