It’s that time of the year – no not Christmas – it’s time to appraise your efforts over the last ten months and set your goals for next year.

Take a notepad and jot down all of the things that went wrong at shows you attended. Was there a regular problem cropping up that you missed? Or were there many various problematic scenarios? Then put down what you did to try to correct these.

Many of these problems occur when the rider changes his/her style on entering the show pen or when they are under pressure. A good example of this happened the other day at a clinic. I had been getting riders to enter the trail box and just do a turn on the haunches with a modicum of speed and to forget about knocking the outside poles. Pretty soon everyone was doing extremely well without even hitting any poles. A camera appeared and immediately one rider entered the box and froze …..then dithered their way around the 360-degree turn, knocking a couple of poles into the bargain. The net result went from the earlier plus half to the minus one plus two penalties all because of the aforementioned camera! The net result is a three and a half point difference on one obstacle alone or possibly the difference between a first place and a seventh-place on one obstacle alone.

Try to get someone to video you working on your chosen discipline in a relaxed atmosphere and then video you in the show pen and spot the difference. Have your hands got quicker? Are the signals from your legs late or even non-existent? Now there’s a winter workout.

We have seen a lot of talk on the western pleasure class recently, especially on Facebook. These little extracts seem to be going viral with negative comments coming not only from within the industry but also outside of it. Firstly I would suggest that good repair groundwork would be to study the new AQHA ‘judging western pleasure’ DVD – a very worthwhile addition to your library… possibly even a Christmas present? We all agree that a few years ago the western pleasure classes in the USA were seriously disgraceful and so far this has improved to being just sub-standard! This DVD takes the improvement even further. Logically, you cannot change all of this overnight. Many people who have purchased previous winning pleasure horses for a considerable amount of money would be looking to the courts for recompense if they found the criteria for judging had completely changed after January 1st, 2016. Look how much Volkswagen is having to consider to set aside for an emissions test falsification (and how many VW owners bought their cars solely on emissions).

Changing for the better is a two-way street. Firstly the riders have to bring better moving horses into the show pen, after all the class is about rewarding the best moving horses. You do this by getting the horses more broke in their faces and driving their ribcages up so as they can use their hindquarters. You can liken your horse to yourself. You started life by crawling on the floor and then mum/dad, taking your balancing arms forward so as your legs had to move forward, then just held your arms and encouraged you to step forward on your own. The third stage was that you managed to move your legs by using your balancing arms on your own, and eventually you found out that you could use your legs even without using your balancing arms ……..the horses head and neck are its balancing arms. That gives us four categories ….all too often we see so many horses entering the pen who haven’t evolved from the first two categories i.e. they are using their heads and necks and front legs to drag themselves around. Let us all strive to get into the last category and improve the overall view that the western pleasure horse is a good moving horse and a pleasure to ride.

Secondly, it helps if the judges help. If you have a got a droopy moving miserable class then the judge should ask the riders for an increase in forward motion. That is not to be confused with the moderate extension required in the class. If you watch the AQHA DVD some good examples of what appear to be poor moving horses being asked for an increase in forward motion then becoming superior moving horses.

We can restore this class to what it is supposed to be according to the rule book but it is in everyone’s hands. Let us get away from ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

From Chrissie and myself, a very merry and safe Christmas and a happy new year.

Onwards and upwards,