Sara’s Training Tips: Preparing a Novice for the Ring

Sara Parrott produces horses and ponies for the show ring with her partner, Craig Eleanor. Together they have enjoyed countless successes at HOYS and RIHS, from show hacks to mini mountain and moorlands. This issue, she gives us six steps for preparing a novice for the showring.  

‘Preparing a novice pony for the show ring can be a daunting task. We like to form a plan early in the year, which will alter according to the temperaments and progress of the ponies, but the basics are the same. Don’t feel the pressure to rush this process or overdo it; you are aiming to provide a good education for your pony’s future. We try to listen to the ponies by repeating steps as many times as needed before moving onto the next.

  1. Traveling

It’s often overlooked, but most novices aren’t used to traveling. This can be a huge deal for them. It’s a real-life skill for ponies to learn to travel relaxed and happy, to stand on the lorry, eat, drink and be in the right frame of mind to perform.

To help this process, we always travel ponies with big hay nets. Traveling without a hay net is asking for ulcers. Plus, eating encourages them to relax.  All our ponies are also given a small feed of chop a short while before travelling so they have something in their bellies, again acting against the risk of ulcers. We make sure the lorry has plenty of woodchips to encourage them to wee and poo, and we open all the windows for lots of ventilation, and don’t over-rug to travel. Finally, the company of a sensible friend is always nice for novice travellers.

  • Homework

Before we ride away from home, we need to have ticked a few boxes.  Ideally, the ponies are used to being ridden with others. If you don’t have anyone to ride with, ask someone to lunge another pony while you ride, or ride next to fields where horses are turned out. Hacking out is the easiest way to desensitise ponies and horses. Put as many spooky things as you can around the arena, such as banners and artificial flowers – I get mine from the charity shops – then move them about. It always amazes me how a chair in a different spot is so much scarier that it was before! Children running up and down is one of the spookiest things for ponies, so we welcome noise and playing in the barn so that ponies are used to different sounds. Also, play music in the barn and when you’re riding so that novices learn very early on to relax around noise.

  • School hire

Once your homework is going well and you feel confident enough to take your pony elsewhere to ride, hire a school. We tend to book indoor schools as it’s something different from our own outdoor school; and I always lunge the first time to allow the pony time for a buck, squeal and a look around in the hope that they will then be more focused when we get on. One they’ve worked, making sure that at the end of your session, you spend a bit of time standing around, as standing is another life skill for the show pony.

  • Ride around

Before going into the ring, we take our novices to a show for a ride around. This is the next step up from indoor school hire as you can’t control the environment around you. Once again, I pop them on the lunge if possible. For sharp or nervous ponies, I often just hack about, stand about, and avoid getting in the thick of a collecting ring as I want it to be a good experience, and repeat the process until they are settled. But other ponies are ready for the ring next time. It’s also nice for them to have a graze to relax, especially before a long journey home.

  • Clinics

For those lacking confidence, clinics are great. A clinic can emulate a show but without any pressure. Never be afraid to communicate frankly with your trainer at the clinic; tell them what you want to get out of the hour as your trainer will also want the sessions to be helpful. Clinics are also the perfect opportunity to iron out issues.

  • Show time

Once you feel prepared and ready to go to a show, pick a venue that’s familiar to you. Before going, make a couple of goals before you start. Mine are normally simple: I want a ‘clear round’, so I aim for a forward, relaxed pony at all three paces, and I want my pony to stand still in the line. Anything else is a bonus. Arrive in plenty of time so that if you need an extra ten minutes to prepare, you have it. In novice classes, no one expects a perfect show. If it goes wrong, take a breath and carry on; don’t be embarrassed as we’ve all been there, and your job is to simply make you’re your pony has a good experience. Finally, remember that producing a young animal is a hugely rewarding experience, so enjoy it and don’t be in a rush – once you are out of novice classes there is no going back! Good luck!’