Horse Showmanship is an excellent exhibition of both control and poise. The goal of showmanship is to present your horse in the best possible light. As this is an in hand class, ground control is the key to success.
It is imperative to be in the correct state of mind long before you enter the arena to show your horse. Many have heard that the class starts before you enter the gate and I would argue that it begins in the practice ring at home.
The key to showmanship is to have a solid understanding of in hand cues and how to present your horse in the best possible manner. With this preparation you will be well on your way to showmanship mastery.
If you intend to compete in showmanship I highly recommend that you watch many classes with competitors of all skill levels. What do you see out there? Watch for the differences in the high placing competitors and those of the showman who do not win. What is the difference in how they present their horses?
Watch the movements of the horse and movements of the exhibitor. You will find that the movements of both horse and rider of the high performers are effortless and in sinc. This comes from hours of training and schooling outside of the show arena.
The details go beyond that though. Look at how well groomed the winning horses are. Taking the time to properly groom your horse comes down to the details. From clipping, to brushing, to the hoof a winning showmanship horse looks ready to present.
The exhibitor is also well groomed. Hair is neat, clothes are crisp and clean and tack is oiled and shined. Taking the time to groom the horse and the exhibitor is a trait of showmanship winners.
When watching classes pay attention to posted showmanship patterns before the classes start. Copy it down, memorize it and walk through it in your mind. Are there pivots, cones to trot to or around?
Then watch the competitors as they perform the pattern. What do you notice? What do the winning exhibitors do differently than the rest?
The pattern of a showmanship class is meant to allow the movements and confirmation of the horse to be displayed, along with the ability of the horse and exhibitor to execute the moves in a precise manner. This goes back to how the owner of a horse would present the horse to a prospective buyer. The goal is to show that your horse is healthy and well trained. Makes sense right?
The best exhibitors will perform the pattern and all judged portions of the showmanship class in a manner that allows the judge to easily view the horses movements and to be able to evaluate their precision in executing all maneuvers. This will usually include moving the horse toward the judge and then away from the judge in straight lines. Moving turns can be included in patterns so being prepared for that is important as well.
When performing movements to and away from the judge the exhibitor should align their right shoulder with that of the right shoulder of the judge.
Because horses are not naturally inclined to move in perfect straight lines this is move that must be practiced during schooling until you can do it without thinking.
One note, the lead should not need to be held completely tight but at a relaxed and controlled slack level. This alone takes plenty of practice so be prepared.
Before and after every movement where your horse comes to a stop, they should be squared up. Squaring up should be accomplished in a couple steps and should be natural and balanced. Practicing squaring up is something that also must be practiced before competition. I see far to many exhibitors becoming frustrated with their horse not squaring up and this is almost always from lack of practice. A horse with very poor confirmation though can have difficulty with squaring up so understanding your horses confirmation is key as well.
During all movements you want to present the beauty of your horses movements. This means a lively trot and not lazy or rushed movements. Practicing starting trots and slowing to a walk is imperative to ensure that you and your horse can perform these movements in a fluid and not rushed manner.
So when practicing for showmanship, this is when you win your class. Watch winning horse and exhibitors and take note of what they are doing. Watch for how they have groomed their horse and themselves. Look at the details in how they dress and prepare their horse. Then watch how they perform each movement of the pattern and note areas where they could improve.
When schooling your horse, what areas are your strengths and which are your weaknesses? Identifying your weaknesses can be hard when practicing for showmanship so if you have a knowledgeable friend or family member have them take notes while you practice maneuvers. When you know your areas of weakness and your horses weaknesses develop a practice strategy and spend enough time so that they are no longer weaknesses.
As you continue to develop your showmanship skill, you will realize new areas for improvement and practice those areas in the same manner. In time you and your horse will also be showmanship masters.