Weanlings and the Show Ring (chapter 3)

 

 

Patience and persistence are required to prepare a weanling for the show ring.  A horse starts life knowing nothing whatsoever of what will be expected and each and every thing that we want them to know must be taught.  Each step prepares him for the next and if his early schooling is not properly handled he will not make the progress that is expected of him or of which he is capable.  The attention span of a young horse is about 10 minutes. In that time you must teach, reward and love them so that when you go to the field or stall each day to get them out they are eager to work.

There are absolutely no shortcuts to proper training.  It takes time, determination and work which must be balanced against the understanding of the limitations a young horse has to absorb the information you are trying to convey to him. 

It is important to understand the behavior of horses in general.  The mare will let her baby play but once the youngster steps out of line, discipline will surely follow. Before the first lessons can begin trust must be established with the youngster as well as an understanding of a certain “code of conduct.” 

Horses learn quickly and easily when they are calm.  Once they know what to do to please, they seem to take pleasure in pleasing us.  They not only become our willing servant but they learn to trust and once they trust they will usually do what we want even when they might be frightened to do it. 

Some horses learn faster than others.  Athletic abilities also vary as do emotions, attentiveness and sensitivity to signals from the handler.  It is your job to understand and get to know your pupil because no two will ever be the same. 

In the beginning stages of working with your baby it is important to provide a suitable environment where fear responses and distracting stimuli are minimal and where correct responses can be best ensured.  Once the fundamentals have been learned you can continue your training in other environments. 

 Parking Out

Teaching the park is not hard you just have to be patient and be consistent in the cues that you give to help your baby understand the job.

Always begin by standing to the side holding the lead and the halter in your left hand.  This frees up your right hand to move the body into position.  When asking for the back legs to be parallel with each other pull or turn the head slightly towards your body and push the his ribs or side onto the away foot.  As soon as the right back foot moves parallel with the left, push the head back straight and pat the shoulder, telling him “good job.”  If he begins to move his back legs or changes his position repeat the exercise as many times as you can without frustrating him.  Remember teaching him widen the stance of his back legs and stand quietly may be all you do for the first couple of lessons.

After you have established a consistent quiet willingness to hold the stance of the hind legs you can begin working with the front legs.  Assuming your position at the side and using your foot, push/lift the hoof nearest you forward and put it down on the ground.  Give the command to “stay” and praise him with a pat on the shoulder.  To establish the placement of the right foot, put your right arm over his shoulder and push with your fingers on the lower part of the shoulder pulling him just off balance so that he will pick up his foot and move forward.  You can use your right foot to help move him into position.  Again, as soon as the foot is in place praise him and give him a pat on the shoulder.  This establishes exact cues for your youngster to understand what you want.

Once he has learned to park out and stand quietly, bring another adult horse to him and make him stand perfectly still and pay attention to you and only you.  Have words that you say over and over to him when working such as: “you are OK, I am right here.”  Speak softly and maintain physical contact with him to provide him with a feeling of safety.  Comforting words will help him handle a perceived bad situation by permitting him to revert back to a calmer place in his training.  Move the adult horse all around the youngster, front to back, both sides.  If he moves, start over with the park and try again. 

 LUNGEING AND LONG WALKING

When you begin your training sessions, have a routine in mind.  There is no better work than just hand walking your baby as much as you can.  Lungeing, circles and serpentines do not compare to long walking and relaxation.  Keep the sessions short and always remember to praise when the job has been done correctly. Always keep your baby interested in the job at hand.  A bored baby is a naughty baby.  Make the work fun! 

Working a baby is best done off lead in a round pen so he can move around freely.  Not everyone has this option and lungeing is acceptable but only in strict moderation taking precaution to reverse or change your direction often.  I am speaking from personal experience and young horses that are worked beyond their physical limitations on the lunge line or worked on a lunge line that requires them to move in small circles develop all sorts of troubles with their legs and these often lead to damage that remains for life.  Keep it short!  Keep the circles big!

After permitting an opportunity for him to relax begin leading him in small circles to the right and left.  Give voice and body commands to teach him the direction he is going.  When going to the right, lift your left hand, holding the end of the lead in front of your body so he can see your hand and say: “right.”  This is a cue for him to go right.  When going to the left, bring your left hand behind your back and pivot left, saying “left” at the same time.

Serpentines are great for back end work.  Walking serpentines require the colt to change his hind leg stride causing the inside leg to move more under him.  This will help loosen the stride and result in a more fluid movement.

 The big moment…..the  Show Ring!

Preparing your weanling for the show ring is very tiring for him.  You have bathed him, braided in the ribbons, painted his hoofs and doused him with lots of Show Sheen, lunged him and walked him.  You are excited; he is tired and mentally fatigued.  Be sure to let him rest or have some time in his stall by himself.

DO NOT OVER WORK HIM BEFORE THE CLASS.  You want to have him fresh and interested when he enters the ring.   As you enter the ring, place the lead and whip in your left hand and either hold the halter or lead with a loose hand.  Never hold tight to either because it can restrict the head movement.  Move with him at all times.  With his head just forward of your shoulder move him out using a slight pushing motion with your hand on the halter.  Don’t be afraid to use your whip to gently touch his hip to move him out.  The idea is to have him move in long, smooth strides with lots of head motion.  Take long strides with bent knees when you are walking in the ring.  If he can see your movement, most of the time he will mimic your motion.

It will happen from time to time -- a baby will take off or become very scared in the ring.  Stay calm, repeat your soothing words and try to restore order!

If you are in a large arena and the judge has asked you only to use a small portion of it, always remember to use wide curves.  A baby that is being asked to turn sharp curves will hitch in the corners.  If everyone else in the class is making the curve sharp you go wide to get the best performance you can.

As you approach the line up, look around for the best possible place to show your colt.  Don’t hurry him into the park and don’t let the judge hurry you.  If you are first in line and the judge approaches do not panic, stay slow and calm and do your best.  Most judges will wait until you are ready and sometimes they will come back to the beginning.  If the judge is patient and allows you to set your baby up, thank him for showing you that courtesy. 

Don’t be shy to show your baby off in the line up.  Use your whip to touch his nose, and/or wave it in the air remembering not to scare the other horses around you.  Bring the whip behind your back so he can see it coming up behind your shoulder.  Use the dirt on the ground to entice the ears.  You can put the dirt to their nose and they will often react to the smell.  Another trick is to lower yourself under his line of view.  He will look curiously down at you and perk up his ears.  Never stop showing your horse until you know for sure that the judge’s card has been turned in for tally.  That last glance could be a tiebreaker!  This also instills and confirms the idea that when he is in the ring that showing is all business. 

When the cards have been turned in, approach your baby with warm praise, a hug or a soft blow of air in their nose, whatever your sign is that tells him he was great and he did a good job!