Ben Baldus offers three tips for getting ready to compete at a horse show.
Ben Baldus constantly thinks ahead and considers the best ways to prepare his show horses for the task at hand, whether working at home or getting ready at a horse show.
At a show, a number of distractions, surprises and pressure situations can throw you off your game. And that’s when preparation can keep you on track. Here, the Gainesville, Texas, ranch versatility and reined cow horse trainer lists four tips to help you get the most out of your showing experience.
1. KNOW THE SHOW
Every show has its unique conditions, arena atmosphere, climate and other factors that affect your performance. It helps to know ahead of time how the show grounds will affect your preparation. Is the warmup pen close to the arena? If the show is outdoors, what is the weather forecast? Is there something about the ingate that might spook a young horse?
Baldus says that if you’ve never shown at a facility before, you can still be ready for it.
“You can call the show and they might send you the trail pattern or at least give some hints, like if there’s a log drag or a ground tie,” he says. “You can call people that showed there the previous year and ask if the ground is really deep and if the cattle are typically big and fast. That allows you to focus on specific maneuvers or situations. If the reining pattern doesn’t include a small, slow circle to lope, then why practice doing it [at this stage]?”
2. ARRIVE EARLY
Arriving at the show grounds, saddling your horse, warming up, stepping up to the ingate—you can diminish stress in every situation if you get there early. Although it’s common sense, Baldus says that many exhibitors still struggle with arriving early, and that only heightens show nerves. Sometimes being punctual requires a strategic plan, he adds, and offers an example.
“As much as I can, I work my horses the morning of, instead of the night before,” Baldus says. “If I stay up real late to work them, there’s a chance I’ll oversleep. So if I get up real early, and work horses from 4 a.m. to 8, then I can’t miss my class.”
3. WARM UP RIGHT
When warming up your horse prior to showing it, it helps to spend the right amount of time to properly prepare. Baldus says that some riders warm up for too long, while many others don’t take enough fresh off their horse. How much time is necessary depends on the horse, and in most cases it’s better to warm up a little too much instead of too little.
“If a rider doesn’t get the horse warmed up enough, you see them thinking, ‘Ol’ Fluffy is going to buck when he sees a cow. He’s way too fresh.’ Well, you should trot more,” Baldus says.
He adds that there’s a difference between training and warming up, and the show grounds are no place for schooling sessions.
“You’ve seen that person who’s trying to train that morning,” Baldus says. “And like 50 stops later, they’re still running and stopping their horse. But it’s not going to get any better. Show what you’ve got. You can’t fix the sliding stop at the horse show.”
Overall, the show environment can be pressure-filled. But good preparation helps a contestant make the most out of the entry fees, and inevitably it leads to success.
“You don’t have to win every time,” Baldus says. “If you worked hard and your horse was prepared, you can go home with some level of contentment that you did your best.”
Read “Pasture Prep” in the April 2021 issue of Western Horseman for the trainer’s tips for stepping up your horse’s performance, even if you don’t have a home arena.