Get Ready to Win

Win­ning doesn’t come eas­ily. Use my ad­vice to pre­pare your­self and your horse to win.

Horse & Rider - - Practice Pen Bob Avila’s Winning Insights - By Bob Avila, With Jen­nifer Paul­son Pho­tos by Marc Lax­ineta, DVM

Ev­ery­one wants to win. You can want it all day long, but if you’re not pre­par­ing to win, want­ing to win won’t do you a bit of good. When it comes to win­ning, noth­ing re­places hard work and solid prepa­ra­tion.

Here are five pieces of ad­vice to help you and your horse be sure that, when you go com­pete, you’re ready to win.

Ride…a Lot

Non-pros who win a lot are non-pros who ride a lot. The more you ride, the bet­ter off you are. If your horse is in train­ing, make time to go ride a few times a week. If you keep him at home, you’ll need to ride more of­ten than that to keep him phys­i­cally ready to com­pete and win.

I see the pit­falls of ir­reg­u­lar sad­dle time at my barn reg­u­larly. A cus­tomer comes to ride for two to three weeks, and they start to make real progress. They achieve a goal at a show. Then they don’t come ride for another two weeks, and it takes them even longer to get back on track. It hap­pens to me when I miss sad­dle time, and I’m used to rid­ing horses ev­ery sin­gle day. If I go on va­ca­tion for 10 days, I come back rusty. I get back in the rou­tine more quickly be­cause I ride so many horses ev­ery day, but it still af­fects me. That’s ten­fold for a non-pro rider who can only get in the sad­dle on one horse a few times a week. Noth­ing re­places rid­ing.

Another ben­e­fit that comes with rid­ing a lot is more time with your horse—groom­ing, wrap­ping legs, sad­dling, un­sad­dling, hos­ing off af­ter the ses­sion. All of that time with your horse ex­poses you to his per­son­al­ity. Use that time to get to know his quirks and how to work with them.

Seek Ad­vice

If you keep your horse in train­ing, then you’re prob­a­bly al­ready get­ting lessons when you ride. It’s one of the ben­e­fits

of that board­ing sit­u­a­tion. But not ev­ery­one can af­ford full train­ing, or they sim­ply want to keep their horse at home. DIY rid­ers es­pe­cially need to seek out­side in­put on their horse, their rid­ing, and their progress. When you ride by your­self, you might think you’re do­ing good. But then you get to the show and some­one says, “Wow, you need some help with that!”

Part of my longevity in the horse busi­ness is that I sur­round my­self with tal­ented peo­ple who work for me. If I have a prob­lem, I can ask an as­sis­tant what they see, and then I can try to fix it. Or I can put him on the horse and watch what’s go­ing on for my­self. I al­ways have an ex­tra set of eyes to iden­tify po­ten­tial prob­lems and train my horse to his best ad­van­tage.

Set Up to ‘Fail’

There’s al­ways some­thing un­ex­pected at a horse show. Kids play­ing in the stands, bad ground, ban­ners on the fence, loud trac­tors, screech­ing mi­cro­phones—the pos­si­ble trig­gers for your horse to lose his mind are end­less. Pre­pare for those spooky sit­u­a­tions at home by set­ting him up to deal with the un­ex­pected. With that ex­pe­ri­ence plus know­ing your horse from spend­ing a lot of time with him, you can make it eas­ier to deal with those vari­ables at the horse show.

I have ban­ners tied all over my arena fence. Yes, they’re my spon­sors, but I know that just about ev­ery show I go to will have the same types of ban­ners. By ac­cus­tom­ing my horses to them at home, they’re no big deal at the show. I’ll have the neigh­bor kids come over and play right out­side my

Put Your Horse First

Es­pe­cially at the big shows, you’re putting your horse in liv­ing con­di­tions that don’t fit his usual rou­tine. The lights are on all the time in the barn, whereas at home they get to sleep in the dark. The stall foot­ing isn’t as com­fort­able. You have to ride at 2 a.m., when he’s used to be­ing rid­den at 4:30 p.m. Do ev­ery­thing you can to keep your horse com­fort­able, even in less-thanop­ti­mal con­di­tions.

At shows, I put ex­tra lights in my horses’ stalls that I can turn off at night, so they have some change in light­ing. This makes the over­head barn lights seem more like am­bi­ent light­ing, so the horses can sleep more eas­ily. I also keep my feed­ing sched­ule as close to the same as it would be at home, rather than ad­just­ing for time­zone changes.

Try It at Home

If you’re go­ing to try some­thing new—a bit, a piece of tack, a school­ing tech­nique, or a cue—try it at home first. Ev­ery time I’ve tried some­thing new at a show, it comes back to haunt me. Ear­lier this year, I had my 3-year- old pre­pared to show one-handed. Ev­ery­one else was still show­ing twohanded, so I de­cided to go back to rid­ing with two hands. It made my horse tense and he thought he was in trou­ble. My de­ci­sion didn’t help my horse at all. I should’ve stuck to my pro­gram.

Try ev­ery­thing you’ll use at the show at home first, down to the squeaky show sad­dle and the splint boots. It’ll teach you a lot about your horse, pre­pare him for his new cir­cum­stances, and put you both closer to be­ing ready to win. A mul­ti­ple AQHA world cham­pion, Avila has also won three NRCHA Snaf­fle Bit Fu­tu­ri­ties, the NRHA Fu­tu­rity, and two World’s Great­est Horse­man ti­tles. He re­ceived the AQHA Pro­fes­sional Horse­man of the Year honor. His Avila Train­ing Sta­bles, Inc., is in Te­mec­ula, Cal­i­for­nia. Learn more at bobav­ila. net.

Spend­ing time with your horse— both in the sad­dle and in the barn— helps you bet­ter un­der­stand his per­son­al­ity and how to get along with him in the show pen.

Set up spooky sit­u­a­tions at home—such as kids play­ing loudly out­side the arena—to ex­pose your horse and de­sen­si­tize him be­fore you get to the show.

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