Horse Showing: Showmanship Best Practices
Horse Showing: Showmanship Best Practices
By Kaycie Timm
Preparation at the barn plays a major role in determining show-ring success, especially in a class that requires exhibitors to nail every step of the pattern.
In showmanship, each movement and detail must be polished to perfection for you and your horse to top the judges’ score cards.
So how can you ensure your time is used wisely as you prepare for this detail-driven class? We asked three showmanship stars and their trainers for advice on how to practice like a world champion. They shared these six keys to achieving success in showmanship.
1. Keep practices short and successful.
Although exact duration should be based on the horse’s training and personality, limiting practice time can help prevent burnout for both horse and exhibitor.
Mallory Vroegh, the 2017 youth world champion in showmanship, keeps showmanship drills with her horse, Krymsun Belle, between five and 15 minutes, depending on how well she responds.
“If ‘Belle’s’ being really good, then they need to be done quickly,” says Mallory’s mother, AQHA Professional Horsewoman Shannon Vroegh. “If there’s something they need to work out, then Mallory will take longer.”
|Mallory Vroegh and Krymsun Belle earned the 2017 AQHA youth world championship in showmanship. (Credit: Journal)|
With seasoned horses like Belle, spending too much time rehearsing the same maneuvers can actually have a negative impact. Tony Anderman, 2017-19 world champion in amateur showmanship with Solo Invested, has also found this to be true.
“When horses get truly broke for showmanship, you can actually over-practice them,” says the three-peat showmanship world champion. “I generally practice for 15 to 20 minutes.”
Like Tony and Mallory, Jennifer Michaels, 2017 Adequan® Select world champion in showmanship, has developed a strong partnership with her horse, PSU Willy Be Krymsun. Now that “Will” has mastered his showmanship abilities, Jennifer simply integrates a few minutes of practice before or after riding.
“He’s becoming such a machine,” Jennifer says. “If I over-practice, he mentally checks out.”
However, if she notices Will struggling with a specific maneuver, she won’t quit until he shows some improvement. Like Jennifer, Tony strives to achieve perfection every time he works on showmanship.
“I believe in the saying, not that practice makes perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect,” Tony says.
2. Work with other horses.
Although limiting practice time promotes success for seasoned horses, exhibitors can benefit from expanding their schedule to include time schooling horses other than their main showmanship partner. Not only does this sharpen the exhibitor's skills, it can also reveal shortcomings your horse might be hiding.
“I think it’s great to practice on other horses, because sometimes you realize things you thought were difficult aren’t that hard with another horse,” Tony says. “You might realize your horse needs some work on a certain aspect.”
Although she spends most of her time working with Belle, Mallory also practices showmanship with other horses to challenge herself and expand her skill set.
“To be honest, Belle is kind of easy now,” Mallory says. “I want to be sure I can get other horses do those same things, too.”
When she was a member of Team USA for the 2018 American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup, Mallory put that skill into practice with a former racehorse. Fabulous Stone, a 1991 sorrel mare, had never been taught showmanship, but Mallory won the class in the Youth World Cup shows with her.
Working with horses that are not as accustomed to showmanship as her world champion mare gives Mallory confidence in her own ability as a handler, which boosts her showmanship performance to the next level, she says.
3. Have a game plan.
Once you set aside a specific time to focus on showmanship, planning your practice helps maximize improvement at home and prepare you for success in the arena.
“I think it’s important to have a clear plan of what you want to accomplish in your sessions,” Tony says. “That way, you aren’t just going through the motions without making it count.”
Tony has found the importance of forming a game plan comes into play when it’s time to compete, as well.
“At shows, after I see the pattern, my trainers and I plan how we’re going to prepare,” Tony says. “We pick the maneuvers we want to practice a lot and the ones we don’t want to practice too much.”
At the Vroegh barn, reviewing specific processes dictates the focus of each lesson. For example, clients are instructed to set up their horses after every maneuver while warming up before practice.
“When we break it down, the kids and amateurs learn the process for setting so well that it becomes second nature,” says AQHA Professional Horsewoman Hannah Lind, Shannon’s assistant trainer. “That way, no matter how you stop, you can always turn, look and automatically put together a plan to guide the horse’s feet where they need to be.”
Once they’ve established this procedure at home, it comes naturally, even under the pressure of competition. It also provides a convenient distraction to combat show-ring nerves.
“We focus all of our exhibitors on each piece of the pattern, step by step,” Shannon says. “That takes control of the nerves, because they don’t have time to think about being nervous.”
Mallory has found success employing a similar strategy in the arena.
“I think about what I have to do in each maneuver as my job,” Mallory shares. “If I think about it piece by piece, it keeps my mind off the nerves – I just have to do my job.”
For Jennifer, too, developing a plan with her trainer before each show helps halt the raging nerves that stem from the unknown outcome of each class.
“I just focus on what my plan is out there in the pen instead of worrying about the what-ifs,” Jennifer says.
|Jennifer Michaels, 2017 Adequan® Select world champion in showmanship, has developed a strong partnership with her horse, PSU Willy Be Krymsun. (Credit: Journal)|
4. Ask someone to watch and critique you.
From Rookies to the most seasoned competitors, having educated eyes offer constructive feedback provides an important perspective for improving performance. Trainers, family members and trusted friends can all offer an objective view of you and your horse’s ability from the sidelines.
“When you’re trying to have the perfect pattern, it doesn’t always feel like how it looks,” Tony says. “If you need to work on something, it’s very important to have another set of eyes on the ground.”
Without an outside viewpoint, it is almost impossible to continuing improving your showmanship skills.
“I definitely need the critique from my trainer,” Jennifer agrees.
Mallory appreciates when her trainers offer what some might call “tough love.”
“I feed off of criticism,” Mallory says. “It just makes me work harder.”
In addition to seeking feedback from a coach, Shannon suggests videoing showmanship runs at every show so exhibitors can watch and learn from their own performances – both good and bad.
“You have to be able to see the way you show, because no amount of practice can set you up for the actual situation in the show pen,” Shannon says.
Without fail, performance in the arena always differs slightly from the way exhibitors train at home. By watching a video of their own patterns, exhibitors can identify problem areas and witness particular points that need additional focus in the future.
5. Establish a solid relationship with your horse.
In showmanship, consistent success requires the development of a good horse-handler partnership.
“You want showmanship to look effortless, with good communication between the exhibitor and the horse,” Tony says. Although the class requires horses to possess certain skills, the horse does not carry the weight of the scoring. Rather, the handler should appear to be showing off their horse – not simply coming along for the ride. Presenting this image requires both horse and exhibitor to be in tune throughout the pattern.
“Showmanship horses should be very responsive,” Tony says. “They should be ready when you ask them to do something, but not think ahead of you and try to do it on their own.”
The close connection necessary for success in showmanship takes time and dedication to develop.
|Tony Anderman and Solo Invested's partnership continues to grow, as they clinched three AQHA amateur showmanship world titles from 2017 to 2019. (Video courtesy of Equine Promotion.)|
“You’ve got to know your horse to excel in this class and work as a team,” Jennifer says.
Although Mallory and Belle have already established a close bond, she remains dedicated to fostering their relationship at home so they can continue to shine in the arena.
“Showmanship is a partnership,” Mallory says. “I spend a lot of time with my horse.”
6. Focus on the details.
When judges determine the final scores for showmanship, details make all the difference. So, exhibitors aiming to excel should center their practice on perfecting the little things. Since even the smallest details make a major impact in scores, eliminating errors in every aspect of the pattern helps ensure a successful run.
“Body position informs your horse when you execute a maneuver,” Shannon says. “If you’re not clear with your body when you’re telling your horse what to do, then they’re not going to read you well.”
Mallory maintains her mastery of this key skill by focusing on positioning herself and her horse properly in relation to each other, the judge and the elements of the pattern.
“When I practice, I walk a lot of circles to the right,” Mallory says. “I want her next to me, but not too close to me, and I want her straight. You have to be precise in showmanship.”
|Watch Mallory Vroegh's 2017 youth world championship pattern with Krymsun Belle. (Video courtesy of Equine Promotion.)|
Tony strives for constant improvement by spending time working on any specific problems he encounters in the arena. “If I had an issue at a previous show, I will work on that element so I learn from my mistake and can correct it in the future,” Tony says.
Jennifer uses a similar strategy of prioritizing the details she struggles with most in her showmanship preparation.
“I know where my weaknesses are, and I work on those most when I’m practicing,” Jennifer says.
She relies on repetition to help her conquer difficulties and nail every maneuver by establishing mental pathways for each key piece.
“As long as I know I can do all the mechanics of what a pattern would ask me to do, it’s just a matter of putting it all together,” Jennifer says.
Practice These Patterns: Free to AQHA members, this premium e-book features three chapters in which professionals break down showmanship, horsemanship and hunt seat equitation patterns and advise how to conquer them. Download e-book.
Visit www.aqha.com/showmanship-at-halter for more articles and resources to help you perform your best in showmanship classes.