Western Games Dos & Don’ts
Well, it’s the end of February and the start of western games competition season is just around the corner. We’re still only at the stage of getting Peanut used to a western saddle. Never mind running a Barrel Racing course. But, I was doing a bit of wishful thinking and, as always, harking back to this time of the year with George. And you can’t have a website about Western Riding and Western Games without posting a few thoughts on general Western Games stuff.
So, this is my list of dos and don’ts. I’m not suggesting it’s complete or that anyone else should be guided by it. There’s lots of people with better experience than me who can advise about this sort of thing. If you’ve got any thoughts please feel free to add a comment.
Check your cinch
Check your cinch and tack every time before you enter the arena. It may sound obvious but there always seems to be someone who forgets this simple rule.
Don’t rush to be first in
With most western games you get two timed runs. Watch the other competitors for a while and remind yourself of the do’s and don’ts of the particular class.
Make your first run count
Try not to go flat out on your first run and concentrate on cleanly finishing the course. That way you at least get a time. It might still turn out to be the winning time. There’ll be days when the recognised aces just get it wrong and a good accurate and steady run will be enough.
Wait for the timekeeper
Having entered the arena, wait for the timekeeper to give you the nod. George only had to see the cones on the arena floor to know he was about to go for it. Sometimes, it ended up with a bit of dance holding onto him while the timekeeper got organised. But you look a complete chump charging into the arena and rushing off around the course only to be told the timekeeper wasn’t ready!
Left or right handed horse
It’s likely your horse is either left or right handed. Which is to say that he has a preferred lead for rounding an obstacle. As most western games allow you to go either way around the course, start off on the lead that works best for your horse. It saves time if he doesn’t have to change lead before he gets to the first turning point. The easiest way of achieving this is to position yourself facing away from the start line and begin with a rollback so that your horse turns around onto his best lead.
Most western games classes only last between 10 and 25 seconds. I’m not saying you can’t hold your breath that long but if you’re not breathing, you’re not relaxed. Not only will that take away your fluency as a rider but your horse will take the tension and stop thinking about what he’s doing.
Don’t finish too soon
(Lesley Powell will laugh reading this – she nagged me about it for ages!) Don’t anticipate the finish line. It’s so easy to see those marker cones coming up. You heave a sigh of relief and tend to slow down as you get there. If you do, you’ll be losing time and when there’s sometimes just 100ths of a second between the top finishers in some western games classes, it can make the difference. Keep going as fast as you can until you’re over the line.
Don’t crash into the arena gate
Turn away from the arena gate as you cross the finish line and bring your horse to a halt there before walking him quietly back. There’s always a few people at the arena gate (not least, the next competitor!) and it’s courteous to them not to arrive like an explosion in their faces. Not only that but it shows that you are in complete control of your mount.
Use your pommel
Don’t be shy about taking hold of your pommel with your free hand. It’s what it’s there for in a tight turn. But don’t allow the tension to pull yourself off your seat. Your safest place is sat firmly on your pockets. If anything, use the pommel to push yourself back into the saddle. Of course, touching the pommel in a show class is a huge no-no but not so in Western Games.
Don’t whip your horse
Don’t be afraid to show your horse the end of his reins if he’s being lazy. I am not here advocating whipping the horse. You will be disqualified if you do. It’s usually enough to let him see them out there but if it needs something more, crack them against your leg or around your back.