Fit Tips to Help You Feel Your Best at Horse Shows

Increase your energy using these fit tips so you can stay strong and feel your best through long horse shows.

By Kelly Altschwager, With Nichole Chirico; Photos by Nichole Chirico

When you’re in the saddle, pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. If parts of your body feel tight or unbalanced, take extra time to stretch.

Reining competitions can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, and when it comes to being at a show for an extended period of time, you need to provide energy to your body so you can perform at your best. While these tips are designed with horse shows in mind, they’re also great to practice at home so long days at the barn become a breeze.

Stay well rested. As basic as it sounds, it’s important to give your body a chance to rest when you can. If you have to ride in the middle of the night, adjust your schedule to ensure that you get some sleep, even if it’s just a 20-minute nap. If you struggle with sleeping, try melatonin before bed.

Drink plenty of water. When you’re busy at a show, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Water regulates your body temperature, improves sleep, and helps with digestion. Staying hydrated increases your body’s energy and keeps you firing on all cylinders. 

Meal prep. Avoid filling yourself with processed, greasy concession-stand food that leaves you feeling tired. Bring foods that fuel your body, including pre-cooked chicken, low-sodium lunch meat, canned tuna, string cheese, salads, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh veggies and fruit. 

Keep moving. Take 15 minutes to get blood pumping through your body and increase oxygen flow. Go for a run, do some jumping jacks, stretch, or do this quick high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise. 

  • High knees: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lift your left leg to your chest, then switch to your right leg and continue the movement by alternating your legs and moving at a running pace. 
  • Burpees: Begin standing and move into a squat with your hands touching the ground. Kick your feet back into plank position while keeping your arms extended and perform a push-up. Return your feet to squat position and drive forward with your glutes as you stand. For a modified version, keep your stance wide (like you would for a sumo squat) and skip the push-up when in position.
  • Mountain climbers: Start in push-up position and pull your left knee into your chest. Keep your abs tight as you drive through with your glutes to maintain the correct push-up (or plank) position. Quickly switch legs pulling your right knee in as your left leg goes back to your start position. Move your feet as fast as you can without compromising your plank position.

Do each exercise for 30 seconds to one minute in succession and then rest for 30 seconds to one minute. Depending on the amount of time you have, do three to five rounds. 

Listen to your body. Anytime you’re in the saddle, pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. If you feel any imbalances, adjust your plan accordingly. For example, if your hips and quads feel tight, work on stretching your hip flexors and quads before you ride again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Altschwager, Wellington, Colorado, is an ACE-certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist; PiYo instructor; fitness expert at Fitness1 Club Wellington; and owns and operates Western Workouts, a personal-training service geared toward helping the busy horseperson. Learn more at  westernworkouts.com.

Set Up Your Stop by Developing Your Corner Turn

Developing a well-executed corner turn is the prelude to an expert rundown and sliding stop.

By Sam Schaffhauser, With Allison Armstrong Rehnborg; Photos by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

Your turn at the corner sets you up for success in your rundown and stop. Use my troubleshooting tips when you practice at home.

The success of your sliding stop doesn’t begin when your horse starts picking up speed in the rundown. Instead, your best stop starts in the corner of the arena, just before you make your turn to enter the rundown.

Just like a +1 sliding stop or an expertly rated rundown takes time, patience, and practice to perfect, the best corner turns are developed with shoulder-control drills to create a light, responsive horse. When you and your horse can handle turns with ease, without dropping a shoulder or speeding through them, the stage is set for a good rundown and a first-class stop. Here, I’ll share my best tips and drills for making smooth turns, straight rundowns, and substantial stops, all while teaching your horse to stay light and responsive in the bridle.

What’s in a Corner Turn?

A good, well-timed turn leads to a smoother rundown, which gives you and your horse plenty of time to prepare and think about how to lay down that +1 stop. Your rundown starts at the end of the arena as you’re coming around the turn. I believe that setting up the perfect approach to that rundown is more important than the actual stop itself because that turn determines how the rest of your rundown will go. If you can get your horse properly turned around the end of the arena, and if he stays relaxed during your rundown and waits for you to rate him all the way down the pen, that’s going to lead to the best stop you can have. 

Your horse should enter the turn relaxed and soft in the bridle, allowing you to guide his shoulders with ease.

When I train at home, I work my horses around both ends of the arena to develop control of their shoulders. The experienced reining horse is very familiar with the majority of our patterns, so he often figures out that when you make a turn at the end of the arena, you’re probably going to ask him to run to a stop. That means when you’re working on drills at home or preparing for your next show, you may have to work on surprising your horse with different parts of patterns, so he doesn’t always anticipate what you’ll ask next. For example, when I’m at home getting ready for a show, I practice pieces of my patterns instead of the entire pattern over and over again. I also practice all of my drills on both the left and right leads. I’ll work on that left lead, and as soon as that side feels good, I’ll take a break and then work on the right side. 

With the following drills, make sure you work the left and right leads so your horse can use his body in both directions with ease. 

Drills for Troubleshooting the Corner

Good shoulder control is the key to making a smooth turn. As you’re rounding the corner of the arena, you need to be able to control your horse’s shoulders to direct him onto a straight line down the pen toward your stop.  I want my horse to be nice and quiet and to wait on me to make the turns. I don’t want to have to handle him too much around a turn, either. When I lift my hand, that rein is going to rub on the outside of his neck, and when that rein touches my horse’s neck, I want him to start making that turn on his own, nice and soft, by moving his shoulders and getting into a straight line. There are a few common problems that can happen in the corner, so it’s important to work out those kinks before you get to the show pen.

Problem #1: Reluctance to Steer

I want my horse to respond when light rein pressure tells him to move over. If I find that my horse doesn’t want to steer or respond to my rein, I’ll spend some time working on circles to remind him. 

  • Lope a 10- to 12-foot circle, asking your horse to yield to your inside leg and the bit. As you approach the turn, remove your inside leg and lift your hand. He should yield his chin, without bracing against the bridle, and turn smoothly. Once you get on that straight line, point your horse, slowly relax your hand, and begin building speed into the rundown.
  • If your horse struggles to yield, work on counter bends and counter circles to remind him to respond to your legs, seat, and hands. 

Problem #2: Turning Too Soon

As you approach the corner turn, your horse may anticipate your cues and make the turn before you’ve asked him to. If this happens, start thinking ahead.

  • Surprise your horse with a change in pattern. If I feel my horse start to turn left too early, I’ll pick up his shoulder and ask him to continue going straight instead of turning for the next three to four strides. Then I’ll ask for the turn.

If my horse persists in attempting to turn without my cue, I’ll pick his shoulders up and keep going straight. Then, instead of making a left turn, I’ll lope a small 8- to 10-foot counter circle in that corner, come back around, then go on a straight line toward the opposite end of the arena. Counter circles are a great tool for asking your horse to lift and move his shoulders. 

Setting up the perfect approach to your rundown can be more important than the actual stop itself, because that turn determines how the rest of your rundown will go.

Problem #3: Rushing the Rundown

Some horses may make a perfect corner turn but then immediately rush into the rundown, caught up in the adrenaline and anticipation of speeding into that stop. When that happens, you can end up feeling like you’re sitting in the back seat of an out-of-control car. By contrast, a reining horse should be willingly guided by its rider, from the first small, slow circles to the last big stop. 

Ideally, as my horse and I exit the turn, my horse waits for my cue before he begins to pick up speed. I wait about three strides, then cluck to begin asking for a gradual increase of speed. With each stride, I want my horse to gradually pick up speed until I say whoa to ask for the stop. When I lift up on the reins slightly to rate my horse’s speed, that’s the cue for my horse to slow down. 

If my horse doesn’t listen, won’t rate, or just takes off, I go back to the basics. I use soft corrections in situations like these. I don’t punish my horses for errors like running off during the rundown, because when you do that, it just creates more anxiety—and in many cases, anxiety is the reason for a fast take-off from a turn.

  • If your horse charges into the rundown, draw him softly back down to a walk or trot. Then work through basic drills like circles and counter circles to help quiet your horse’s mind and get him back to listening to you rather than listening to that adrenaline rush. 
  • If I ride around the corner and my horse tries to take off, but responds to my cue to slow down, I’ll break him down into a trot for a few strides, then ask him to pick back up at the lope. Then we’ll lope down the arena, make the turn, and come back to try again. 
  • If I pick up on the reins to rate speed, and my horse grabs the bridle and pulls against me, that’s when I’m going to pull back steadily until he finally stops and begins to back up for me. Once he yields to my hand, then we can start working together again. 

The most important part of administering a correction is to stay calm and quiet. Things happen because horses have brains just like we do, and they can think outside the box that we want them to think in. When there’s a problem, you must adapt to what just happened, and sometimes that can throw you off. But the softer and more relaxed you can stay while you’re dealing with an issue, the better, because it’ll help keep your horse soft and relaxed, too. 

As you enter the rundown, look ahead and line yourself and your horse up with a spot on the far arena wall. Planning out where your rundowns should fall in the arena is key to ensuring you stay on a straight line during your rundown to set yourself up for a good stop.

Find a Spot

Once you’ve developed a tidy, effortless corner turn and your horse responds well to your cues regarding his speed, it’s time to find that straight line for your rundown. During a rundown, I spend the first two to three strides getting straight and lining my horse up. Then I’ll cluck and start building my horse’s speed. As he speeds up, I want my horse to continue stretching and reaching underneath himself, because the more he’s reaching with his hindquarters, the easier it’ll be for him to get underneath himself during the stop and drop his hocks in one big move. 

At a horse show, I study the arena to decide where I want to lay out my rundowns. Every arena is different, but I like to find a banner on the wall or a pole or other spot on the far end of the arena to help line out my rundowns. Pattern placement is No. 1 in the show pen, so you want to plan your pattern mentally and find ways to help yourself stay on track during your run.

You’ll also want to plan when and where you cue your horse for his stop, but don’t spend your rundown staring at the spot that you’ve picked out in the arena dirt. If you do that, you may find yourself slowing down just before your stop, and that’s not what you want. Instead, look straight ahead between your horse’s ears at the fence or past the fence, and aim your horse at that point. Then, as you ride, stay aware of where you are in the arena. Make your rundowns long and smooth to show the judges what you’re capable of, and once you’re past your center marker, you can ask your horse for that big, beautiful stop.

A well-executed turn and a long, smooth rundown will lead to your best stops.

Avoid Reiner Burnout

For the well-trained horse that knows his maneuvers inside and out, anticipation may always be a potential issue. In addition to working on pieces of patterns at home and surprising your horse with different variations, think about getting outside the arena. If you have a big field available, take your horse on a ride, and let him see the world. That helps keep your horse mentally fresh and reminds him there’s more to the world than the maneuvers he performs in the reining pen.

It’s also good to remember that your finished horses don’t necessarily need to be put through their fastest paces every day. I don’t stop them hard every day. I don’t turn them hard every day. Those horses are trained; they know what their job is, and my job is to keep them mentally fresh, sound, and happy. Make sure your finished horses can complete maneuvers correctly, and then let them go through the motions nice and slow at home. In the end, these horses are athletes, and it’s our duty to keep their minds and bodies sound so they can enjoy and fulfill their jobs for years to come. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NRHA Professional Sam Schaffhauser operates his business out of Eads, Tennessee. Schaffhauser has been a multiple finalist in every NRHA major event, and has coached futurity and derby champions, as well as NRHA world title contenders and affiliate competitors. Schaffhauser focuses on developing aged-event horses to their highest potential, assisting in client investments, and coaching dedicated non pros.

Andrea Fappani’s Post-Show Evaluation

Learning shouldn’t stop when you exit the show pen. Learn to evaluate your run after the show like NRHA Five Million Dollar Rider Andrea Fappani.

By Andrea Fappani, With Jennifer Paulson; Photos by Jennifer Paulson

Watching the video of your run after your ride is a common practice. But taking a detailed look at it to understand what the judge sees can give you clues for improving your performance.

Whether you have the run of your life or your pattern is a disaster, the notes and thoughts you take away from each performance shape your next steps. Being strategic about using your post-run resources is key to continued improvement with your horse, no matter the level at which you compete. I use two essential components to learn from each run on every single horse I show: notes I write after the run and an evaluation of my video. Here’s how both influence my plans to improve before my next show.

Notebook of Insights

Once I’m home from a show, I write notes about how each horse performed. I consider everything I felt in each maneuver, what I liked and didn’t like, and what I  need to work on. I give my horses two or three days off after a show, so it’s easy to forget. Detailed notes help keep those thoughts at the top of my mind.

My notes aren’t all negative—I keep the things I liked in the back of my mind and note what it took to get to that place. For example, if I spent two weeks working on a left turnaround and saw a marked improvement, I note what I did to get there. If the issue arises again, I can refer to my notes to fix it.

The things I didn’t like about a run can take a while to fix. But by noting what needs to be addressed, I can make a plan and give myself enough time to work on those problems rather than try to tackle them in a short time right before the next competition.

Video Evaluation

Most of us watch videos of our runs. For me, a lot of times what I feel and what an observer (the judge) sees are different. Watching my video puts me in the judge’s chair to see what he sees, and then I can compare that to what I feel in the saddle. For example, I might think I’m going a certain speed, but on the video, it looks much slower. Noticing that allows me to put more effort into showing my horse’s speed and quality of movement the next time we show. A lot of times, a really good mover looks like he’s going slower because it’s effortless. By contrast, a horse that doesn’t have great movement might look faster because he really has to work at it. Watching the video allows me to change my speed to help show my horse’s degree of difficulty.

I also closely observe my body position. It’s easy to get into bad habits when no one is watching, such as looking down, slumping over, or helping my horse too much. All of these things influence my presentation and my horse’s ability to do his job correctly. 

Sometimes I might feel like something is going along well, and I’m pretty satisfied. But when I watch the video, I can see from another perspective that I’m helping my horse too much. Then I know that I need to turn loose of him and let him try harder for me.

Along with seeing what I need to fix, I can also determine what I can leave alone. For example, I might feel like my horse leans too much in his left circles, but when I watch the video, it doesn’t look like it. Instead of focusing on something that’s not going to markedly improve my score, I can focus on other issues that will.  

After every run, focus on the changes you can make that will influence your score. It’s easy to get bogged down in details, especially if you’re a perfectionist. Your desire to get everything just right takes up time you should be spending on fixing issues you identify that can help your outcome. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

headshot of Andrea Fappani

Andrea Fappani is an NRHA Five Million Dollar Rider and has won every NRHA major event multiple times. Learn more at fappaniperformance.com.

Don’t ‘Safety Up’ When Your Trainer Asks For Speed

Build the confidence in yourself and your horse at home so you can go fast in the show pen.

By Patrick Flaherty, With Jennifer Paulson, Photos by Jennifer Paulson

The last thing you want to do when your trainer asks you to step up your speed is lose confidence and ‘safety up.’ Instead, build speed while building your confidence and consistency.

When you hear your trainer yell, “Go faster!” at a show or when you’re at home practicing, chances are, you already think you’re going pretty fast—maybe as fast as you’re comfortable going. 

Comfort zones are understandable, and your trainer should know yours. But it’s also his or her job to push you past your threshold as you become a stronger rider and have loftier goals. Speed is one common area where I see non pros struggle with taking their riding to the next level. 

The Trust Factor

I won’t ask a non pro to do any more than I know he or she can. Pushing too hard is a recipe for disaster, and your coach knows that, too. It’s my job to identify when you’re ready and push as needed to get you where you need to be. I could tell you to go out there and run fast, but that’s not going to achieve your goals. Your speed has to be controlled, and you have to be ready for it.

The key is to work up to the speed you need. I speak about it in terms of miles per hour—though I won’t say the exact measurements are correct. But the analogy of going from so many miles per hour to a few more works well.

Finding Your Speedometer

First, let’s talk about speed in terms of training horses. You teach a horse to go 10 miles per hour by going 10 miles per hour. You can’t teach him by going eight or 12 miles per hour. Once he’s confident and comfortable there, you can move up to 12, 14, and 18 miles per hour. I say 18 miles per hour is peak speed when you’re running to a stop for a +1/2 maneuver score. But until your horse knows how to go 18 miles per hour and stay at that speed—not waffling between 18, 16, and back up to 20—you’re not going to get that +1/2. Plus, it’s a great way to build confidence in your horse: he knows what he can do, and he’s comfortable (and reliable) doing it. 

The same things go for you as a rider. There’s no point in you trying to go 18 miles per hour in your large, fast circles when you can’t consistently go 16 miles per hour doing the same thing. Start at one speed, master it consistently, then move to the next notch. If you think you have 16 miles per hour mastered, move up to 18, and you find you’re not ready for it, go back to 16. But the key is not to get stuck! 

When I say, “Let’s go fast,” my rider knows what speed they’re at from previous lessons. Let’s say that’s 14 miles per hour. They ride three or four circles, until it’s smooth and consistent, and then we slow down or break to a walk.

Practice at Home

At home, my riders go whatever speed they’ll show at in the next competition. When I say, “Let’s go fast,” my rider knows what speed they’re at from previous lessons. Let’s say that’s 14 miles per hour. They ride three or four circles, until it’s smooth and consistent, and then we slow down or break to a walk. 

Next, I ask them to build more speed. They get to 15 or 16 miles per hour, lope a circle and a half consistently at that speed, and we quit. I find that slowing down at the top of the circle instead of the middle helps remove some of the anticipation that can build in the middle of the arena. If they fall apart with more speed, we go back to 14 miles per hour.

This type of practice allows you to get a good feel for the actual speed you’re going—especially because it often feels like you’re going faster than you really are. (Putting your hand up between your horse’s ears can feel really fast—but it’s probably not as fast as you think.) It gives you experience to know when your horse is running ahead of you or maybe is getting out of control, because no matter what speed, ideally every stride is identical once you establish your speed.

You have to practice how you’ll show. Going fast at home allows you to get the feel of traveling with speed and consistency. This goes for building speed in rundowns, too, when a consistent speed is crucial to a good stop.

This philosophy doesn’t just apply for circles—it’s a good way to think about rundowns, too. Ideally, when you lope off, your first stride is slower, your next two strides steadily build speed, then you reach the speed you want and maintain it until your stop. You might think you need to build speed with every stride, but that leaves the door open to lose control and safety up before you stop. You never want to be losing speed when you drop your hand and say “woah.” 

Considering your next show comes into play for your practice. If you’re preparing to compete at a smaller show where you won’t have to call on your horse, prepare that way at home. Maybe stay at 16 miles per hour and get super consistent. But if you’re getting ready for a major event—like a world show or a derby—you need to practice that way at home and prepare yourself and your horse at 18 miles per hour, if that’s what speed you intend to show.

Recognize Your Situation

You have to be a certain level of rider, with a certain level of horse, to be able to go 20 miles per hour. It takes years of building yourself as a horseman to confidently, consistently reach that kind of speed. The key is to recognize that you’re building your horsemanship as you progress from 14 miles per hour on up. 

Think of it this way: You have to consistently mark a 0 on a maneuver score before you can +1/2. Marking 70s consistently comes before 72s. It might be that your horse is a 70 horse—he might not have the talent to be the 72 horse you level-up to after a few years of building your skillset and mastering your consistency.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Patrick Flaherty, Scottsdale, Arizona, trains and shows horses in top-caliber aged events while also coaching a strong group of youth and non pro competitors and preparing their horses. He’s been a finalist in all NRHA major events, serves as the chairman of the NRHA Professionals Committee, and is an NRHA Judge.

Work Your Reiner, Without Good Ground

If you don’t have access to an arena with good ground at home, don’t fret! Though you might have to haul elsewhere to practice stops in an arena with quality dirt, there are plenty of things you can work on at home with your reiner.

Horse's legs loping on dirt
It’s an unfortunate fact: you might not always have great ground when you ride. But there are things you can practice in dirt that doesn’t suit a sliding stop.

By Kristin Pitzer

Good ground is an essential component for training and showing reining horses. But sometimes, you just don’t have access to it when you need to ride. Maybe you’re traveling with your horse or your arena is a muddy mess. Either way, there are plenty of things you can do with your reiner—even in less-than-desirable ground.

What’s Good Stopping Ground?

A reining horse can’t—and shouldn’t, to protect his soundness—perform a sliding stop on just any type of ground. He needs good ground to push on that’s not too slick, but still allows him to paddle and slide. Ground that’s too slippery can cause a wreck, and footing that’s too deep might create an injury.

Bad ground will also discourage a horse, says NRHA Professional Shane Brown, from Elbert, Colorado. If something painful happens to the horse or he falls down, he could lose his confidence and no longer want to do his job.

“If it’s painful or hard on a horse, he’s going to quit wanting to do it,” Brown cautions. “If it’s almost impossible to do his job, then he’s going to give up.”

NRHA Professional Kari Klingenberg, who trains out of Pinnacle Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona, added that trying to stop on bad ground will result in frustration for the rider, too. She says stopping and changing leads tend to be the hardest maneuvers for non pros, as there are so many things that can go wrong. Trying to ride to a sliding stop on improper footing only compounds those issues.

“I think, especially with bad ground, if your horse hits the ground and kind of stings himself, or if it’s sticky ground that he’s not going to be able to stop in really well, he might get a little intimidated and not want to stop if he’s jamming himself in the ground,” she shares. “Then it’s hard for you. You get yourself in the wrong position, and it’s hard on your timing.”

Female rider on bay horse loping in pasture
When riding on less-than-optimal ground, put safety first. Scope out the surface for holes to avoid and other hazards. Then focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t. This will help you make the most out of every ride.

Being familiar with the type of ground you have before you try to stop on it is the best way to prevent putting your horse in a bad situation and setting him up for failure. While not everyone has access to a covered pen, which is ideal for reining, many people have an outdoor space where they can ride. But outdoor reining arenas are the most difficult to construct due to the variety and intensity of the maneuvers required for the sport, according to arena footing specialist Bob Kiser.

Most disciplines require ground that will simply hold a horse up and keep him from getting in too deep and falling. Reining, on the other hand, needs ground that allows a horse to slide, but also isn’t so slick he falls down in his circles, for example. The type of material needed also can’t be so abrasive it burns the horses as they stop.

“The stopping part is where it gets tough,” warns Kiser, whose company is based in Gainesville, Texas, but does business worldwide. “I could build an outdoor jumping arena, 

and you could do anything—except stop—in that arena safely, and your horse will stay sound.”

No matter where you live, it’s important to talk to a knowledgeable footing specialist before staking out your riding space, especially if you want to slide. Kiser has seen many arenas ruined over the years because the wrong base or fill was used, and people lose thousands of dollars fixing arenas put in by contractors who didn’t know what they were doing.

It might seem like dragging bad footing would improve it, but having the wrong drag for a reining arena, especially one that’s outdoors, can cause more harm than good.

“There’s so much emphasis put on equipment to protect your horse and his feeding, care, and training,” Kiser says. “No matter what you do there, if you don’t have the right equipment to maintain that arena, that’s not going to help you.

“There are some drags that aren’t suited to an outdoor reining arena or even an indoor one,” he continues. “Some people buy them just because they’re less money. That’s money foolishly spent.”

When You Can’t Slide

Just because you don’t have access to good ground doesn’t mean all hope is lost. While not being able to practice sliding stops regularly can be a disadvantage, there are other exercises that allow you to break down the separate components of it.

“You can still work on going around the rectangle, working on your corners, and making sure your horse will rate if you slow down before you get to the end of the arena,” Klingenberg says. “Focus on your running. Really good-stopping horses run really free. You can go around your corner, make him wait for you to start building, then take hold and make sure he stays soft.”

Even though she has great ground at her facility, Klingenberg says she works on those things more than stopping. She checks her brakes, but focuses more on running straight and keeping her horses honest so they don’t anticipate the stop.

Another thing to practice is body language, including how you communicate the stop cue to your horse by sitting back on your pockets, keeping your eyes up, and being slow with your hands. You can do all this without the actual slide.

“You can practice that in lower gears where you’re not having to run and slide,” Brown shares. “Practice slowing your body language down and not throwing yourself back or throwing your legs off. You can slow that down and build your muscle memory.”

“Do those things at a lower speed, whatever your ground will let you do,” he continues. “If it’s really bad ground, do it at a walk or a trot; if it’s just not that ‘slidey’ but not going to be hard on my horse, I’ll do it at a lope. We all know our approach makes our stop anyway, so work on that approach.”

Brown says it’s also important to teach your horse how to transition down in his front end to do a sliding stop. That can be done be taking him from a rundown through each gait slowly, all the way to a “whoa.”

“You can work on your horse’s response to when you relax and start to move your legs to show him how to transition down,” Brown says. “I think that’s something most riders don’t do enough.”

Brown added it’s not necessary to practice stopping every day. He says non pros feel like they need to work on every maneuver every day, but
that can sometimes cause problems.

“Focus on the different maneuvers on different days, versus thinking every time you ride you’ve got to run and stop, change leads, turnaround, run fast, go slow,” Brown advises. “Sometimes you might make the mistake of thinking you’ve got to do all the maneuvers every time you ride. There are a lot of things you can do stopping-wise that don’t mean you’ve got to run and stop.”

He often sees seasoned horses that were kept fit but didn’t have access to good stopping ground all winter return to the show pen in the spring. The rider gives the horse a refresher on stopping the night before, and the next day they can go and be successful. To him, that proves that finished reiners don’t have to run and stop every day.

Beyond the Stop

The sliding stop and other maneuvers are very important for reining, but even more vital is keeping your horse in shape, both physically and mentally. That can be very difficult when you have poor ground to work with, but there are still steps you can take.

“Collection is a big part—making sure you’re able to drive your horse in a compact mass while he respects the pressure of your leg, the release of your leg, and the restriction or confinement of your hands together,” Brown explains. “Your horse needs to understand collection and be respectful of your cues.

“As far as the anticipation [seasoned horses can develop], doing things like practicing a rundown but not stopping at the end help prevent that,” he continues. “And you can do those same things in the pasture [with safe, dry footing].”

Horse's legs loping on grass
Work at a slower speed than you would in an arena with excellent footing. A slower pace can allow you to focus on correctness and your body language, which will improve your horse’s response.

Riding less intensive moves to keep a horse physically fit will help prepare him to do things like turn around and change leads. Be aware of hard footing so you don’t overwork your horse or cause an injury or soreness, but you can still do quite a bit if riding carefully.

“You can work circles and counter canter,” Klingeberg shares. “Training a horse to change leads in a big pasture is good because it’s less confined than an arena. You can just use a ton of area and push your horse’s body around.

“Spend a lot of time on steering because, when you go to show, you have to make sure your horse can steer,” Klingenberg adds. “That’s probably the most vital of anything. Any place where you can just steer and make sure your horse stays soft off the neck rein and your legs—that’s big.”

If your horse has “tricks up his sleeves” and likes to anticipate his next move, Klingenberg suggests practicing steering by making up random patterns and counter cantering if your horse leans one direction. You can stay one step ahead of your mount and refocus his attention on what you want him do.

Dreaded Dirt

Always watch out for deep or very hard ground. They pose different issues, but both can leave your mount needing veterinary care and time off.

Deep ground can cause muscle problems or soft-tissue injuries to your horse’s ligaments and tendons.
It requires your horse to put forth more effort, and if he isn’t used to that type of surface, he can easily overexert himself.

“All that works the same way, whether you’re loping circles, where you can overwork your horse or he can step wrong, or if you’re spinning,” Brown cautions. “A lot of times if your horse picks a pivot foot and drills a hole down in the ground, you don’t want to do that to the point it binds him up and he twists that hock. Plus, it’s more of a struggle for him to get around in super-deep dirt.”

Hard ground poses problems, too, due to repetitive concussion and the danger of slipping. If an athletic horse pounds his feet around in a spin on hard ground, that can cause soundness issues, or he might even slip and fall. Avoid performing maneuvers on ground that could allow for an accident, which will keep your horse confident in his ability to do his job.

Find a Mentor

Though it can be hard, especially if you’re new to the sport, to find the right kind of ground to practice on, at the end of the day, keeping your horse in shape and mentally focused goes farther than practicing maneuvers daily. When you’re ready to compete, finding a mentor to haul out to and work with can give you the edge you need to be show pen-ready.

“Participants in all events, not just Western sports, need a good coach and trainer,” Brown says. “With a good coach and trainer, you’ll have access to some good ground so your horse can practice stopping.”

Conquer Anxiety by Anticipating Success

Need to get in the right headspace? Believe in yourself!

By Jane Pike

Instead of focusing on the anxiety of competing, try focusing on the feelings you have after your ride—euphoria, joy, appreciation for you horse.

It’s the day before the show. You’ve been trying to distract yourself all week, but frankly, you can’t get your mind to focus on anything else. The worst thing about it? It feels like Groundhog Day. You feel a growing sense of anxiety in your stomach, and the more you try not to think about it, the worse it seems to get. 

But do you know what’s really annoying? Things have been going well at home with your horse. It’s just that as soon as you step into the arena to do your thing, the wheels fall off. Things that come easily in training feel totally out of reach. At this rate, it’ll be a miracle if you manage to hold it together at all.

Or so your mind would have you think, thanks to “anticipation anxiety.”

But do you know what’s really annoying? Things have been going well at home with your horse. It’s just that as soon as you step into the arena to do your thing, the wheels fall off. Things that come easily in training feel totally out of reach. At this rate, it’ll be a miracle if you manage to hold it together at all.

Or so your mind would have you think, thanks to “anticipation anxiety.”

But do you know what’s really annoying? Things have been going well at home with your horse. It’s just that as soon as you step into the arena to do your thing, the wheels fall off. Things that come easily in training feel totally out of reach. At this rate, it’ll be a miracle if you manage to hold it together at all.

Or so your mind would have you think, thanks to “anticipation anxiety.”

A Real Buzzkill

Of all the “competition curses” out there, anticipation anxiety gets the top spot on the list. It does an excellent job of messing up your brain space at the times when you really need it to be clear and on task. What’s more, anticipation anxiety feeds on itself to the point where it can be hard to define yourself as a rider or competitor without somehow adding that into the mix, too. Before you know it, you no longer see anxiety as a behavior but as part of your competitive identity.

Oh, I’m an anxious competitor, you might say.

Or…

I’m good in training, but I usually blow it in competition. My nerves often get the best of me. 

As soon as you fuse an emotional experience as part of your intrinsic makeup, you distance yourself from the ability to find a solution. Instead, you need to understand anxiety as exactly that: an emotional experience that calls you to get prepared and invites you to use your mental superpowers so they’re working for you, not against you.

Breaking Down the Break Down  

Let’s discuss the two main avenues that create anxiety, and perhaps more importantly, what you can do about it. 

The first is what I refer to as the “thought pathway,” where worry, rumination, or self-doubt trigger the physical experience of anxiety as the end point. The second is when an emotional and/or environmental trigger cues the amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for triggering the anxiety response) to sound the alarm, and as a consequence, you feel anxious. In the first instance, you experience anxiety as a direct consequence of the thoughts you’re entertaining and the meaning you’re attaching to them. Although the space between the thought and the feeling may become smaller and smaller, the more “practiced” you become at feeling anxious, the experience of anxiety in this case is essentially a cumulative one. 

Choosing anxiety or success is a choice. Anticipating success give you the mindset you need to overcome negative thoughts and build on a positive outlook.

In the case of anxiety brought about by environmental or emotional triggers, the experience of anxiety is instant and often defies logical thought and reasoning. (This is a common form of anxiety when there’s been accident, injury, or some kind of trauma.) While it’s usual for a relationship to exist between the two, the experience of “instant onset anxiety” usually creates anticipation anxiety about it happening in the future. The difference in how they come about means that the solution needs to be specific for each also. 

For the purposes of this article, I’ll share a mind hack that allows you to cut the anticipation anxiety loop and instead anticipate success. Before we get to that, however, you must understand how you create anticipation anxiety in the first place. 

Creating the Loop

To feel anxious, your thoughts need to go to a future-focused place where you imagine something you’re hoping to avoid or the worst-case scenario coming to life. In the case of competition, you might fester on concerns of your horse misbehaving or things not going as planned in front of a judge. As you do so, you create a mental movie: you see the scene unfolding in your mind’s eye, and you fill in the detail. You feel the feelings as if it was occurring in the here and now. You fill in the blanks with enough sensory detail for your unconscious mind (which has no concept of what’s real or imagined) to register the experience as happening now, creating a chain reaction in your brain and nervous system that leads to the experience of anxiety. 

This is what makes you feel anxious and uneasy, even if what you’re concerned about is nothing more than an imagined projection. Knowing this, you can use the same principles to create feelings of confidence and success.

The Hack

To anticipate success, I’d like you to transport yourself to 10 minutes past the successful completion of your run. When you’re anxious about your draw coming up, imagine what you’d see, hear, and feel 10 minutes after the successful completion of your pattern. If you’re riding at a lesson or in clinic and it’s causing you concern, in your mind’s eye, bring to light what it would look like 10 minutes after it wrapped up.

Here’s an example. It’s 10 minutes after you’ve finished your run. You’re back at the stalls unsaddling your horse. You’ve undone the cinch, and you can see steam rising off your horse’s skin; he’s still hot and a little sweaty. You give him a pat and feel the warmth of happiness in the pit of your stomach. You look around and see your friends and trainer, congratulating you on the great job. You give your horse a pat and tell him what a good boy he is, sliding the saddle off and putting it on the rack.

When it comes to anticipation, choosing anxiety or choosing success is a choice. For the most part, we’ve trained ourselves into feeling anxious, and as a consequence, feel disempowered to create an experience that’s any different. This “anticipate success” method gives you the means to hack your usual modus operandi and choose again; by focusing on what you want to feel, you create an experience that’s supportive of the outcomes you desire and allow for an entirely different set of experiences and possibilities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Pike of The Confident Rider

Jane Pike is an equestrian mindset coach who specializes in giving riders worldwide the skills they need to ride with confidence and the mental fitness to be focused and in the zone for competition. Through her business, Confident Rider, she guides both amateur and professional riders through a process for managing their mindset in the saddle. Visit confidentrider.online to learn more.