Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

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Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby blob » Tue Jan 22, 2019 4:02 pm

There have been some conversations in the Jan/Feb goals thread about struggles around showing, so, I thought i'd make a separate thread.

I have show related goals I would like to accomplish. I also believe showing is a good way to set training goals and check progress. But, I am not a very good show rider. I get nervous riding in public, I get nervous about riding tests, I haven't figured out the right warm-up, I get overly focused on the hardest parts of a test and forget to ride the easy parts well, etc, etc.

Part of this stems from a lot of the showing I did growing up was on horses that were difficult at show grounds and often I was showing at levels I was barely ready for. Now, I'm lucky to have a horse who is exactly the same at shows as she is at home. But she is on the lazy side and so when I get tight and nervous at shows, I end up with a lot less horse. Not because of her, but because of me. I wish she'd be a smidge hotter off property, but at least i know exactly what I will get.

Anyway, I know the bottom line is that the only real way to get better at showing is to show more. But I'd still love to hear from those who are comfortable showing (or those who aren't), if there are ways you have learned to prep at home or at shows to manage nerves.

Do you find it helpful to practice tests a lot? Or do you find it better to just practice movements? Do you have a warm-up system that you think works really well for your horse? Do you take shots of liquor before you ride? Kidding about that last one...kind of...

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby Dresseur » Tue Jan 22, 2019 4:45 pm

Oh boy. I'm also a very, very nervous show rider. To the point that I'm usually dry heaving in the trailer as I'm getting dressed.

1. I have a support system, at this point, I don't show all by myself. I need people there to talk me off the ledge.

2. I try to think about the worst that can happen and why I'm bothered by it. Mostly I worry about letting the people who have invested time and energy into me down. I want to do well to prove that I'm a good rider - unfortunately it doesn't work like that and I'm starting to accept that part of showing is not riding as well as you do at home and that mistakes happen, and that's part of learning how to be a good show rider.

3. I follow the same warmup that I do at home, always. It gives the horse a chance to settle because it knows what's happening, and it makes it easier for my frazzled mind to run check lists. "Oh, this feels different than it does at home, I better address that.)

4. Show lots, and lots and lots. I don't do schooling shows - not enough time to choose to do them vs recognized, and for me, they don't trigger my nerves as much. But, after a full season of showing a lot, I actually started to look forward to showing a bit, and the only times that nerves kicked into overdrive was when we went up a level.

5. Go over tests, and have tests handy just before you ride - I panic when I feel like I start forgetting something, so being able to have someone very quickly go over the test with me is key... or me being able to read it is key to calm me down and give me confidence that I DO know the test.

6. I go to venues that I know so that the surroundings feel familiar to me. I tend to get more keyed up at new venues when I don't know what to expect of footing, parking, time to walk from warm up to arena etc.

7. WEAR A WATCH. CHECK YOUR WATCH. When you're nervous, you either fall into 2 categories - watching time incessantly or forgetting to check the time. I forget. So I set an alarm for 5 mins before my test so that I can get into the ring on time. I also like to give myself plenty of time around the ring edge before my test - so I'm usually waiting for the last test to finish. It also REALLY helps me to watch a test or two of the level/test that I'm competing so solidify it in my mind. (unless of course someone goes off course lol).

8. Pre pack everything and lay it out so that you have to do minimal thinking in the am of the show. I have my show-go bag and it gets put together IMMEDIATELY after each show so that it's ready to go and I'm not trying to find and wash white breeches or stock pins, ties, whatever.

9. Have extras, and have your own food and water. This helped me a lot because it made me think about eating and drinking, and I had contingency plans if something broke. It's a no brainer, but it helps me.

10. Get someone to make you smile or laugh right before showtime. It loosens you up, and increases your changes of letting go in the ring.

Looking forward to what others say!

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby blob » Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:13 pm

Thanks, Dresseur, these are great tips!

#7 is a good reminder for me. I spend half my warm up asking the ring attendant or my trainer 'what time is it now?' every time I go by. Would be much easier with my own watch! :lol:

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby Ponichiwa » Tue Jan 22, 2019 8:57 pm

I am not a world-class level show rider, but I have been reasonably successful when I've implemented the following strategies:

1. Know your test(s) inside/outside/backwards. I visualize my ride via going through the test on foot (usually in the aisle in front of my stalls, which gets some fun looks as I 'extended trot' my way across an imaginary diagonal), all the way down to how I set up each movement and what my horse's tendencies are. I'll do this probably 5 times before every ride because I tend to get my horses tacked up far too soon before I need to warm up.

2. Warmups. Practice at home before you show: what do I need to do in the first 15 minutes to get my horse supple and active and ready to school? Varies from horse to horse, naturally, but getting my warmup down has enabled me to a) have the same warmup at home as at shows, and b) get a more effective ride in on non-show days.

3. Ride in the "now". I tend to rush through the "easy" parts because I'm worried about the hard stuff, and as a result I've thrown away easy points. Just as we try to get our horses away from anticipating movements, we've got to do the same for ourselves. Finish the movement you're on before you head to the next one. Easy example: ride that medium/lengthened trot all the way to the corner rather than starting to come back to working/collected work at the quarterline. Rushing to the next movement NEVER pays off.

4. Breathe. Ties strongly to #3 but is not an easy thing to do.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby Flight » Tue Jan 22, 2019 10:01 pm

People say don’t practice your test too much at home otherwise the horse will learn it. But I feel you need to practice it and I do this by walking through it warming up (at home) thinking trot/canter etc at the spots and then definitely running through the whole thing. You have to be comfortable with the test.
I do as much as I can the day before - hook up float, pack etc so there isn’t much to do the morning of.
Pencilling. The more I pencil the more I see that it can be subjective marking and a perfect test is extremely rare, lots of people stuff up or are struggling with the same things.
Do lots of comps. I tend to go to the same local comps and so very comfortable with the drive, parking, warm up areas etc. all helps.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby blob » Wed Jan 23, 2019 1:03 am

Flight wrote:People say don’t practice your test too much at home otherwise the horse will learn it. But I feel you need to practice it and I do this by walking through it warming up (at home) thinking trot/canter etc at the spots and then definitely running through the whole thing. You have to be comfortable with the test.


Yes, I rarely run through the test, per trainers' instructions. I'm very good at memorizing, so I rarely worry about forgetting the test, but I think one of the biggest differences between tests and normal riding is that you do your movement and you move on. Meaning, at home if I'm working on something like shoulder-in, I do more than just half a long side, esp if it's not so great the first time. At a test, it's half a long side, one transition, one extension, etc and then you move on. So probably even just getting into the rhythm of riding like that from time to time would be helpful even if it's nto an actual test pattern.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby mari » Wed Jan 23, 2019 5:51 am

Good thread :p

I like to know the test inside and out. I practice the arena layout constantly, and can recite the letters in any order. Then I learn the test patterns about a week before, and ride them in my head constantly while driving. I cannot practice riding the test too much with Odin, he is a beast for anticipation.

I don't have huge show nerves. I have some performance anxiety, but really not intense.

The main problem for me is that the horse I'm riding at home is not the horse I'm riding at a show. He is a doll to take to new places, good manners, I can tack up and mount safely by myself if I need to, he's happy to walk around and see new things, not spooky at all. BUT his attention is not on me even a little bit, so there is zero submission, and from there suppleness and throughness and "on the aids" become pies in the sky. At home we have this issue to a much smaller degree, and I've learnt how to demand his attention. At shows I haven't quite figured it out yet. So while we can ride the test pattern pretty well on the day, and we do all the right moves in all the right places, there is a battle of wills the whole way and it definitely shows, especially now at 2nd level.
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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby Dresseur » Wed Jan 23, 2019 2:18 pm

We practice parts of the test leading up to the show day, and then do 1, maybe two full run-throughs just so that you have a sense of where things are. One thing we do to avoid anticipation is to put transitions past the letter - so the halt at X, we halt past that so that the horse isn't quitting 6 strides before X.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby chantal » Wed Jan 23, 2019 2:58 pm

Taking notes as I'll be showing my own horse (wow, that's a statement I never thought I'd say again) either this year or next year.

We incorporate movements into our daily workouts, not drilling them, but making them normal. I realized a few weeks ago that just going down centerline is new for my guy so that's incorporated into rides now. Starting at the walk where the smaller turns are no big deal. Trying to set him up to succeed.

I was really good at choking at shows but have had lots of racing experience since then so I'm hoping a little will translate. The nerves though... The bike doesn't care but my horse will. Being prepared ahead of time for everything, the day, the test, for contingencies (knowing I can't possibly prepare prepare for everything), has a lot to do with me me relaxed.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby heddylamar » Thu Jan 24, 2019 1:21 am

I'm pretty relaxed unless we're off schedule/running late. Over the years, I've learned to build lots of extra time into the schedule for traffic, suddenly not loading horse, etc. I pack lunch, a lawn chair, and a book if we have extra time.

None of that really worked with my retiree. She was explosively tense showing. I eventually just gave it up and schooled at home/trainers, and took her out trail riding. Too much going on was the tipping point. There were a few small schooling shows she was okay at, but never as calm as she could be trailering out for lessons. Her tension was independent of rider(s).

As for learning the tests, with my retiree I could practice them ad infinitum without problem. Her offspring has proven to be the complete opposite -- she anticipates and gets cranky if we go "off course." I'll have to ride parts, and then revert to practicing with a printout of a blank arena: "trot trot trot," "halt," etc.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby piedmontfields » Thu Jan 24, 2019 1:02 pm

Lots of good ideas here for those of us who just train, too!

One little thought for the pile is that it is really useful to routinely ride in front of other people esp. those who rail bird. If you have your own place or are at a very quiet barn, it can be a bit jarring to be at a show grounds. I've noticed I've gotten a lot more chill even about clinics by being at a busy barn all the time.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby exvet » Thu Jan 24, 2019 2:12 pm

Most of my horses anticipate too much for me to run through tests at home with any regularity. In fact it's not unheard of for me to show up at a show having never ridden a specific test before but I've always ridden the sequences/movements. It doesn't unnerve me but that's because the one thing I keep reminding myself is that NOTHING at a horse show is the end of the world or a real emergency if we're just talking about showing. I mean I deal with true life and death decisions on a daily basis (true it's 'just' animals) but it helps me put into real perspective what doing poorly at a show really means - basically that there is another day and nothing is truly devastating as some of what I deal with at work. However some things I do to lower the stress:

1. I have almost a duplicate of everything so that I have my tack room 'simulated' in my trailer dressing room. It's on a much smaller scale but I can virtually hook up at any minute and my trailer is fully packed and ready to show.
2. For those horses where braiding is an extreme challenge due to their amount of mane, I roach. One of the best things I've done to decrease stress.
3. I make sure I keep hauling and schooling as much of a normal routine as possible and I focus so much on transitions, transitions, transitions. It keeps my and my horse's mind busy and engaged and relaxation usually comes if it's not already there.
4. If I have an early class I will dress and wear coveralls or scrubs over my clothes. One less thing to worry and rush after I get there.
5. I carry extra girth, reins, head stall, halters, etc just in case there's a malfunction. More than one local has figured 'that' out and knows where to come if they do.....LOL...
6. I stay away from others as much as possible so that no one other than my instructor or myself can get into my head.

Not sure if any of that helps but the most important thing is that you love what you ride and ride what you love. THAT in and of itself should always keep it fun and less stressful because I consider it a privilege to just be able to work with my beast (a cute beast at that) and let others see how much I am bonded to him and the reverse.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby piedmontfields » Thu Jan 24, 2019 2:19 pm

exvet wrote: I consider it a privilege to just be able to work with my beast (a cute beast at that) and let others see how much I am bonded to him and the reverse.


Great point and exactly how I feel with my cute beast :-D

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby StraightForward » Thu Jan 24, 2019 3:11 pm

Dresseur wrote:
5. Go over tests, and have tests handy just before you ride - I panic when I feel like I start forgetting something, so being able to have someone very quickly go over the test with me is key... or me being able to read it is key to calm me down and give me confidence that I DO know the test.


7. WEAR A WATCH. CHECK YOUR WATCH. When you're nervous, you either fall into 2 categories - watching time incessantly or forgetting to check the time. I forget. So I set an alarm for 5 mins before my test so that I can get into the ring on time. I also like to give myself plenty of time around the ring edge before my test - so I'm usually waiting for the last test to finish. It also REALLY helps me to watch a test or two of the level/test that I'm competing so solidify it in my mind. (unless of course someone goes off course lol).


I've shown dressage very little so I don't have much to add, but these two have helped me. Before last show, I went as far as typing a "Cliff's Notes" version of each test that would fit in a coat pocket, and printed out and laminated. Even if I don't have to look at it, having it in my pocket soothes me.

I also went and bought a cheap black watch (just happens I can slide my Road ID onto the watch band). Make sure you check it against show time when you arrive.

At home, I found it useful to run through the test once or twice to identify the movement sequences that gave us trouble. For instance, in T-3, Annabelle and I can ride trot loops all day, but riding out of one, into the corner, and then getting a quality canter depart was challenging, so I rode that quite a bit and we didn't flub it up in the test.
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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby blob » Thu Jan 24, 2019 5:39 pm

piedmontfields wrote:Lots of good ideas here for those of us who just train, too!

One little thought for the pile is that it is really useful to routinely ride in front of other people esp. those who rail bird. If you have your own place or are at a very quiet barn, it can be a bit jarring to be at a show grounds. I've noticed I've gotten a lot more chill even about clinics by being at a busy barn all the time.



This is a great point. I rarely ride in front of anyone other than my friends and they're not really watching, they're busy riding themselves. So it's rare that i have anyone other than my instructor actually watching. And when I do have a rare audience, I get pretty self-conscious and tight. I think a lot of my show anxiety is probably really just public riding anxiety. For me, a clinic with auditors sounds just as scary as a show. And so often when i get into the show ring I just sort of freeze and think 'just look pretty and quiet!' hoping my horse will just go forth and complete the test on her own :lol: :oops:

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby exvet » Fri Jan 25, 2019 1:48 pm

I grew up a very shy kid; however, because my mother was more shy than I, she forced me at a very young age to make her phone calls for her and approach sales people in stores, etc to ask questions (for her). Then in college I had to take public speaking in order to get into vet school (a required class then but not now). Since that time I have done so much public speaking that getting up in front of people is usually fun for me. The thing that made it 'possible' was riding and showing horses and cattle. I did a lot of showmanship as a kid - horses and cattle. I also did a lot of team judging (FAA, college, etc). All of these experiences made it easier for me to publicly humiliate myself LOL........I have always viewed managing a large 4 legged critter a humbling experience that tends to make us mere mortals more on an equal level/playing field. Honestly most of the time I am so in tuned to my horse and the clinician/riding instructor/judge that I have no knowledge of who else is around until I'm done with my ride. However, I have been known to get off my horse in a public clinic with many auditors and hand the reins to a rail bird/spectator and invite 'her' to get on and show me how it should be done because the peanut gallery conversation critiquing my ride was so distracting. Funny thing is NO ONE has ever taken me up on those offers. I wasn't too surprised since I haven't always ridden the easiest of beasts. Do your best to block out the fact that there is anyone else around other than your instructor. Don't worry about anyone else in terms of what they might be thinking because it really does NOT matter. I can only speak for myself but I think it's wasted energy to worry about someone else's thoughts or more so to regret not following through on an experience because of what someone else might think. That gives them way too much power that they do not deserve. Enjoy your horse(s) and learn from the experience. That really is all that truly matters.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby lorilu » Sat Jan 26, 2019 3:28 am

Warm up just like you do at home. Then ask him to come on your aids however works best for you. For me, lots of walking loosening up with SI,HI, Renvers etc. Canter/walk/canter if it is in your vocabulary. Check the "buttons".
Know the test and have a reader.
Be sure to eat and be hydrated.
When you check in with the ring steward, ask who you follow and have her point out that horse.
Hardest thing for me is to not get flustered by all the other riders in the warm up getting in my way. Be brave, keep to the left to left rule, and call out if necessary.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby blob » Tue Jan 29, 2019 12:52 am

Thanks everyone for all your thoughts and advice. Here are some things I plan to put into practice right away/this show season (starts in March for me):

*Wear a wrist watch!

*Practice riding test like riding at home: moving from one movement to another in a sequence, rather than dividing up all my rides into chunks where i work on specific exercises/aspects.

*Figure out and time warm-ups at home: my biggest problem with warm up at shows is findng the right amount of time. I have an energy efficient horse who needs a decent amount of time in warm up before she gets cooking, but it's a fine line before we're both spent. So I always feel like i don't have enough time or that i have too much time. But if i pay more attention at home, i might establish a more accurate ballpark

*find opportunities to ride in front of people: this is a big one for me, as I've realized in the time this thread has been up that public riding is the main component of my show anxiety

*Give myself permission to have imperfect moments: this is another big one and one that will be harder to accomplish than the others because there is no tangible action plan. But I think a lot of my tension about riding in front of others is about wanting to just look perfect and effortless. But riding isn't like that. Sometimes I have to be a bit sharper than I'd like to be because my horse has days when she is not very responsive to my leg or seat, sometimes my position gets compromised because i'm working hard. I need to find a way to be ok with these moments. Rather than just trying to look perfect.

*Make sure I find time at shows to watch rides with my show mates and just have fun: I have a great show group--people I really enjoy. But last year i was too busy stressing before my ride, stressing after my ride to really enjoy the downtime.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby DJR » Tue Jan 29, 2019 2:12 am

I’ll also add to the excellent comments so far that, for me, one of the more nerve-wracking aspects to showing is timing the warm-up properly. This is especially so given that I have a huge, black horse who hates the heat, and has a very narrow “perfect energy-to-warmed-up” window.

I also need to plan for ride time screw-ups. I’ve had Jet ideally ready to head to the show ring when I discover that the steward made a mistake, or someone is late, or any number of unplanned delays. Then I fuss about Jet being on the “no more energy” side of the curve which, especially at Third/Fourth Level, puts us in a not-so-good place and makes me mentally fuss which throws me off my game.

So now I warm up with the thought of, “if our ride time gets bumped, I still have horse beneath me, but if not, he’s still ok to go now”.

This is much less of an issue with my lighter horses who aren’t drafty, big, or black! But I still consider it even with them.
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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby blob » Tue Jan 29, 2019 2:55 am

DJR wrote:I’ll also add to the excellent comments so far that, for me, one of the more nerve-wracking aspects to showing is timing the warm-up properly. This is especially so given that I have a huge, black horse who hates the heat, and has a very narrow “perfect energy-to-warmed-up” window.

I also need to plan for ride time screw-ups. I’ve had Jet ideally ready to head to the show ring when I discover that the steward made a mistake, or someone is late, or any number of unplanned delays. Then I fuss about Jet being on the “no more energy” side of the curve which, especially at Third/Fourth Level, puts us in a not-so-good place and makes me mentally fuss which throws me off my game.

So now I warm up with the thought of, “if our ride time gets bumped, I still have horse beneath me, but if not, he’s still ok to go now”.

This is much less of an issue with my lighter horses who aren’t drafty, big, or black! But I still consider it even with them.


yes, definitely an issue for my mare as well. I don't think it will be for my newer gelding (he has stamina for days). But with my mare there is a definite perfect window of her engine being revved up but not over spent. She also has some draft blood!

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby Moutaineer » Tue Jan 29, 2019 3:24 am

I think for me, I have to get my warm-up more dialed in. I don't get nervous, and I've largely gotten over riding in front of other people with going to clinics and the fact that I've always got someone watching my lessons (we do that at this barn, we learn a lot from each other.)

But, thinking about it, I tend to find I get on in the warm up and go "now what?" Now, he's not quite the same horse at shows as he is at home. He's a good boy and not freaked out, but he's not Mr. Relaxed, either--in fact, he's Mr. Rigid... So I can see I need to develop a warmup regime/checklist that just gets us both into the zone.

The other thing I realize I have to do is ride outside more, and ride in a regulation arena more. Come the spring, we are doing it. We have access to both, so no real excuse except the howling wind and the heat and the insane neighbors, and he doesn't handle being out in the "great alone" as well as he should, so I'm a chicken... We just need to make those things normal and not another "thisisdifferentwhatdoIdonow" moment.

And while I'm beating myself up :) I'm probably trying to move up too soon. But I can't see showing second level (again) successfully while training changes for third. maybe I need to take a year off showing, but that doesn't help my showing.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby Ryeissa » Tue Jan 29, 2019 12:58 pm

For me I started having two sets of some tack items (as previously mentioned). When possible I use a non white pad so my "white clean horse obsession" is tampered. I showed a bit in other things- HJ- to have fun and not be such a dressage rider about it. I actually have been doing more clinics than shows but it's hard with people watching- even more in clinics as it's real training messiness (and lasts longer).

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby LeoApp » Wed Feb 06, 2019 2:17 pm

lorilu said use a reader. I agree. I used to get so nervous at shows. I knew the tests well, but in case I had a brain fart, and just because my instructor's voice calmed me, I would always have her read for me.

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby blob » Wed Feb 06, 2019 7:39 pm

LeoApp wrote:lorilu said use a reader. I agree. I used to get so nervous at shows. I knew the tests well, but in case I had a brain fart, and just because my instructor's voice calmed me, I would always have her read for me.


I usually don't use a reader because I never even bother listening to the reader, i'm so focused and remembering the test is probably the only thing I'm good at. BUT your mention that your instructor's voice calms you made me think i definitely SHOULD use a reader because my instructor's voice REALLY makes my lazy mare pay attention. As soon as she hears him she knows serious things are happening. I'm bet my medium/extended work will go up a full point just from him saying it :lol: :lol:

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Re: Spinoff: Becoming a better show rider

Postby LeoApp » Wed Feb 06, 2019 7:54 pm

You never know!!


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