It’s a sight synonymous with cutting: dozens of horses next to the show arena being loped, and in some cases loped more and a few cases, loped more still lol! Yes, there are horses that need a lot of preparation while others just need to stretch and warm up. So do you know, exactly what your horse needs and can you tell when your horse has reached that ideal, show-ready state?
Below you’ll find some great tips for loping by one of the industry’s top lopers Miranda Westfall. But first let’s explain why we even lope horses before competition.
Cutting is an explosive sport, where horses gather up their power in the stop in order to pounce in the right direction, at the right time and in just the right amount to block the cow. But if they have too much energy stored in their bodies, they pounce too far and from there it all unravels.
Another reason for loping is to get the horse’s mind on the job, to help them focus and to make sure they are listening to foot cues, your seat etc. Loping is part of the showing ritual, that signals to the horse that it is time, not just to go to work, but to perform at their best.
So tips to help you prepare your horse to show:
- Know your horse. Every horse is different physically, mentally and has different habits. Even if you don’t lope your horse at a show, lope it at home to get to know what your horse needs, so you can fully explain this to others. This takes time but will pay off tremendously. The better you know your horse, the better you will show.
- Know loping etiquette. Everyone lopes in the same direction. The direction changes each herd change. Those going faster remain on the outer edge of the circle, walkers are on the inside.
- Have tidy attire (especially if you are loping for someone else) and no hoodies is important.
- Don’t move straight into a trot/lope. Miranda says this teaches them a bad habit. Walk your horse first and build the momentum.
- Older, show-experienced horses generally take less time to lope (unless they are more high-strung) than younger horses.
- Be consistent in everything you do. For example, put your horse’s boots on at the same time at every show. Miranda says she likes to put them on before she starts loping so it’s one less thing to think about (some people like to do it just before the horse crosses the line). The important thing is not so much when, but keeping it the same every time.
- Don’t be picky with your horse, it’s not a time to train or get into a fight and make them mad before competing.
- Trotting will often tire your horse faster than loping.
- Understand your leads and be on the correct lead according to the direction you are moving.
- Watch for the signs that your horse is ready. Are they “between your feet” (responsive), are they throwing their head (still fresh), are they soft in the face, how heavy are they breathing (good to have their noses blowing a little), how much are they sweating?
- Remember, it’s better to have your horse a little over-tired than a little under-worked when showing.
- Make sure you walk your horse to cool down after showing. A rule of thumb: the longer they loped, the longer the cool down.