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#SundaySchool: how to prepare your horse for a ride judge in the show ring

Top show horse producer Robert Walker explains how he prepares his mounts for the ride portion of a showing class

Robert is a leading producer of show horses with many top championship titles to his name. He trains and competes riding horses, hacks, cobs and hunters in Cheshire with his wife Sarah. He also produces ponies for his son Sam, 15, and daughter Izzy, seven. Here, Robert explains how to prepare your horse for a ride judge.

How to prepare your horse for a ride judge

Lightweight show cob Freddie Kruger was green when I first had him and apprehensive when approached by people. We spent a lot of time having people come up to him. We also took him to shows to ride round and would ask passers-by to come and give him some grass. We did this until we were sure he was confident to be approached and ridden by a judge.

Freddie, now seven, can be approached by anyone. He was champion novice at the British Show Horse Association National Championships and stood second at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) last season.

For a ride judge, a horse has to be a conveyance. He needs to carry the rider forward from A to B in a relaxed manner with little input from the judge. The horse must be schooled to give the judge a ride. Many people overcomplicate this process and almost overschool the horse, so he becomes anxious and stiff. It is easy to rectify with patience and practice.

Tackling the issue

1. We educate our horses to stand while being mounted when being broken in. The last thing a judge wants is for an animal to walk off before he or she is settled in the saddle. We make sure we have someone standing by the horse’s head when we mount and insist the horse stands for a few moments before being asked to move forward. Time spent on this is never wasted, at any age.

2. I do a lot of education out hacking or in the field to avoid arena boredom. The horse learns to move forward with its ears pricked and I then add some leg-yield, also working on softening him in the hand. The horse accepts these instructions yet still has the freedom to go forward.

3. Some horses react well to being ridden by different people, but some can be anxious. Assemble a line of people in the school and ask each one to approach the horse and pat him until he gains confidence. Then repeat the exercise and leg each person up onto the horse and ask him to move away at a walk. Repeat until he accepts this calmly.

4. Some horses can be reluctant to leave the line-up. The last thing a judge wants to do is have to kick a nappy horse. Assemble a row of horses in the arena at home and ask the horse to move away from the line. If he is reluctant, have somebody stand behind him and gently tap a stick against their boot to encourage him. The aim is to persuade, not alarm.

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Things to consider…

  • Some riders concentrate too much on the horse’s outline and forget about the hindquarters, which must be active for the horse to give a good, forward feel. Concentrate on asking the horse to move forward willingly off the leg and resist fiddling with the mouth. The horse must offer the ride rather than making the judge work.
  • Often in hack classes, where the rider has to give an individual show before the horse is ridden by the judge, I see riders come out and automatically shorten their reins by three or four inches, so the horse shuffles forward, rather than walking away freely. Ask the horse to walk out energetically before collecting and moving into trot. This way the horse will be more relaxed for the judge.
  • Always make sure your horse is prepared thoroughly before you take him to a competition. It is not the job of the judge to school your horse — to ask him or her to do so can be irresponsible.

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