As much as our instructors tell us that timing, position, and clean show shirts are important in the show ring, what it really comes down to is whether or not we can complete the course without knocking a pole or having a refusal. And as much as we tell ourselves that having fun, gaining experience, and spending time with our horses are the only things that matter, what we really want is a blue ribbon. If you’re looking for a way to stop losing points and start gaining places, look no further! We’ve got the secret tips to help you and your horse unlock your potential to a flawless clear round!
Key #1: The Right Canter

You can’t have a successful takeoff without a really good canter. While the perfect canter is short, bouncy, and energetic, what is more important is that the canter is controlled. For some people, a controlled canter can be 40 miles per hour. Others might only feel in control if their horse is crawling. We can’t tell you how fast your canter has to be, but we can tell you that you need to be able to turn your horse in either direction or stop him immediately with just a simple tug on the reins (not that you’ll have to make sharp turns or stop your horse during your course, but you know you are in control when you have the ability to do that). Having the horse under control is also known as having the horse "between your leg and your hand".

Key #2: Treat Every Fence Like a Hard One

A lot of people will lose their technique halfway through a course, so it is important to remember to put effort into every fence. There’s always one jump that’s higher, wider, or more difficult than the rest, and more often than not riders try very hard to make sure they can clear it. Because of this, a good rule of thumb is to jump every fence as if it is a hard one, so you don’t start slacking off. Even if your horse is getting tired near the end, keep his speed up and hold your position! Every jump counts, even the easy ones! Also remember to stay positive. If you believe in yourself and trust your horse, even difficult obstacles can't shatter your confidence.

Key #3: Know When to Cut In

A good rider will stick to the edges of the arena and use all of the space to give herself enough space to maneuver to each fence. A great rider will cut the corners that she doesn’t need in order to conserve time and energy. What we’re trying to say? Cut in, but only if you know it will benefit you. Don’t feel bad if you need to use up a lot of space to prepare your horse for the next jump, but if you know you don’t need all of the space, don’t use it. It will shorten your time and give you a different jump approach. This is even more important if you're riding in a class where the faster times rank higher.

Key #4: Eyes On the Prize

A common problem among riders is that they have great eye direction when cantering, but as soon as they begin approaching a jump, they feel the need to look at it. It can be difficult to look away, but it’s very important to look over an obstacle instead of at it. Once you finish a jump, look at the next one, so that you’re ready. Your horse will feel this shift and know where he’s going (believe it or not). Remember: chin up, eyes ahead!

Key #5: Get a Rhythm Down

You will have to adjust your speed throughout a course, so maintaining a steady gait throughout is nearly impossible. Instead of trying to keep the same pace, work on getting a rhythm. When you’re going faster (for example, going up to a wider fence like a spread), count your strides and make sure your horse doesn’t speed up going into the fence or slow down right before it. If you keep your rhythm and stride length steady, your horse will be able to find the distance by himself.

Hopefully, these clear round keys will help you unlock the secrets to a great day at the show. Of course, this isn’t all you need to know. It’s also important to keep a good position, aim for the center of each fence, and give your horse plenty of rein as he leans his neck forward.  As long as you pay attention in lesson, though, and work hard, we’re sure you can earn your way up to first place! Good luck!

Also... thank you very, very much to for every image used in this article!

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    Looking for ways to take your jumping from drab to fab? Read this article to unlock the secrets to a flawless ride. Blue ribbon, here we come!