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  • Writer's pictureTim Johnson Cutting Horse

Starting the Show Season off on the Right Foot

Updated: Feb 14, 2019

Our guide to kicking the show season off with deliberation!

We know it’s so exciting when the year’s show season begins again, whether that be January, March or May for you. As we spent our January catching up on life at home, we reflected on the show season past, and began to set plans down to ensure our 2019 show season is the most successful we’ve had yet. We realized it often boils down to the precedents you set for yourself, your horse and your competition at those very first shows of the year. We know that you’re just getting back into the swing of things and you can be a little rusty, but setting your sights high early on will help you have a super consistent season and really nail down your routine from the get-go.

Consistent Routine

We all have a different idea of the word, and what it means in terms of preparing your horse, preparing yourself mentally, right up until you’re walking into the show pen and you proceed with your dry working routine in front of the judges stand. We’re going to tell you the practices we always use to make sure horses are on cue for Tim to show in the Open, or for our clients to show in their classes. We’ll also tell you how we help clients and how Tim prepares himself to make sure he shows his best.

"Warmed up instead of Worked up"

This is what Tim sees the most at shows that hinders non-pros and amateurs from having their horse warmed up properly to do their best. You might be getting your horse worked up instead of warmed up if: a) you spent 80% of your warm up time dry working along the wall, b) you’re so nervous that you’ve gotten off and on your horse 100 times in an hour, or; c) you loped your horse around for an hour, and then let it sit, saddled, for four hours tied to the wall before you get back on to prepare them closer to your actual class.

We get it, we’ve all been there, and you may think your routine has been working for you, but we’re encouraging you to try some other tactics and see how much better it can get! Here’s what we’ve found works for us and our non-pro competitors find success with it as well.

Instead of splitting up your loping session into three separate sessions of half an hour, try to do it all in one go right before your actual class.

Instead of dry working your horse for too long, try to leave them alone and have them mentally and physically prepared before you start to dry work them. Save a little for the show pen, and only do a small routine only, one or two horses before you are ready to enter the arena. You don’t want to take the spark out of your horse before it really counts; they often get tired and worn out if they’re dry worked too long before your run. Tim always hops on his horse one or two horses before he enters the show pen. He does a quick minute long routine to make sure they’re listening to his seat and his feet, and then off to the herd.

Don’t know when or how to dry work in front of the judges stand before you walk in?

Tim’s advice is only do it if you’re totally comfortable and confident on your horse. A few struggles with your bridle or horse in front of the judges stand right before you walk in can give them a preconceived notion about you. It may not be fair, but unfortunately it’s human nature. If you’re not totally comfortable turning your horse around in front of the judges before you walk to the herd, then until you get a confident routine down, try to stick to doing it outside the gate before you walk in. There’s nothing wrong with walking in and walking straight to the herd!

Are you worried you’ll get fatigued before your horse is ready to go, or your nerves loping around before your class will affect your horse?

Hire a loper! We know what you’re thinking –you might like to do it yourself, or you might not ride with a trainer regularly and have access to a loper. We get it, but we’ve got a solution. Often times you can ask a loper you know to hop on even just in the herd change, or for one herd before yours and then you can take over. This will make a world of difference, and most of them are happy to do it for you if they aren’t busy, and they will appreciate you in the future, if you repay them with as little as a meal at the concession, or even $20. While your horse is being loped by a professional, you can focus on your mental game, watch your cattle and get yourself totally prepared.

Why’s it so important to keep a consistent routine?

A consistent routine is the best way for you to set yourself up for success in the show pen. Once you start to have a consistent routine before you show, you’ll notice how much more consistent you and your horse will become inside the show pen. If something goes wrong, you’ll be able to pin-point where the routine was disrupted and it resulted in, for example, your horse maybe being too fresh and not rating down to your seat when you cued him during your run. By keeping up with the consistency, you’ll be way more comfortable every time you walk to the show pen, even if it’s in a different arena every weekend!

It’s so important to start the show season off for success, and this routine will help you achieve it. It can make or break your whole season, whether you’re running for the NCHA World Finals, or your regional or local yearend awards. If it takes you half of the year to figure out your routine for preparation, you might have already missed your goal for your year.

Need help figuring out the proper amount of time to lope your horse, or if you should work it before your class? Sit down with your trainer before the first show of the year and make it a priority to get your plan and routine set up from the get-go. Review your goals, and what you and your horse need at a show to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success every time you walk to the herd. Don’t have a trainer or aren’t a part of a regular program? You’d be surprised at what information you can get if you just ask! Try asking someone who helps you in your corner, or turns back for you regularly. If they know you and your horse, they’ve probably already put some thought into it, just watching you. Alternatively, try asking the previous owner, especially if he or she was successful with the horse, what worked for them to have your horse prepared properly and have the best runs possible.

Tim’s top tips to guarantee success from the very start of show season:

- Make sure you warm your horse up, not just work him up.

- Make sure your loping session is done in one time block before your actual class, not split into small session across the day.

- Try not to lope your horse in your show bridle, to get the full effect of the specific bridle, try to throw it on a few horses before you enter the herd.

- Hire a loper! It’s worth the burger you have to buy them, or the $20 you have to throw them for their expertise.

- Avoid dry working your horse in front of the judges stand unless you’re completely confident in your routine with your horse and equipment.

- If you need help, nail down a plan with your trainer before the first show, or find a trainer that usually helps you and you’ll be surprised at what free advice you can get if you just ask.

We hope this helps everyone! We can't wait to see everyone's progress in this 2019 show season!

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Feb 14, 2019

Great info Tim! Thank you🙂


Feb 14, 2019

I certainly want to start the year out right. Thank you Tim for the great tips! They will be added to my routine. Hiring a professional Loper is an awesome idea! My nerves do get the better of me. If I can watch the cows and horses before I go just might help to settle them instead of losing my mind and worrying the whole time I am trying to get my horse ready to go in the pen.

Thanks again!


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