Should I run my horse around the triangle?
It seems to be the time of year for irony. Without planning to, yesterday I found myself setting goals for next season. I thought about individual horses, possible adventures, my personal ambitions. Setting goals makes the time with my horses clearer, more purposeful. It inspires me to think about optimizing each horse’s potential.
Students with horses still too young to be ridden often ask what or how much they should do with them. Frequently, the topic of showing them in-hand comes up. As with many strategies in the horse world, opinions differ on the value of showing in-hand. Many breeders and trainers believe it is vital to take a youngster out and get him evaluated by judges as well as teach him how to handle all the commotion. Others believe that running your horse around an arena in front of a judge does not teach him how to conduct himself at a showground.
In my own training, I have vacillated between both of these beliefs and have landed firmly on the side of believing there is enormous value in showing youngsters in-hand. While we’re on the subject of goal-setting for next season, especially if you own a young horse, let me share why.
Even if your interests lie strictly in recreational or trail riding and you have no future competitive ambitions, you will be well served to take your youngster to a show. When you present him in-hand to a judge, he needs to not only look sleek and polished but also to behave in ways that will form the foundation for your future training. He needs to be calm and attentive. He needs to let you control what his feet are doing—stand still, walk and trot obediently on cue and on a straight line. Instead of reacting to stress or excitement, he needs to keep his focus on you.
Granted, plenty of folks show horses in-hand without strictness to these criteria. I would argue that without strictness to these criteria, there is not much purpose to taking youngsters to shows. But if you take the outing seriously and commit the necessary months of preparation, you will have gained a big step forward for your long-term riding goals. I have shown numerous youngsters in-hand and they have all been seamless to break under saddle, to expose to new situations, and to trust me in a moment of potential panic.
As my dear friend and colleague Mark Schuerman says, You can’t expect a judge to evaluate a horse that is not standing still. This sounds deceptively simple. But think about it: if you have taught your horse to stand calmly from an early age in the midst of distractions, noise, and confusion you will have a much safer and reliable riding horse down the road. And, frankly, this kind of confidence and trustworthiness in a horse is a goal definitely worth having.