Heading off to a horse show is stressful, whether you are the horse or the rider, and whether you do it all the time or just once in a while. Stress comes from the travel, the change of schedule, the competition, and more. Not only can this stress affect your performance, it can lead to health concerns for your horse.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to prepare your horse for the stress of showing. It all comes down to just one thing: routine.
How Stress Affects Your Horse’s Digestive Health
While stress doesn’t directly cause digestive problems like ulcers and colic in horses, it can affect your horse’s behavior and eating habits. The stress of travel or excitement of a show atmosphere often keeps your horse from eating and drinking enough – both of which can have a serious impact on the equine digestive tract:
- Not enough water can increase risk for impaction colic
- Not enough food, especially hay, can disrupt the digestive process and lead to digestive imbalance, ulcers, and colic
Prepare Your Horse To Handle Horse Show Stress
The key to keeping your horse relaxed and its appetite normal at a show is to create a routine at home and stick to it at the show. If the travel, noise, excitement, and general stimuli at the show are “routine” for you horse, it is less likely to get stressed.
Here are some tips that work well for our horses at Freedom Farm when we head off to shows.
Reducing Travel Stress
The more comfortable your horse is with trailering, the less likely it is he will get stressed.
- Offer water every 3 hours during travel
- Use protective wraps on horse’s legs
- If it’s hot, leave at a time of day when the sun is coming up or going down
- Provide a hay bag (sometimes wet hay)
- Fly spray horses during hot buggy months
- Bed with at least 3 inches of shavings – cushion and less slippery
- If the horse has never hauled, practice loading and unloading ahead of time and go on short drives
- Trailer with a more experienced horse
Settling In at the Show Grounds
Acclimate your horse to the new atmosphere carefully so that he gets comfortable and can go on with “business as usual.”
- Maintain the same feed and care schedule and routine at the show as at home
- Stall your horses next to a buddy if possible
- Use the same tack and equipment
- Take your horse to the stall first and give him some time to settle
- Hand walk your horse around the show grounds and let them get used to the sights, sounds, and smells
- Hand walk your horse in the show pen before riding in it
Prepare for the Show Ring
Practice with distractions at home so your horse will be prepared to focus in the show ring.
- Prepare your horse to handle the new, busy atmosphere by going to clinics, taking group lessons, or taking your horse to shows just to ride before you try to compete.
- Walk in the show pen yourself first and get a sense of confidence on your own feet before you get on your horse.
- Use the same tacking and warm-up routine as at home.
- Put signs up on your ring at home, umbrellas, and other strange objects and people to prepare them for the weird things they’ll see at the show.
- Practice in your show gear or something similar. (For saddle seat we ride with a towel in our pocket to get horses used to the feel of the long coat.)
- Practice clipping, braiding, and face glaze at home so they are used to the feel of them.
- Use cameras with flashes at home, walk horses through mud puddles, and generally prepare them to handle common show situations.
Remember: a horse that feels great will perform its best in the show ring!