Before we dive into some winning tips on preparing both yourself and your equine partner for the show pen, let’s first define exactly what‘s meant by Western Reining and Western Pleasure riding for those of us who might not be quite as western savvy as others.
Western Reining is a competition in which the rider guides the horse through a precise pattern of very athletic movements at speed: fast circles, flying lead changes, spins, and sliding stops are all carried out with a high degree of precision and control.
Western Pleasure, on the other hand, is a competition style in which horses are evaluated on manners, and their ability to produce a relaxed but collected cadence coupled with a relatively slow speed of gait, plus a calm, responsive disposition. In other words, the horse is comfortable, smooth and, you guessed it, a pleasure to ride.
Carol and Warren Backhouse own and operate Backhouse Training Stables and Five Star Reining. Warren is one of Australia’s leading reining trainers and clinicians, while Carol is the maestro of turnout.
“We take great pride in our horses and as you might guess presentation from our property to the show pen starts from the inside out. A good feeding program, rugging, housing, and regular shampooing with a good quality shampoo and conditioner are all essential,” she explains.
If you’ve seen a reining competition, you’ll know that many reining horses have long manes – and these require particular attention and regular grooming. “We have a regular cleaning and maintenance program for all our horses’ coats, manes and tails,” Carol says, “with manes kept plaited, and tails plaited and bagged all the time. And a reining horse with a strong hair gene makes this job a lot easier!”
Prior to a completion, the Backhouse horses are shampooed and conditioned, clipper trimmed, and have their tails, manes and forelocks dyed if necessary. But as Carol points out, the preparation doesn’t end there: “We usually arrive at a show a week before the competition. Reining surfaces differ greatly, so to prevent injury we find it necessary to arrive early so we can get the horses accustomed to the new surface.”
But there’s more: “On the day of competition the horses are shampooed thoroughly, manes are re-plaited, and tails plaited and bagged. The clippers come out and any extra trimming is taken care of. Facial makeup is applied and hooves are blackened. Then they’re saddled up, the plaits come out, they’re brushed and wiped over, and they’re ready to go,” Carol explains.
Well, nearly ready. The horses are also kitted out in front and back leg protection boots – but not just any boots: “The boot colour depends on the colour of your horse, but we tend to prefer white front boots and leather skid boots for the back,” she says.
All Carol and Warren’s show gear – saddles, bridles, boots and saddle pads – is well-maintained, clean, and kept for just that purpose. “We have saddles for working in and show saddles that are only for showing. We prefer a bit of silver on all our show saddles because it makes for better presentation when entering the show pen,” Carol explains.
And the same goes for their show bridles, which are kept spotlessly clean with the silver shined to perfection.
Now that the horses look dazzling, how about the humans! In Western reining, men generally wear a smart shirt in a colour that matches their saddle pad. Warren’s signature colour is green, so he usually rides in a shirt of that colour.
The Backhouse’s daughters Ashleigh and Hayley work and show with their parents and are very fashion conscious when it comes to showing: “Our girls like a shirt or a jacket with lots of bling and they do look great wearing them. There’s beautiful variety and choice when it comes to saddle pads, and the colour of your shirt and pad really comes down to personal choice,” Carol says, “but just make sure that they match and also suit your horse.” And a handy tip: using a thin pad under your show pad will help to keep it clean and protected.
The Backhouse’s also show in western style chaps. Again, these come in a variety of colours, some are plain while others have stamped leather inserts. The type you choose is down to personal preference, as long as you ensure that they work well with the rest of your outfit.
And one final word from Carol: “Our family motto when we arrive at a show is whether you win or lose, you have to look great doing it!”
But now it’s time to meet another Backhouse daughter, Natasha Humphries, who along with husband Travis owns and operates the TNT Training Stables, a professional Western horse training facility.
Natasha’s area of expertise is in Western Pleasure riding, including the Hunter Under Saddle classes. They too leave their property several days before competition so that their horses become used to the new environment and are settled in the arena. But as Natasha explains, there’s plenty to do before departure: “Before we go, we want our horses look their absolute best, and that includes washing, clipping and making sure their feet are freshly shod. Then the night before we show them, we wash them thoroughly and whiten their socks”.
On the morning of the show, the horses have their manes either plaited or banded. “That takes about an hour and yes, you end up with very sore fingers but it’s well worth it,” she says.
Tails also need attention. The Humphries horses’ wear false tails into the show pen, which are washed and blow-dried the night before to ensure they’re thick and glossy. When it comes to face makeup, Natasha says it’s a must, particularly on a horse with a pretty head, but suggests that you always opt for good quality products.
“On show morning, it’s normally a 3:00am wake-up call to allow time to get all the horses lunged down, and to give them one last time in the arena to make sure everything is perfect. There’s no room for mistakes,” says Natasha.
“We ride in high quality western saddles with a lot of silver on them for the Western Pleasure classes, and good quality jumping saddles for Hunter Under Saddle classes. Saddle pads have to stand out, and ours are tightly woven and usually come from the US. We make sure that we chose colours that are a good match for our jackets and the horse’s colour,” she adds.
When buying a show saddle, the first and foremost concern is that it fits your horse properly, as well as being comfortable for you to sit in while allowing easy leg contact. Good saddles are a substantial investment, so keeping them in bags when you travel to a show will help protect them from scratches and dust.
Natasha always ensures that saddles and bridles are spotlessly clean with the silver polished before they leave for a show: “The way you present your horse and gear to the judge should deliver a clear message that you mean business,” she says.
Wearing black chaps over black show jeans so that they blend to create an unbroken silhouette, she also dresses in some dazzling jackets. Jackets embellished with crystals make an eye-catching statement, but given that good quality jackets start at around $3,000, they’re not a statement that’s cheap to make!
However, vests and shirts are now a popular alternative and these give you the option to mix and match: “But make sure that they do match,” advises Natasha, “and that includes your vest, shirt and saddle pad. And remember that in major classes it’s important to stand out, so when you’re deciding on colours for your outfit, make sure that they also complement your horse so that they bring out its best too.”
And a final word from Natasha: “When you enter the show pen, you have to ensure that the judge is drawn to you by the way your horse is presented – well-rounded, shiny and polished to perfection. Remember, first impressions last.”