by Mitzi Summers
I have to admit that when Fitting and Showmanship classes first became popular at horse shows, I found that they did not interest me as much as the performance classes. But it was only in the last 12 years that it became obvious to me that the preparation, knowledge, and hard work necessary to compete successfully in these classes is indeed quite interesting and challenging.
Horses need to be thoroughly groomed on a daily basis. It is important to include the use of a good quality body brush in your grooming routine. A good quality brush will be a bit expensive, but is well worth the cost. It is used with long, fairly hard strokes. It should be done with quite a bit of energy at least 10 minutes per side. The main benefit is the increase of circulation to the surface of the horse’s coat. Do not bath your horse on a daily basis; it will cause a horse’s coat to become dry.
If your horse is turned out, I do not expect the ears to be trimmed inside and out. Some hair is necessary for protection from insects. You definitely should, however, trim all longer hairs on the edges and slightly toward the inside. They should not look fuzzy. All hair around the nostrils is usually shaved. I do not penalize for long hair about the eyelids.
Training your horse for Fitting and Showmanship classes takes many hours. It has grown in popularity and the competition is quite expert. Set up patterns at home and practice the movements that will be required. Many examples of patterns commonly used are available in rule books or on the internet. Invest in cones… will probably be able to find inexpensive ones at your local Dollar Store. Have one of your friends pretend to be the judge and have her move around your horse so you can practice the pattern.
The halter needs to be leather and in good condition. In open shows the amount of silver on your halter should not be a determining factor. Be aware, however, that with some judges, and especially in Breed shows, “bling” is definitely taken into account. The lead shank should be leather with a chain. The chain runs underneath the horse’s jaw and up through the rings on the off side. For balance, it is best for the chain to reach to the second ring. The snap mechanism should point away from the horse. The lead leather should be in good condition and clean also, and the chain metal polished.
If you are showing your horse English, be certain that your bridle is in good condition and very clean. The bit MUST be very clean…check especially the inner rings of a loose ring snaffle or the sloping sides of a full cheek snaffle. A judge can tell if your horse just now “slimed“ his bit or if has been there a season or two. On that note, do not allow your horse to have a bite of anything once you have bridled him, or just before you go into the ring. You may have done a super job, but masticated green grass on the bit, nose, and possibly the shoulder of a horse when he just tried biting a fly will undo all of your hard work.
If you do not have a pair of smooth English reins, it may be a good idea to invest in some for your halter class. Laced reins are very difficult to get really clean, and this will be taken into consideration. A tooth brush and an hour or so are required to get a used pair really show clean.
The turnout of the handler is also very important. If your horse fairly gleams and you have ill fitting clothes, untidy hair, or dirty boots it will be taken into consideration. If you are showing western, a long-sleeved western shirt is necessary. A vest correctly fitted can add an extra flair. Western dress pants of good quality or well-fitted jeans are acceptable. I like the additional bonus of tight fitting gloves. Boots or jodphur boots, of course, should be very clean. Minimal makeup for woman exhibitors is fine, but you are not on stage on Broadway.
First impressions are important. I will stand at the in gate and have each exhibitor pause briefly while I get a first look and note the numbers. If the handler resembles a somnambulist, it will take a bit to change my first opinion. You should look alert, happy to be there, aware of your horse and your place in line. A nod or slight smile to acknowledge the judge is fine… imitation of Carol Channing will not impress.
Do not be afraid of asking questions if you are unsure of what to do, but ask in a clear, intelligent voice. You and your horse on “on stage” the moment you enter the ring. You never know when the judge may glance at you, and you need to be actively showing all the time. I expect to see an exhibitor aware of my position in the ring at all times. Do not relax just because you have already been examined by the judge and performed your pattern. Some Fitting and Showmanship classes are very large. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable in the ring, either too hot or cold. But you have hopefully worked many hours for this class so make it worthwhile and stay alert for the length of the class. If I am going down the line and individually working each exhibitor, I will often step back and look back down the line of horses already shown. If the handler is between me and their horse, if they are looking down, or speaking to another exhibitor or someone outside the ring, that will result in a minus mark on my score card. If I look over and I see the exhibitor still posing, watching their horse and watching my location, it will result in a positive mark.
Some things to definitely avoid doing are:
• Shanking your horse….either yanking on the chain or, even worse, yanking on the reins attached to the bit. Your training at home should not include this, either, but doing it in the show ring will probably eliminate you.
• Not being prompt as the judge moves around your horse. Often called “quartering”, never get between your horse and the judge. Your moments should be quick and graceful. It takes practice. If you are slow, and move as if you really would rather be texting, the judge will not be impressed.
• Obvious parts of your horse not clean. I always check the girth area, so if you rode before your class, clean your horse before entering your halter class. Also clean behind the ears and the inside of the haunches — all places that can lead to sores.
Judging and exhibiting in Fitting and Showmanship can have a bit of a theatrical feeling to it, as if you are the performer and the judge is the audience. Do not overdo it…grinning like a clown, but the movement of the horse and rider should result in a sort of dance. It can be a VERY interesting and challenging class.