Are breed shows worthwhile for my youngster?

Dressage at Devon Breeder's Group Champion 2006, 2004 and Reserve 2005, 2003, 2002

Dressage at Devon Breeder’s Group Champion 2006, 2004 and Reserve 2005, 2003, 2002

At Blue Waters, we are in Devon prep mode and are honored to prepare horses for several of our clients.  Often I am asked if the breed ring is a good opportunity for youngsters to get exposure to their future life as a performance horse.  My answer is always a resounding, maybe!  In general I recommend very shy or nervous youngsters stay home until they grow into more confidence.  This includes foals who are still at their dam’s side, even if mom herself is calm.  The high energy of show grounds, particularly a venue like Devon, can really overwhelm them.  On the other hand, an independent and confident foal who has a fretful mom can still have a positive experience provided the dam is mannerly with her handler.  One of my broodmares was quite herd bound and became anxious when taken off the farm, however her foals enjoyed having new adventures and performed very well.  If your primary goal is providing life experience for your young horse, then by all means give breed shows a try.  If you are hoping to bring home a ribbon, then you have more to consider.  Foals, yearlings and two-year-olds are tricky to assess, given the fact that their bodies and movement seemingly change by the week.  It’s important to find peace with this reality, or you may set yourself up for disappointment.  If results are important to you, consider having your horse evaluated by a seasoned breeder, professional handler, breed judge or stallion owner.  Judges are charged with evaluating a few minutes in your young horse’s life and it’s a very difficult task indeed.  By no means does the outcome prophesy the potential of your youngster! 

If you are new to the breed ring, I recommend viewing “Show Your Sport Horse in Hand DVD” prepared by USDF and reading the USEF 2014 rule book, starting on page 91.  This will help you learn proper handling, training and presentation procedures.  Instilling good ground manners now will make for a more enjoyable relationship with your horse.  Typically we only need a few sessions to prepare foal and dam pairs.  I recommend delaying weaning and castration until show season is over.  Yearlings and 2-year-olds however, usually need more preparation.  Please note that 2-year-olds are shown in a bridle. 

I strive for a Henneke horse body condition score of 5-6.  Since our horses live out 24/7, I may add a coat darkener such as Black as Knight to their diet, eight weeks out from competition, if their coat has bleached.  Be sure to consult with your veterinarian concerning a vaccination and deworming schedule appropriate to your situation.  We also schedule a visit from the farrier a few days prior to competition.  Sometimes gangly yearlings and two-year-olds, benefit from a gentle exercise program.  This could include free running, sessions in a European freestyle walker or in an Aqua Pacer.  To learn more, please read my article titled “Aqua Pacer Conditioning

Although we do the prep ourselves, I always use a professional handler for the show ring.  A good handler will bring out the best in your youngster and is well worth the financial investment, particular at a top venue like Devon.  I hope this article helps you.  As always, I encourage you to pray whether the breed ring is a good option.  The Lord knows your young horse best and loves to be a part of their upbringing!

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