Don’t Waste Your Money

Part One

Get The Most Out Of Your Paid Warmup

IMG_5379 Photo Credit: Mark Blakley


The biggest bang you will ever get for your buck at a horse show is the five minutes alone with your horse in the show arena. Today’s reiner is sophisticated, and, assuming you show reiners, I expect that you’ve probably spent time doing warmups. Let’s make sure you get the most out of your time in the arena.




It’s very important that your horse believes that he is showing. Take the time to ready him in more or less the same way you would if you were actually competing. Lope him down; do prep for stops and turns; trot him into his face, etc. Some older horses become so wise to the warm-up plan, I even throw chaps on and have someone groom him at the back gate and remove the nose band so I can fool my steed into thinking he’s actually showing. If possible, I try to get a person to sit in the judge’s chair. Horses learn through repetition and many problems they develop are unique to the show pen and can only be fixed in a show pen environment – it’s your job to accurately recreate that when you pay for a warm up.



Most shows don’t offer much time in the pen – some give you as little as four or five minutes. As time ticks away quickly, you have to have a clear strategy to get the most out of your time in the pen. If your horse is nervous in the middle, focus on that area. If he is bad around the ends, make him think he’s showing and get right after that problem. Not only is there not enough time the fix everything, but a horse’s ability to learn is quite limited so repairing multiple things is impossible in such a limited amount of time.


Always remember, you’re never going to do any show pen damage by taking your time. We want our horses relaxed, confident, and focused when they compete. So, when you school, the same rule applies. Don’t think about the clock. Slow things down. That’s not to say you should just lope a few circles and hang out. Put your horse is a show situation by running fast circles or running down and stopping. For most horses, though, I’ll lope a slow circle or two before I add the speed. This is especially true for younger animals. I don’t want them to think the pen is about going fast and getting a surge of adrenaline. Also, if you’re not sure what to school, use this time to guild your partner’s confidence and trust in you. You can also help teach him how to manage his nerves and adrenaline by keeping things simple.


Obviously, don’t get frustrated and make the mistake of punishing your horse for being spooky. A lot of pens look like they might have mountain lions hiding behind every bleacher. Just ride your horse. Most of the time, it is big mistake to try to desensitize him to spooky objects by riding over to them and trying to let him see them. For example, I’ve seen riders on a horse spooking off of the judge’s chairs ride over toward the chairs in an effort to try to show the horse that there’s nothing to be afraid of. What ends up happening, is the horse becomes more afraid and spooks away, so the rider kicks him forward. Then some dirt hits the chair and it makes a noise. Then the horse really wants to leave. From the horse’s perspective it’s as if the rider is saying, “Look at the horse eating chair. Stay away from it at all costs!!” The best thing to do with a spooky horse is just to ride him as if there isn’t a problem in the world. If he shies at something, just capture him with the bridle reins and move forward and past whatever was frightening. In most cases, after a few passes, it won’t be such a big deal.


Stay tuned for situations 5-10!


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