While trying to come up with a subject for this months article I was struck with inspiration from some of my horses. I have just started hauling a couple of the young horses that I have in training. They are just getting out for their first couple of trips to town. So I felt like it would be a helpful subject to discuss for this issue.
It is very important to make the trip for first timers very enjoyable and not stressful. You are introducing a lot of new things, and the only thing constant at this time is you the handler. If their first time out is to a show, I like to make sure that I get there at least a day early to help them get acquainted with the new surroundings and new neighbors. Another thing to keep in mind, is that you keep as many things normal as possible for their first trip. Don’t let someone talk you into trying some new tack, or get caught up in pushing your horse to do his best today. You have to remember that the first couple of times out are not necessarily for you, but for the betterment of your horse. Your job is to take care of him or her and make this new place a home away from home.
When I first get them into the warm up pen, I expect them to look around and check out the new sites. I first want to take them on a tour of the new facility on a loose rein. I will take them and make a lap around the arena once or twice in both directions so that they can see everything from both sides. Once we have taken a look at everything and I feel like they are starting to relax a bit, I will start with the same routine as I always do at home. I will begin with flexing each direction, and make sure that they are moving off of my legs at the shoulder and the hip. If I feel like they have forgotten, or are to in tune with the other distractions, I will go to some exercises that they already know and get back the control that I am looking for. At this point I make sure not to try to over bridle or require them to give me undivided attention. Instead I want for them to be able to take everything in and also do what it is that I am asking.
From this point I will ask them to move into a trot and wait for them to fully relax. My way of knowing that they have relaxed is that I look for them to give me a deep exhale. At that time I have a good feeling that my horse has come back to me. When I move into a lope I will continue to let them move out freely continuing to let them look. But, I make sure when I do pick up my hand and ask for direction, they give to the bit and pin back their ears to check in with me to make sure that I am not asking for more.
Next, I will start to ask for the an occasional stop, spin, or lead change, making sure that I am not rushing anything. You can expect for the horse to only perform at a fraction of what you have at home. It is important that you spend time building his confidence and not get caught up in trying to push him to perform as good or better than he does at home. If you break his confidence and get him worried at the show pen, you will have to fix it at the show pen. I also like for their first time out to be a two day show cause it allows them to time to settle in and not leave just as you are getting started.
Remember, when it is their first time to town, you are the only constant thing that they have. If you fall apart, or get upset and discouraged, they can loose confidence and learn quick ways out of what they perceive as trouble. I will not expect to push one in the show pen until they have shown me that they are ready. I will try out pieces while I run a pattern and after three or four shows they will tell me how much and when.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are setting the stage for what is coming in the future for this horse in the show pen. You have spent the time to build confidence and knowledge in your horse to compete in the show pen for years to come. More often than not, I have spent around a year or so just to get to this point, and the objective is not to go and win my first time out. Rather it is to finish my work so that this horse goes on to be productive for years in the show pen. It is my job to make going to town fun, kind of like a trip to the movies and pizza. It has to be a place they want to go.