Showmanship FAQ's for Young Horses

Showmanship: one of the hardest classes to master in my opinion. You have to have a true bond and harmony with your horse to make this class a success. It takes time, patience and a lot of running around in arena sand to master this event. 
Charlie and I at the Pinto World Show. 

  I am often asked for advice on teaching and working showmanship. I consider showmanship to be one of my favorite events and I honestly LOVE to practice it and show it. As a 2x World Champion in the class, I consider myself pretty good at it as well. I recently had someone ask some questions about teaching a young gelding showmanship. I have answered these questions and posted them here for everyone's benefit. These are my personal ideas/opinions from what I do with my personal show horses and young horses so they may not work for everyone or some may not agree. . I hope this provides something small that can help everyone :)

 1. My horse is 3 and tends to be pretty hyper/nippy if I do showmanship before riding. Would you suggest doing it before riding anyways or after riding?
I would defiantly do showmanship after riding for a hyper young horse. My older, lazy horses I always do before riding because otherwise they put no effort forth and make no progress in showmanship afterward. My young, less broke horses I will usually do after riding because they are usually tired and less distracted so they will focus better. Granted every horse is different; I currently have a 2yo that I can’t do showmanship with after riding because she is too lazy. She focus’s and learns better before riding when she is more energetic and alert. Also, for one that has some bad habits about being nippy and hyper in showmanship might benefit from more practice- maybe do it before and after. He needs to learn that it is not play time and he has to work at it even though you are not on his back. Granted, sometimes less is more; he may not be a horse that has a long attention span and he may just get frustrated if you do too much in one working.

2.       When first teaching a horse showmanship-how do you start out without using a chain? Currently, my horse has the hardest time with his set up-puts one foot forward, then back and again and again. He will also rest a hind foot and not put it back down, urrgh! How do you fix this?
Personally, I only work without a chain on trot offs and stops. Beyond that, maneuvers are very hard to get precise and crisp without a chain. I start off being very nice and soft with the chain, especially on the young ones. But with a chain you have just a bit more preciseness to get more precise maneuvers. As for the set ups, make sure you keep the way you ask 100% the same every time you ask. Horses are creatures of habit and they learn best by extreme repetition. I have a set way of asking for set ups (lift chain for front feet, pull down for back). I never set up unless I am facing them in the “stop” position. As for the moving feet back and forth, make sure you give a period of pause between asking while they are learning. Ask him to move one foot and then pause and let him settle it; even if it is not in the right place he needs to understand that he is to move the foot, put it down and leave it there. I also always say “Whoa” softly when a foot goes down into place so they know that is correct. When he does finally move a foot into the correct position, praise him!! Lots of pats and let him know he was a very good boy. I am a huge fan on positive reinforcement. If he is doing it as a game, you have to make it less fun; he doesn’t have a choice, he will either put the foot down and leave it there or you will keep asking and annoying him until he does it right. When he does it right, pause and praise. As for the resting a foot, when he rests pull him forward or back him up and make him stand up on it. Don’t stop and pause until he stands up on all 4 feet. Once again, when he does it right, pause and praise.

3.       Lastly, the other challenge is when we go to trot off he will sometimes think it’s play time and try to bite me. How do you discourage this?

I would make sure he is tired before starting to practice. Lunge or ride him first to get some of the energy and play out so he has better focus (addressed in first answer). When he gets playful and tries to bite, encourage him that is a really BAD idea. Don’t be afraid to discipline him for that somewhat severely. That is a big no-no in my book and my horses learn first thing it is unacceptable and they will feel the end of my lead if they try to bite. Always make sure when that showmanship chain is under their chin they know you mean business- they need to respect your space with their bodies, heads and especially their teeth!

Thank you Abby Foley for writing in with these great questions and I hope this helps :)

Good luck with those showmanship babies!! Just remember patience and repetition is key to success in this class. It will not happen overnight but once you get it right, it is truly harmony in motion.

Photo Credit: Jeff Kirkbride and myself. 
Disclaimer: These are personal opinions about what I personally do. I am not a trainer and I do not wish to emulate one. Simply listing the things I do to remedy these problems with my own horses.  

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