Having a Game Plan by Troy Green
Everyone knows that just owning horses is a big commitment. Feeding, daily care, shoes, vet bills, etc. The list is endless as we all know. However, to own and show horses on a high level takes an even higher level of commitment. Not everyone has the same goals and not everyone is interested in competing at the same level. Some people enjoy the occasional low key weekend show and some want to be consistently competitive on a national level. I always ask each of my customers what their goals are so we can create an appropriate plan to help them achieve those goals. I consider that to be one of our main jobs as horse trainers, whether the goal may be to steadily improve their skill level or to be a Congress Champion. I always tell my customers what the best plan of action to take is. Ultimately they can make their own decisions about what to do, but if they chose not to follow a plan, I cannot promise results.
A horse’s training is like a child’s education. For the best result, it’s about consistency and time. A horse that is in and out of training is like a child that is in and out of school. Most people went to 12 years of school for around 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, about 9 or 10 months out of the year. That’s a long term commitment to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. Horse training is very similar. Balance, lift, rhythm and work ethics are the foundation…the grade school. It takes years to train a horse to be competitive on the top end and it’s also important to maintain that training. Anybody can buy a world champion, but without the tools and knowledge to maintain him, he can become just an ordinary horse. I can’t stress enough the importance of a program. It’s also important to understand that as trainers, it’s our job to incorporate rest and down time into our programs so the horses don’t burn out. Just because a horse is in a training program, does not mean that it’s in a permanent state of boot camp. Our horses are huge investments and their longevity in the show pen is of the utmost importance.
Training and showing horses on a national level is no different from competing at any other sport or hobby at the highest level, whether it be a professional basketball player, an Olympic gymnast, or a PGA golfer. The sport becomes a lifestyle. Professional athletes spend years and years honing their skills and developing their craft. I use basketball as an example…I enjoy basketball; I played when I was in grade school. I play occasionally, but with the best coaching in the world, I’m afraid I won’t make it to the NBA finals. It’s important when setting goals that you make sure you have a means to an end. Your trainer should be able to tell you if the horse you have is physically capable of doing the job you require of him. I could work 10 hours a day at it, but again…basketball superstardom is not going to be in the cards for me.
Once you/your trainer have found a horse that is not only capable of doing the job at hand, but can excel at the job it’s also important to evaluate your “tools.” Although tools are not everything, they certainly are an important piece of the puzzle. I’ll use golf as an example now. I don’t know much about golf but I imagine that I could go to my local sporting goods store and drop a pretty penny on some golf clubs, shoes, balls, etc. Now I could show up, ready to play, with my new professional golfing instructor and he may look at all my shiny new toys and say that they’re not quite what we need. I’m going to trust his professional opinion and listen to “why” we need different tools. If somebody gives me a reason “why” and it makes sense to me, that’s the most important thing. The top professionals and amateurs alike will use certain brands of saddles, bridles, bits, etc. The best brands are the best because of craftsmanship, appearance and functionality. As top brands normally bring top dollar, not everyone can run out and buy what they need, but the first step is being educated to not waste money on an item that will eventually need to be replaced. Again, it’s our job as professionals in this industry to advise our customers in smart purchases. I’ll use saddles as an example here. When educating people about the importance of a well made, well-fitting saddle that will maintain in value, it’s not about the amount of silver. I would rather have a work saddle of a higher quality to show in than a show saddle of a lesser quality. Right or wrong, most professionals and judges can recognize quality tack…it becomes almost like a uniform. No, the judges are not judging you on your tack and equipment but it’s a contributing factor to the overall picture.
Show clothes are also part of the overall picture. The most important thing to me is a good, well-shaped hat and chaps that fit properly. It’s OK if a customer doesn’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a custom-designed jacket. If they have a good hat and chaps and proper tack, that’s OK, and a high end outfit can be on the wish list for the future.
There’s no substitution for horse shows. Try as we might, nobody can duplicate a horse show scenario at home. Your horse can be amazing at home, but if you never get out to a horse show, you’re only kidding yourself. Horse shows bring a variety of scenarios into play that all help get your horse more exposure and farther along in the training process. Changes in scenery, weather, traffic, crowded warm up pens, noise, livestock, you name it and all the hours spent riding and showing through all of the above distractions cannot be substituted. Especially with young horses, the more they are taken around from show to show, the more broke they get, showing becomes their job and horse shows become their work place. While on the topic of going to horse shows, the amount of showing you do and where you show all depends upon those goals I discussed earlier. If you have a goal of competing on a national level and doing well at the Congress lets say, that has to be a year long commitment at a minimum. You need to show not only around home but at the larger circuits such as the Florida Gold/Gulf Coast, Arizona Sun Circuit, Virginia Classic, Redbud Spectacular, Reichert Celebration, etc. You and your horse need to get the experience and confidence to do well in tough competition and the judges need to see you and your horse consistently out there making a presence at the larger shows. The first step for somebody new to the industry is to get out there and break the ice and get some experience…then it’s on to conquer the world! On the topic of exposure, advertising will never hurt. Again, this is not a must, but if somebody comes to me with all the means and needing a game plan, I would tell them to show all year and advertise all year especially advertising their wins.
So although each horse owner has different goals, it’s our job as trainers to educate our clients to achieve those goals. If they stick to the plan, that’s half the battle. If I try to make cookies from scratch and follow the recipe halfway through…there’s no guarantees those cookies will be edible! There are never any guarantees in life, but if a plan is made and followed, it certainly helps.
Troy Green is a firm believer in the importance of a good foundation for every horse with balance, rhythm, and self-carriage being key. A good foundation equals longevity in the show pen. Troy has won over two dozen All American Quarter Horse Congress Championships in western pleasure, versatility, reining, halter and western riding, and has coached clients to over 50 Congress championships. Troy has three AQHA World Championships and two National Championships under his belt, and has won at all major futurities. He spent three years on the national board of the NSBA.
Troy Green has an extensive background working with youth and amateurs at all levels and of various disciplines. He specializes in pleasure futurity and all around horses.
Now is your chance to have your questions answered by Troy! Just submit your question using the comment section below or the email link, and he will respond to select questions in future posts.