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I hope riders bringing out novices this season are enjoying early outings. But if things haven’t gone to plan, broaden your schooling focus.

With newbies, it isn’t just about showing off a horse’s paces and way of going. It’s about doing it amid the distractions of a strange environment, so schooling at home on your own isn’t sufficient preparation.

We suspected that a couple of prospects might be slightly too bright for comfort at their first show, so we hired a big outdoor arena at a nearby show centre and invited others to join us. Eight horses and riders worked together, replicating the environment of a collecting ring — which some horses had never seen — and a class.

It’s a big risk to go straight from your home arena to a show, especially if you’re home alone. Show horses must learn to go in a group and to leave it when asked; riders need to be aware and think ahead.

A collecting ring can test nerves. At some venues, you’re working on lovely surfaces but have only ring barriers between competitors and those warming up.

You might have ride judges galloping horses alongside the collecting ring. Most judges sensibly choose to do this down the side farthest away from it, but you can’t guarantee they’ll play it safe.

Schooling in a mock show environment allows you to practise changing the rein, and gets horses used to standing together in the middle of the school, with each rider in turn leaving the group to work solo.

Fresh view

Managing our team from outside the ring while my broken neck heals is giving me a different perspective. It’s interesting to compare horses in a class, rather than have to concentrate on your own. It also shows the importance of a rider’s viewpoint.

Occasionally, someone on my team might be surprised that I didn’t “go for it” a bit more, especially with a less experienced horse.

From the ringside, I might feel the same, but as a rider, I know the feeling that on that day, in that class, you shouldn’t push a horse any harder. There can be a fine line between doing your best and overdoing it, which will affect a horse’s confidence.

Learning curve

We had a fantastic time at the Shire Horse Society show last month. This was our first experience with a ridden heavy horse and we learned a lot about trimming and presentation. Official guidance is needed and a seminar or clinic would be popular.

Ridden horses’ heads are trimmed and many riders leave a small bridlepath. Feathers are left, but legs are trimmed at the front and sides to give limbs definition.

Teach your horse to rein-back, as a ride judge may ask for this. For the conformation section, walk your horse away from the judge, execute a turn on the haunches and walk back; then repeat in trot. This all shows the manoeuvrability needed from a working horse.

Ridden heavy horse classes provide a wonderful spectacle and promote these rare breeds. Let’s hope their popularity and numbers soar.

Ref Horse & Hound; 12 April 2018