There is a big difference between schooling your horse with intention for dressage and just riding around walk trot canter. That is the difference between riding a pattern or an outline, and REALLY riding your horse with quality through that pattern or outline. Students just beginning their dressage endeavors often misunderstand the point of a dressage test. It is just the outline of a painting, and the true brilliance of dressage (and challenge of it too!) comes from being able to paint within those lines with good quality riding and a masterful art piece.
Today I am going to share with you my tips to be mentally focused to create a good quality ride schooling ride that leaves you feeling refreshed, accomplished, and happy and without anger or frustration.
For me personally, good riding starts the night before. I always sit and meditate quietly for a minimum of 10 minutes. If I am struggling with a particular horse or movement sometimes after my head is clear and I am grounded I will focus on that. It removes the mental baggage from the day and makes my mind and body free to ride well. But HOW do you meditate? People always talk about it, you should go meditate, and there's really fancy long guided meditations out there. However, for me personally I find the best benefit when I just sit and don't allow any input into my head. No music or thoughts, no thinking about tomorrow, no seeing any images in my head. Sit with nothing and I promise you your relationships with people, problems with money, and frustration with your horse will resolve. If you've worked all day then you should ground yourself before riding and clear out the baggage of people and energy that you have dealt with all day at work.
Now for the riding. You should have an exercise picked out to practice ahead of time that is appropriate for your schooling level. I have only 2 horses in my barn that need to come out and go walk, trot, canter right away to relax and loosen up. My other horses need a solid 10 minute walk before I start asking questions. I like this time with my horse because it allows us to connect without expectation.
STEP 1 of an AWESOME RIDE: Change your expectations + Wait time. You cannot come out and yank on your horse into a frame and expect them to go off carrying themselves walk, trot, canter in that position without creating anger, tension, and frustration. That's just not how it works. How would that go over if you walked into your office at work and treated people the same way? It wouldn't. You ask your horse a question softly with ONE aid, yes, just one...and you wait for them to think and respond. When I worked on my Master's degree in education I remember one of my professors saying that the wait time for teaching kids is FIVE seconds before they are capable of answering. I think a horse that is just getting on the aids is more like TEN seconds. So, do you have WAIT time before you expect your horse to answer? Good quality riding comes from great listening. Ask your horse a question and WAIT and LISTEN to see if they respond. If they don't, then ask a little louder after you have waited.
STEP 2 of an AWESOME RIDE: Set you and your horse up for success. Baby steps. If you are getting angry and frustrated, if your horse is acting out, then you need to go back a step. Remember that wait time? If you punish your horse too soon while they are thinking and responding then they are going to get frustrated and act out.
STEP 3 of an AWESOME RIDE: So, that exercise you have planned out is going to be the OUTLINE of the painting we are creating today. First, ride it at the walk on a loose rein. Then, ride it forward with a little bit shorter of a rein. Next, ask for the connection at the walk. If your horse slows down you need to add leg and probably a tap with the whip if your horse doesn't respond to the leg. Once you can FLUIDLY ride the exercise at the walk with a good quality connection then and only then can you proceed to the trot.
WAIT! Don't make an awful trot transition. That transition has to be QUALITY. What if an artist made a bad brush stroke with their painting? Can they erase it? This is the "ESSENCE" of dressage. When it's time to trot, do not throw it all away and let your horse invert, toss their head up, and not use their back. Ask for quality 100% of the time. If you don't ask for quality, it's not going to be good artwork. Your transition should be beautiful and elegant, lightly off your seat with just a little leg wrapped in, sitting back (but not collapsing at the waist) and lifting the saddle uphill towards the withers with your seat...now that's the good kind of artwork and riding you should be striving for!
STEP 4 of an AWESOME RIDE: Now we have momentum! It should be easier to get the connection at the trot. It's okay if the reins are a little loose at first if your horse was sticky going into the trot. Gradually, and quietly, shorten the reins so the horse doesn't notice. Make sure you add leg if your horse slows down. If for any reason that quality deteriorates, go back to the walk.
RULES: DON'T DEVIATE from your plan. I repeat, do not deviate from your plan. I repeat, stick with the plan. Would an artist get up from their artwork and start on a second painting while they are working on the most important part? Absolutely not. Stay focused with your outline, and within that structure think about what aids you need to do at the softest and quietest level possible to create a beautiful connection with your horse.
STEP 5 of an AWESOME RIDE: If and ONLY IF your horse is going beautifully at the trot you may canter. I repeat, if an only if you have a beautiful connection, your horse is going forward, and it feels like omg my horse is amazing today you can canter. Now, if you are a strong rider you can set your horse up for a beautiful transition. You don't just thinking OK, CANTER...NOW!!!! If you are new to dressage, this canter transition takes prep work. By that I mean, whatever your exercise you are schooling I hope it can set the canter up somehow. If you're on a circle, it's going to take one or two laps around your twenty meter circle before you are in a good position with a great connection to ASK for the canter.
When your horse is on your aids, and the connection is beautiful, then you can softly sit and ask for the canter by sliding your outside leg back and keeping your inside leg at the girth. Make sure your outside rein is tight and your hands don't bounce or move. School the same exercise (if possible, or modify) with the same focus on quality and intention for a few laps.
WAITTTTT! Please don't do an awful downward transition from canter to trot. This is the MOST difficult because if you aren't a strong rider you are going to get rocked around in your seat, and your seat has to be strong enough to hold your horse together so that they do the transition using their hind end and not falling on the forehand. PLEASE do not do canter to an inverted trot to a lazy walk. Just don't, that's a really bad painting...like Kindergarten style.
SO, you as the rider are going to breathe out, drop your knees like you're going to pray and stop moving your back. AS SOON as you feel your horse is about to go canter to trot you are going to add lower leg and perhaps a little tap with the whip and go back to that GORGEOUS trot you had with a beautiful connection. Do at least two laps of that on a circle and then you can do a lovely trot to walk transition that is forward and call it a day.
If you school for the connection and quality this should feel like a beautiful ride. Make sure you are PATIENT, ask for wait time, and any time you feel anger or frustration go back one step. Ride with this mental diligence every day and you will soon find success.
When you give your horse an aid, you as the rider has to LISTEN to the effect. If your aid doesn't create an effect, then you need to ask yourself if you asked correctly or if you are being too noisy with other aids.
I have this student that I taught many many years ago. She still follows me on facebook and asks me questions from time to time. I cringe sometimes at the thought of how I taught her compared to how I would teach a student her age now. The good news is, it didn't really matter, because she still loves her horse, rides her horse, and is pursuing a career in the horse industry. But it also reminds me that good quality teaching is really an art.
I also have an old instructor that spent a lot of time riding with Vi Hopkins. I still call him from time to time, and he always tells me, "to teach well, you have to pull a rabbit out of a hat." When I teach kids, I notice that I have to be very direct and exaggerate an aid. Like, if you tell a kid to punch, they might tap like a feather. It's just the opposite with adult students. Most of my adult students that come to me are too busy with their aids. It's my job as an instructor to help them refine and finesse these aids so a
The first step to de-cluttering your aids so your horse can hear your voice is to sit like a statue. Stop moving.
1. STOP trying to pump with your seat and be loose in your seat bones and "follow". If you're out of time that's really hard on your horse's back. Your horse can't hear your fine seat aids through all that seat bone jabber.
2. STOP moving your leg. No you cannot bend your horse around your inside leg right now. It's more complicated than that, like .... your horse is probably really crooked so we are going to have to move the shoulders in on the circle first to line up with the haunches and then after that straightness detail is added in THEN we can talk about creating bend in the correct direction which can usually be done with your seat soooo (deep breathe) ... please don't try that trick yet. Just sit like a statue and only use your legs as a gas pedal to go forward and if your horse doesn't listen back it up with the whip.
3. Your hands...first you need to make a fist and HOLD. Do not open your hand. I repeat, do not open your hand. Do not pull back, your hands do not go behind the saddle. So you have this fist that you can keep a baby bird in softly or you can murder a bird in if your horse is a little not listening but you don't don't don't pull backwards to turn...or stop. I repeat, do not pull back to stop. Use an opening rein (like a hinge from your elbow) to turn.
4. Your torso..First, we have to super-glue your elbows to your torso. If you elbow unlocks from that position, meaning if you can't feel your elbow on your hip, then your horse is stealing your contact. Then you need to squeeze your arm to your armpit a little, these two thoughts usually tighten up a torso and create an effective framework for your horse to go into the contact.
5. Your breathe. You breathe out and close your knees for your downwards transitions. You breathe in and lift up the front of your pelvis for upward transitions. You do not pull back in the downward transition.
The timing of your downward transition is : breathe out, drop your pelvis, make a fist and close your knees.
The timing of your upward transition is: Breathe in, lift pelvis, close back of thigh and wrap ankles around horse if necessary, back up with whip if horse doesn't respond to leg aid.
Do you see how light these aids are? They are imperceptible. To become a quiet rider you have to refine your aids to this level too. So now we are not using loud leg aids, seat aids, or rein aids. How does that rider using those invisible aids get their horse round and on the bit? This is my easy version, that needs modified for more advanced riding but will get you started in the right direction.
1. Do everything with your aids above so they are not noisy and your horse can hear your message.
2. Get your horse forward and in front of you leg. Not sure what that means? Then get your horse forward ask it to go more forward than usually without it feeling like it's speeding away or out of balance.
3. Turn your shoulders and waist around your circle in the direction you are going. Make sure you are on the correct posting diagonal.
4. Shorten your reins so there are no loops in them.
5. Make a fist with your outside rein. HOLD it. SQUEEZE IT and hold. Don't do that nagging ring finger thing, just hold. Don't pull back either.
6. Crawl down your inside rein. Open it just a smidgen to the inside of the circle. DON'T pull back with it or your horse will probably stop, just open it to the inside of the circle while you resist on the outside. When you feel your horse yield or give a little immediately bring that inside rein back in and push it just a little forward, like an inch, maybe less, to release. You should still be holding your outside rein and you should feel the connection there. Every time your horse loses the connection and their head pops up bring the inside rein back in towards the center of the circle until the horse yields. This should be done in a very invisible kind of way that is really hard to see from the ground (I shouldn't see your hands move).
This is a very watered down version of how to get your horse round. The key point is that your aids should be soft and effective. If you're not getting a result, change something...and don't forget to sit like a statue and don't move your legs or hands.
How are you going to make money from your customers to afford to pay for your horses? I don't wake up every morning thinking to myself "how am I going to advertise". I wake up every day and ask myself, "How I am going to make money for X horse show, for the farrier on X date, and for the rent due on X date".
Your lesson prices are not determined by your worth. If you are starting out, please don't charge your worth, or you will have empty pockets and a stack of bills. Lesson prices are set by the rules of basic economics, which is supply and demand. You can charge your "worth" if you have special qualifications and certifications, but again, that is also modified by supply and demand. For example, if you're a Grand Prix dressage trainer in Southern Pines, your credentials may be very high but the market is flooded with trainers there so you will have to charge less than your worth to maintain business.
On the flip side. You could be a young trainer just starting out that really doesn't have a lot of experience. You could potentially charge more if there weren't any other competitors in your market, even if your qualifications aren't that high.
To baseline your lesson prices with similar trainers and qualifications isn't always an accurate projection of YOUR LOCAL ECONOMY, and unless you have clients sending you nice horses from out of state, you should be most concerned about the expendable income in your hometown.
ITS NOT ABOUT YOUR WORTH, ITS ABOUT WHAT YOUR CUSTOMER IS WILLING TO AND CAN AFFORD TO PAY!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. It's not about your worth, but it's about what the customer is willing to pay. There are some amazing and fantastic marketing gurus in my town that I would LOVE to take classes with, but I am priced out of their rates. If it was $50 or $60 a sit down I would be all over it, but instead it's over $200, which is an expense I can't justify with my current income - but they are worth every penny they are charging, I just can't afford that much!
The two biggest factors that will always determine whether YOU get the business or someone else does are price and location. Your price has to be less than your competitors, and your location has to be more convenient (less traffic!) than your competitors. If you're at the disadvantage (less convenient) then you will have to charge less even though your qualifications might be more.
The other mitigating factors are qualifications and personality. Have you ever ridden with a grand prix trainer that's an A-hole? Yeah, great qualifications and not so great bedside manner? What about the person that is lacking in credentials but pretty nice and fun to be around? Where do you think people are going to go? How do you think the grand prix trainer is going to rate herself on the self-worth scale of charging? How do you think the less qualified but nice person is going to rank herself on the "self-worth" scale? These are all the factors that you need to sit down and determine (along with overhead expenses, and also how many lessons you and your horses can realistically teach in a week) before setting your lesson prices.
Always offer your customers three options and hope they choose the middle or upper option.
If you're just starting out and need to bring in more business through lessons (cash flow) GROUPON is a great way to bring in new customers and get your name out there along with Facebook boosted posts to your target demo.
As you build your business you can raise your prices and give yourself a raise, but I would highly recommend going in low at the beginning until you have enough street credential to raise your prices.
I understand that you are hungry, cold, and tired and spent all day taking care of horses when you were supposed to be riding, training, and selling the horse. The SECRET to being successful in the horse industry is time management. Know what you are excellent at, and be gentle and accept yourself for who you are in the areas that you know you don't have the time of day to be perfect in. You can't have it all!!!
Today I am going to give you all my best tips on how to get that sale video and photo done with inexperienced help. Plan on this being your one and only shot to get sale video and photo done. It probably is, because if you're begging for mom or grandma or your twelve year old student to take video you will not, I repeat will not, have reliable help to do it again next week if you make any mistakes.
Let's talk about you first. If you are super woman (or superman) then you should probably clean all your tack and shine up your boots the night before. If you are NOT super woman, don't fret, just take a hard brush or rag to your boots, but definitely make sure they are clean. Wear a nice shirt and breeches that make you pop!
For the horse, obviously make sure it's clean. But don't make excuses if it's winter and a grey horse - just put the horse in a teeth whitening app at the end of the photo shoot and brighten it. You're welcome! Make sure the horse has a nice set of polos on. I have one set of sale polos/pads that I use. They are white, and I use the same set on every sale horse and wash them after each use. It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive! Also, sometimes a cute head shot with a colorful ear bonnet helps - especially on a cute mare. On that note, do you notice how the wraps are on backwards in this photo? Yes, they are. Yes, a working student did them. No I don't care if every negative nancy in town sends me a message because they are on backwards. Don't worry - this photo "popped" and still had a ton of hits and recognition. People don't realize how pressed you are for time to get things done. My point, get the job done and be gentle with yourself if it's not perfect.
RULES FOR TEACHING YOUR HELP!!!!!
1. NEVER EVER EVER LET THEM USE THEIR PHONE! Do you know what happens if they use their phone? Then they are going to try to email it to you and you are going to lose quality and you're hard work just went down the drain. ALWAYS use your phone.
2. Teach your helper to get down on one knee and shoot up. Make sure they don't cut off the nose or the tail. (Seriously, double check that a few times and make sure you have the shot before you stop).
3. Tell them to click click click when it's photo time, that more photos is better.
4. Teach your help to focus on the center of the horse and keep the camera angle straight to the angle of the horse. Do you see in this photo above how the angle is a little off? That is the most difficult thing to teach and yet it is also the most important, and that will determine whether your photos sink or swim.
5. Put your horse on a green backdrop if possible. Green fields and blue skies always sell. Make your horse "pop" out from their surroundings.
What are your goals for sale photos? You're going to want a really cute conformation shot with ears up and forward on a green backdrop, and you're going to want to get a cute head shot. You're also going to want one trot picture and one canter picture under saddle - but you get those two pictures by taking sale video and pulling screenshots out of the sale video.
Additional photos that you need that you don't put on Facebook (only as needed through text and messenger) are a few more conformation shots of the front legs, hind legs, and pictures of the hooves. DO THIS NOW WHILE YOU HAVE HELP!! Then keep it on your phone and send it by request. There's no need to clutter up Facebook with extra photos, choose just four pictures that will make your horse stand out (confo, headshot, trot, canter).
Now for the sale video....
If you're uploading to Facebook it needs to be under one minute. Also, people don't have attention spends. Your video needs to be 2 to 3 minutes max. Here's what you are going to do to make it clean and uncluttered.
1. Put your assistant in the center of a twenty meter circle. Tell them to get down low on one knee and follow you around the circle.
RULES FOR VIDEO INCLUDE: Do not chop off head, tail, or rider, or ZOOM in or out (it makes it really fuzzy when you upload).
2. You have a plan for your horse. Your plan is three to four walk steps, then one circle at the trot, one circle at the canter, beautiful downward transition to trot, a change of direction outside the circle (so you're assistant doesn't have to zoom) where you come back onto the circle and do one more lap of trot and one canter circle in the new direction.
3. Your video must happen within 60 seconds. You're transitions must be brilliant or people will call your horse green. If you are skilled, as for a big lengthening to show off your horse's big pretty gaits when you return to the circle. Keep it really simple and trot and canter right away.
Additional video add ons - you're going to string together these clips in the movie editor on your phone after you take them as separate clips and add them after your initial walk trot canter video.
1. Jumping. If you're selling the horse to kids, trot down and over a cross rail to a halt. It should take 11-15 seconds
2. Trail - If you're selling to adult amateurs or a kid, show a student ride the horse over a log and down a hill to a halt. Short clip.
3. Sport horse - trot and canter that horse BIG across a hayfield to demonstrate big gaits. Put bright colored polos on so they can see the legs.
4. Kid/amateur friendly - show a student or amateur rider trotting and cantering the horse in an open field to demonstrate control.
Remember after you string this together it should be three to four minutes max.
These are the techniques that I have used to help sell horses over the years. I do not have reliable help, and on many occasions I have to train people how to take good photo and video. Remember, the best advice I ever received for marketing was to Keep It SIMPLE - and that's what I do in order to keep my ducks in a row.
You know what really sucks? When you want to be prepping for show season but you're stuck inside a barn aisle with no indoor on a rainy day. These are my tips on how to keep yourself motivated and work on the little details when you can't get outside to school the hardcore stuff.
1. Strength. Whether it's lunging or long walks through the woods - actually I hope you are doing both. If you want to come out in the spring and pretend that you and your horse didn't lose any dressage skillz, then I would focus on strength on those rainy days. I'm sure your horse is smart, and competent, and knows what you want him or her to do. If I have learned anything in the last year it's that most techniques boil down to strength. Your horse KNOWS how to go sideways, but are they strong enough to do it? Your horse KNOWS you're asking them to slow that canter down, but are they strong enough to do it? LIKEWISE, if you're not practicing your sitting trot every day and planning to debut at second level, I hope your hitting the gym with weight training a few times per week to keep your core strong.
2. Turn on the haunches/walk pirouette - This is one of my favorite exercises to practice in the winter in the barn aisle because it's pretty much my only option for turning a big horse.
3. Square halts with clicker training. I confess, my horse knows when I have candy in my pocket and she is magically square when she knows that I am carrying treats. I think it helps to positively reinforce a square halt because it's really kind of an arcane concept that most horses need a jackpot to understand why you are nitpicking their feet. I like to practice my trot-halt square-trot on rainy days so that I am not fretting about it during show season.
4. Turn on the forehand. How do you make a stinky mare listen to your leg without being mean? You remind them very gently with a turn on the forehand. Works like magic!
5. Quarter turns - think about it...you're asking your horse to load that inside hind leg on each turn. What a great way to ask them to bear weight and get stronger!
6. Half-steps. I bust out the clicker for half-steps and it motivates my horse. Sometimes I tap certain legs to ask my horse to lift it, other times I work in hand reinback to trot- but I can't think of a more fun rainy day activity.
7. Reinback - Thinking again of strength and working that hind leg - asking your horse to reinback is a great exercise. Also you can combine it with fun variables like reinback to canter (and you pick which lead) or reinback to half-steps.
8. walk-canter-walk - How many canter strides can you fit down your barn aisle? I like to work on my walk-canter departs out of a quarter turn to help set my horse up for success to pick up the correct lead.
I hope this gives you a few ideas for the next time it rains!
How to make a killer Facebook post to advertise your horse business (or any other service, event, etc).
I used to work in advertising. More specifically, I worked in radio, and I was the girl that sold you the ad, wrote the copy for your ad, and convinced you that buying a certain radio spot at a certain time and writing killer copy would make you a sale, which is also known as a return on your investment or "ROI". I also always had a hard time with that because honestly, I knew from my horse business that I could make an awesome sale through digital (Facebook) without ever spending a dollar on the radio. I also used to sell digital and print, so i've had experience using all three forms of media for advertising. (Not gonna lie, I have a sweet spot for print - and maybe I'll blog about that in the future).
So today I am going to tell you how to make a killer Facebook post that will put dollars in your pocket so you can go spend it on hay and grain. We often talk about using different forms of social media to create and audience and following however, posting on Facebook isn't worth it if you're not using the right kind of ad copy and call to action. This post isn't about generating a long term audience, it's about converting a sale NOW so that you can stop scraping the quarters off the floor of your car to eat off the dollar menu. The most important KEY KEY point in writing a good Facebook ad is that you want your customer to ACT. Now, you as the seller need to figure out what you are going to do to get your customer to ACT and convert that sale.
1. First you need a killer photo. The photo I have listed above always nets a direct sale. ALWAYS. It's cute right? Two pretty horses sniffing a horse kid. It summarizes my horse business in a nutshell because my students all know how to CONNECT with a horse. My personal business isn't about just horse showing, it's about relating to horses and so much more. My students always show love and affection for my lesson horses. This photo holds that essence. How do you know if you have a good photo? Share it on Facebook. If it gets a lot of likes, then you know it's something people like. If it doesn't, get a different picture because yours isn't motivating people to act, and in this case the "act" is liking your photo. Also, if you want adult clients, then you should have pictures of adults riding horses. If you want kid clients, you need pictures of kids. Think about what type of client you want and project that. Like attracts like.
2. You need a call to action. If that sounds Greek to you, then please please please google how to write a good call to action. Do you ever hear those annoying commercials on the radio where they repeat the phone number THREE times (that's frequency by the way), and you are so annoyed they keep repeating it? Well, the call to action in that ad is to make a phone call! On digital platforms like Facebook your call to action is going to be to send a message or send a text. What's really really important is that you tell your customer what you want them to do in the text of that ad. It might be something simple as "send a message to schedule your lesson." Other business platforms might be more like "drop in on Tuesdays for 2.99 Margaritas and Taco Tuesday" (call to action there is DROP IN). You need to tell those customers to STOP IN DROP IN and DRINK UP at least 3 times for it to sink in.
3. You need a GREAT DEAL and a TIME LINE!!! I can't emphasize this enough. So last week I offered a deal on kid lessons - purchase 3 lessons for $120 between now and February 18th. Offer expires on February 18th - no exceptions. You have to motivate your customer to take action now if you need to get paid now! And that deal EXPIRES on a certain deadline - no exceptions. PLEASE TAKE NOTE. If you're broke, find a number that makes you feel like you are not worth it. Just a little below what you feel comfortable. Make a killer deal out of that. It's okay to undercut if you need to put money on the table. When I first started my horse business I would often do a 4 lessons for $100 deal. If I ran that deal I would have money on the table to pay rent the next few days. Sometimes dealing with those clients was STRESSFUL, but I was grateful for the money. Eventually I moved up to selling 3 for $120 on a deal day because I knew I was okay financially, that $25 an hour made me grouchy, but $40 per hour was okay. My point? You can't sell your worth if you're not established, and if you're not established you can't be asking $75-$100 per lesson....but if you want money and you're willing to set aside your ego ...go for the $$ that will make you cringe and that's probably what people can afford. Do it so you can make rent and realize it's just a step in growth.
4. Tell your customer how you want to get paid! If they want to book those lessons, SURPRISE, you just might open your paypal or venmo and see unexpected money because you told your customer how they could reserve those lessons! You know in 3rd grade when you have to write that essay on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then the teacher reads each student's essay in front of the class as she makes the PBJ and you can see who messed up??? Well, be explicit and make a really delicious PBJ with Nutella and bananas. Don't be that kid that puts the bread together backwards.
5. TIMING is everything. Please do NOT run your ad on the 8th or the 18th of the month. That would be really dumb. I mean seriously, do you know anyone that gets paid then? Run your ad around the 1st and the 15th of the month, when the majority of people get paid. Horses are a luxury for most families and the first thing to go if there are extra expenses in life, so you need to be very judicious about timing. Run you ads a few days before the first and a little after so people have time to sit down and look over their finances and see how much is left after the pay bills. And remember that thing about a time line? Well, if they are giving you money that you NEED then by all means be a little flexible on that through messaging, but if you don't need it you can be fixed.
Next time I sit down and blog I will write more about target demos. Please SUBSCRIBE to my blog and Youtube channel (see my call to action!!!) if you'd like future horse marketing tips!
I know the thoughts of horse showing can be overwhelming, so here is a concise guide that lays it all out! The first four things you should ask yourself are the following:
1. What are your child's goals? If they are happy with once per week lessons, that's fine! If they want something that challenges them, then showing might be the perfect opportunity to raise the bar.
2. What is the financial commitment? Do you want to do local C shows that cost under $300 or do you want to haul to a rated show where entry fees alone are going to cost $350? If you're child wants a future in the horse industry, then your end goal as they approach teenage years is to work on rated shows that will build their equine resume.
3. Do you have your own horse? If you don't have a horse, are you planning to lease? If you can't afford a full-lease, is there a family that you can half-lease (meaning you share the ride time and half the expenses) the horse with? It is super important that you as the parent assess how serious your child is about horse showing. If you aren't looking for a long term commitment, my best suggestion is to find a family to half-lease with.
4. What kind of show parent do you want to be? Do you want your child to do ALL the work (clean the stall, clean the tack, get the horse ready, etc) or do you as the parent want to be a part of the process and help your child as much as possible? This is really important to discuss with your trainer ahead of time. For example, I grew up in Pony Club where parents were't allowed to help at all (you would get points off for unauthorized assistance), but I understand that outside the rigors of Pony Club moms and dads just want to help their child be successful - and more hands the better!
The first step to horse showing is to have a horse, or access to a horse, that you can show. Understand, if your child takes lessons at a facility where horses are used regularly in a lesson program, it's going to be difficult (or cost a good bit of money) to take those lesson horses off the "lesson horse roster" and send them out for a weekend for your child to show. Parents often fail to realize how hard horses work in a lesson program and that the most popular lesson day is often the same day as a show (Saturday). This is why it's important to have access to your own horse, or if you're not ready to purchase, a lease or half-lease. Realize that also factors into coaching and trailering fees. The more kids that attend a show, the more expenses can be shared. Sending off only one kid to a show with a trainer for the weekend can be quite costly.
Leasing a horse is typically done in a contract (6-12 month duration) in which there is a lease fee. The lessor is responsible for the lease fee, boarding, veterinary, farrier care, and tack. If it's a half-lease situation two families share the horse and these expenses. This can work out really well if kids want to go to the same show with the same horse and they ride in different divisions. Leasing is also a great way to introduce a child to the responsibility of horse ownership without the permanency of owning a horse. In order to show the horse will also have to be up to date on vaccinations and have a negative coggins test.
Shows are typically divided into different levels. There are rated shows that will require national memberships and not something I would recommend for a first outing. There are also lower-level B and C shows that are more flexible on show attire, have various classes, and a more relaxed atmosphere.
If your child is interested in showing but doesn't want to ride in their first show, presenting their horse in a showmanship or halter class gives them the opportunity to show off their horse and have the horse show experience without actually riding. This is a GREAT class to do for kids at the beginning of the show to help get their jitters out and let the horse see the arena while they are on foot.
There are hunter-jumper shows that have jumping, dressage shows that focus on dressage, combined test events that include dressage, jumping, and cross-country, and local shows with open classes (walk-trot-canter in a group on a rail). It's important to decide what type of show environment your child is seeking before determining what show you go to. There are also many opportunities locally in our area to haul to clinics and ride with a clinician. This is a great opportunity for kids that are nervous about showing because it takes off the pressure to win (and the first time going out) and replaces it with a positive learning experience to focus on. I would HIGHLY recommend going to a local clinic as a first outing because it will give your child and your horse and opportunity to settle and learn.
Typically horses are most settled when they haul to a show the night before and are allowed to settle in. However, there are also local shows in the area that are "day trips" that can be hauled to and back within the same day. Here are some expenses that you might expect with showing:
1. Trailer fee (it costs money for the truck, the gas, and the trailer to get you to the show)
2. Coaching fee (remember, it's not just the time the coach is with you at the show, think of all the lessons they are missing at home, and also the fees they have to pay for barn care while they are away from the barn). This coaching fee is also due for the travel days, so if you leave on Friday for a 2 day show the fee is due for all three days.
3. Entry fees - these vary widely from $10 per class to $350 a weekend depending on the type of show you are going to.
4. Show clothes - If you're planning to do multiple day shows, think multiple pairs of breeches and show shirts for the North Carolina heat.
5. Horse fee - if you are using a regular lesson horse from the barn. This fee typically runs $150 per horse per day.
6. Hotel fee
7. Grooming supplies and extra saddle pads (this is your tack cleaners, sponges, high gloss, hay nets, etc).
8. Braiding Fee (typically $40-$65 depending on the amount of work needed done and the venue)
9. Odds and ends like coolers, food, photos, etc.
10. Ulcerguard for the horse while they are traveling
If reading this article inspires you and motivates you to begin the horse searching process, please take my advice and HIRE a trainer to do the horse/lease shopping process. Yes, there is a fee to hiring a trainer which is typically $75 per hour plus expenses, 10% finders fee, or $20 per video evaluated, but it is worth it to find the perfect fit. When you find a horse that you like you should also do a pre-purchase exam with a veterinarian so you know what you are purchasing.
Horse showing can be a very rewarding process for a young child and teaches numerous life skills. The first step to horse showing is gaining access to a horse that you can show. Need help? Send me a message or comment below.
Fact: I ride my horse with more confidence when I know my core is strong and I am in shape.
Another fact: my most successful young students ages 5 to 10 also do martial arts, gymnastics, and play hard on the monkey bars. Many times people emphasize the physical component of being strong in your core to be a good dressage rider. I agree with this, but it's important to also note the mental component, that gaining strength increases your confidence as a rider.
"Play hard on the monkey bars!" That is the advice I tell all my students age five to ten. If you want to be a good rider, then be a monkey bar machine. I ask them before lessons all the time, "did you do the monkey bars at recess today?"
Truth, I can only do an assisted pull-up, and I sure couldn't do the monkey bars when I was a kid. However, as an instructor I notice a BIG difference in the riding skills of my students that can and can't do the monkey bars. I think it all boils down to core strength. I also see a big difference in my students that combine riding with martial arts and gymnastics versus ones that do not. The kids that do additional sports always make faster progress. In other words, to ride horses you have to be strong!
There are those people in life that can make riding look beautiful and effortless without working out every day, and then there are others like me that have to run 4-6 miles every night and go to a weight training class just to be strong enough to ride my horses (on top of normal daily barn chores and riding). But if you want to ride big fancy horses, you need to be strong. There is a HUGE physical different in riding horses 16.2 and bigger and those 15-16.2, and those BIG horses take a whole different level of core strength.
SIDENOTE: I can't repeat this enough. If you have a FEAR issue with your horse, becoming physically stronger will help grow your confidence!
On top of working out, I also take spirulina (I mix it up with Sprite Zero) every night for added energy. It also helps me sleep better at night. The following are my top 4 favorite exercises that help me with my riding. Enjoy!
1. Plank Dips
Because planks aren't fun until you twist your pelvis side to side while maintaining your position. I always feel the burn through my core when I do this exercise. Check it out on Youtube here:
2. Russian Twists
Order a medicine ball from Amazon for this exercise. I like doing these because I can really feel it in my core.
3. Glute Bridges
I find that glute bridges are most effective for myself when I do them weighted. I also feel like this exercise has strengthened my core the most. Sometimes when I ride my upper body gets "lost" or "disconnected" from my hips, especially during lengthenings. I find that after I do this exercise with weight that it's easier to keep my core "together" when I ask my horse for more power or bigger movement.
4. Weighted Squats
I don't really like doing squats, but I do them because they help!
"You don't know what you don't know". I say those words often in the horse industry and if there is one thing that I could do over I would have aggressively treated my horses for ulcers.
I remember at the beginning of my horse career I ordered a box of omeprazole from Abler for a very difficult thoroughbred mare. I stopped treating her because it was cost prohibitive, took a long while to ship, and I had a bottle of ranitidine from another horse. Gosh, if I could do it all over I would have thrown sucralfate, alfalfa hay, and omeprazole at that particular horse for treatment. This is the combination that seems to work for me and keep my performance horses happy.
Before we dig into my top picks of ulcer products I want to briefly share the behavior that my mares display when they aren't on their "meds". Basically, they get extremely marish and cranky. They pin their ears when I tighten the girth and touch their belly and they also drink a lot of water. When they are on their meds they are happy and don't exhibit cranky mare behavior.
2. Sucralfate (vet script needed)
There is absolutely no way to sugar coat this, but my horses are demon ponies without their sucralfate. As soon as they are back on their meds they turn into angel ponies, but they need their 10-15 tabs of sucralfate 2-3 times per day to stay happy. This product has made the biggest and quickest improvement in all my horses.
Two products that didn't work.
Ulcer products are EXPENSIVE! There, I said it! They cost a lot of money so choosing which to purchase is always a big decision. Not to mention, there is a lot of research out there supporting what works and doesn't. These are two products that just didn't work for me.
The first, was Daily Gold, which comes HIGHLY recommended by many horse owners (including my friends that rave about it). Quite frankly, it just didn't work for me. My horses would not eat it and did not like the taste of it.
The second is called Ulc-R-Aid, and it was another product that came recommended. My horses didn't mind the taste and ate the product just fine, but I didn't see any results or changes in their behavior.
The next product I would like to try is Ulceraser from Equine Elixirs. I am very interested in trying this product because I have used the Equine Elixirs "Positude" formula on sale horses before with good results including noticeable changes in the horses behavior when they were on and off the product.
Eeeek! You know that really awkward feeling when you tear the crotch of your breeches during a lesson? I recently purchased a pair of breeches that tore just like that in under 30 days. They were on sale, but cost over $130, which led to my disappointment when they unraveled so quickly. I realize that I am hard on breeches, but for that much money I would expect them to hold up at least for six months, if not longer. This prompted a list of my top three favorite pairs of breeches and how they held up through time.
1. HORZE Grand Prix Breeches. Early in my riding career I had a pair of these super-awesome breeches. They lasted over three years, looked fantastic, and had a cloth-like feel to them which is important because I don't like breeches that cling to my skin tightly. I chose the pair very carefully; size 30, grey color, and black patches that were flattering on me. I am also really picky about the ankles on my breeches. I know this sounds weird, but I HATE breeches that cling to me or my ankles. It gets way too sweaty hot in a pair of tall boots with a bunch of elastic choking off your ankle at the end of the day, so I chose this pair specifically for the velcro ankles.
After my HORZE Grand Prix breeches met their time I decided to order a pair of HORZE spirit breeches. They were a pretty navy blue, with purple piping, and I thought wow, this will be a fantastic cute pair of breeches. WRONG!!! They came looking like a pair of glorified sweatpants with a very thick and suffocating feel to the material.
2. Kentucky Breeches
Love. These. Breeches.
After my pair of Horze Grand Prix breeches died I went on a quest for a high quality pair of breeches. Due to a great deal, I decided on a pair of full-seat Kentucky Breeches in size 32 long (learned the hard way that I have a wide twist and need to order the "long" on full-seats to make it work) in navy blue. I have tortured this pair of breeches for over a year with riding four to five horses per day five days per week. Earlier this year the stitching started to fray, but instead of purchasing a new pair I took them to a tailor and they fixed them up. These breeches have velcro ankles (Yessss!) and a really nice feel to the material. I will order from this company again. Did I mention they are super cute? You can order a pair here! www.healthyhorseboutique.com/kentucky-breeches/
3. Tropical Riders
I confess, I am the type of person that likes the feel of silky sheets or a fuzzy blanket. That's also why I LOVE the feel of these breeches. It feels like you are wearing silky pants on your legs. The downside is that the pair that I have is not flattering (beige, who wears beige in 2020?) and has a side zip, which makes taking the belt off to undo the side zip a PITA when I drink too much coffee before morning rides. If this pair didn't have a side zip I would probably wear them every day. Here's a link to order your pair for show season: www.tropicalrider.com/home.asp
Breeches that did not fit or last
3 Brands that I want to try!
Here are some stylish breeches that I want to try. The top two on my list are Goode Rider and HKM, and I'm pretty certain you haven't lived as a dressage trainer if you've never owned a pair of Pikeurs. Happy Shopping!