Here leading show producers and riders Simon and Natalie Reynolds of Team Reynolds provide some advice…
In the show ring it’s not all about looking pretty, it’s about showing off your horse to the best of his ability and there is plenty of training that you can do at home so you make the right first impression for the judge.
Work it in walk
The walk is the first impression for the judges when entering the show ring, yet quite often riders forget to practice the walk when riding on a day to day basis. Because it’s so important, the walk should be practiced before and after faster work or a schooling session, not only for warming up and cooling down, but to perfect the gait itself.
The best time to practice the walk is out hacking. We like the horses to naturally step out and stretch for the contact without the pressures of being in an arena.
Exercises in the school with poles can also help the horse and encourage him to take bigger strides and reach.
Often horses and riders can become tense on entering the ring. You want the walk to be purposeful, active and free of tension. The tail should be swinging and relaxed and the horse ideally should over-track equally behind.
I often find the best walk is achieved when the rider can relax and allow the horse to move out naturally without restrictions. A looser rein and a positive leg aid will allow the horse to achieve a true free walk. If your horse feels tense, drop the hand a little and give them a reassuring pat.
Also if horses aren’t sufficiently warmed up, or have been stood around, they will typically show short strides. Horses often benefit from a trot and a canter just before going in the ring to warm up the muscles and help them relax.
Perfecting the Gallop
You need plenty of stamina for a great gallop and potentially a judge’s ride. The judges want to see a keen horse but not a rude or unruly horse that is anticipating the gallop or misbehaving. It should look fluent and effortless.
The transition from the canter to gallop should be smooth and not forced. I like to start asking my horse to move up slightly in the canter on the corner before the straight you’ll be extending on. Think about setting the horse up before the judge is watching so it looks neat and easy.
The gallop is not about how fast your horse can go. The judge is looking for your horse to take a bigger stride and to lower and lengthen across the ground. The acceleration and pulling up from the gallop should be controlled and smooth.
It is better to stay in the saddle with a secure seat when galloping. It’s neater and also safer if your horse does have a spook or a buck.
You should give sufficiently with your hands so the horse can stretch out the neck and lower unhindered. You can lean forward slightly with the movement of the horse so you aren’t left behind.
The only way to perfect the gallop is to practice. Practice while riding out in a group, at the front or behind others, as well as in the arena. I do believe that horses need a good ‘blow out’ every now and again.
Just remember, you are schooling your horse for a judge to ride sometimes, so if your horse gets keen in the gallop, don’t overdo it on the go-round.
All the horses at Team Reynolds are fed on Fibre-Beet to help maintain good condition throughout while training and during the busy showing season. Fibre-Beet is a formulated blend containing all the benefits of the original Speedi-Beet product, with added high quality Alfalfa for optimum condition and to provide quality protein for muscle tone and function.
Alfalfa can help with topline and that extra finishing touch for competition horses, or simply in maintaining weight and a healthy, shiny coat.
Photo courtesy of Real Time Imaging.