Smart Showmanship

NRHA Professional Jordan Larson gives insight and tips on how to prepare your horse for the “big day” and how to show smart.

By Deanna Beckley

Larson believes the key to success in the show pen is preparedness in your home arena.

Larson believes the key to success in the show pen is preparedness in your home arena.

Becoming a good showman is an art that takes time, practice experience and feel, with a dose of confidence and a little “natural talent”. When you watch someone have a good run, it looks effortless and smooth – the movements flow into one another for a seamless performance.

That’s exactly how it looks when reining horse trainer Jordan Larson rides into the pen. Larson has worked and shown his way to many championships, and has earned the title of NRHA Millon Dollar Rider – the youngest among his peers. He has become known as one of the industry’s greatest showman – showing his horses to the best of their show ability and sometimes even beyond.

Home Preparation

Good showmanship and having good runs starts long before you ever enter the pen. The quality of preparation at home will be a factor in how well your horse shows. Larson practices each maneuver how he expects his horse to perform in the pen so they are comfortable with the pressure of the show pen.

“Practice the maneuvers like you expect them to show, but not every day,” explains Larson. “I do a lot of work at plus half speed in order to build their confidence and keep them relaxed. It is much easier to as a horse for a little more everyday then it is to have to back off if they become scared. Focus on the correctness of the maneuver and mental confidence before adding speed.”

“I try to realistically know my limits. I teach a horse how I want it to show by going to small shows and not asking him for his life every time. I make a game plan for each horse and how it need to be prepared.”

No matter what arena you are competing in, showing horses take a great deal of concentration and preparedness.

“I think about showing everyday while I am riding,” says Larson. “By the time a show rolls around, it should be second nature for all of the preparation that took place at home.”

Show Time

The level of competition today makes the reining discipline very challenging. Riders are expected to do things very quickly and crisp, while maintaining absolute control.

Larson builds up to showing by first visualizing each part of the pattern he is about to run. “Know your weaknesses and strengths and try to never take anything for granted,” explains Larson. “A great leaded horse doesn’t always change leads. It is your job to make sure your horse is in the correct position to be successful.”

Patterns that flow freely are those that are ridden every step of the way – not just from movement to movement. It’s all in the details.

“I have an idea of what position I need my horse to be in for each part of the pattern. I am more concerned with the little things like lead departures, approaches to stops, waiting to rollback, starting the turn-arounds, steering and setting up my horse for lead changes. If your horse is broke, the big maneuvers will take care of themselves. Take each maneuver and make it the best it can be for each horse.”

When it comes to showing, Larson puts emphasis on being in a positive mind frame. “Try not to react to a maneuver while showing, instead prepare for the next one. You will lose focus if you are thinking about what you just did, good or bad. Let the judges judge you; your job is to show your horse in the most effective manner possible.

“Stay relaxed and focused. I am very critical of myself, but I use that to drive me to get better. We have to learn from our mistakes and move forward. I have missed so many finals by half a point, but I let that inspire me to keep learning and use it as an incentive to get better. Trusting your horse is the key to a great run – you must have faith in your horse to be successful. Do you best and trust what you have worked for.”

Jordan Larson’s top 9 tips for showing horses.

1) Know your pattern.

2) It’s the little things that count. For example, a great stop is nothing without a great rundown, rollback or back-up.

3) Understand what the judges are looking for.

4) Don’t overlook pattern placement.

5) Don’t be scared to learn from other trainers.

6) Watch your videos and be optimistically critical of yourself.

7) Preparation is important.

8) Horsemanship. Learn to recognize lameness, sickness, scratches, etcetera.

9) Don’t be afraid of failure.

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