We had about a month to pull it all together, so the first thing we did was meet a few times without our horses, to map out what we wanted to show people and how we could choreograph it to keep things interesting and progressive.
We chose games and tasks that our horses felt confident with. A performance or competition is not the time to teach oneself or one’s horse new tasks, but rather to show what the partnership can already do.
Then we did simulations, again without our horses. We practiced this at home and at the event venue until we were confident with our parts. This allowed us to get comfortable with our timing and pacing (not to mention ensuring that by the end of the month we were fit enough to jog along with our horses for the duration of the event).
We set up our “stage” at home, with the various obstacles and toys we would play with at the demo. We also took the horses to the event venue at least twice a week, allowing them plenty of time to gallop around and roll and explore and graze at the grass along the fence. This made the arena a fun playground rather than a dull office. It also allowed the horses to get used to the sound of the music and any random commotion like work trucks or people climbing up and down the stands.
Meanwhile, we continued playing with our horses in other ways, doing things like a short trail ride around the ranch to deliver the mail as well as our normal routines. It was important not to practice the demo patterns too many times, so they did not get bored with it.
I was reminded of one important point that I’ve told many students over the years: “Don’t change anything the day of the performance.” Not realizing that I wasn’t taking my own advice, I decide to paint the pedestals the day before the demo. When my horse Dave smelled the unfamiliar pedestal and realized it was quite slippery he did a double-take. I thought to myself, “Of course, I changed something!” But after a couple of tries Dave hopped up on the pedestal, and I was overwhelmed with his trust.
On the morning of the demo, we gave each horse some grazing time, and we started the same way we started every practice session, allowing them to run free in the arena before we called them to us. Our horses caught our sense of purpose and truly showed what you can achieve when you approach things naturally.