Winning in the show ring is the culmination of hard work and hours of training. Riders like show jumping star Todd Minikus are envied. Over his 40 year career, he’s earned more than 130 national and international grand-prix wins. He’s also represented the U.S. on multiple National Cup teams, is a two-time bronze medal U.S. Pan American Team member and served as an alternate for the Olympic Games.
Given the chance to ask him for advice, most riders want to know how he rides a faster line or executes a clean round. But he says that winning at the top levels of the sport is more about the horse. Here he shares five tips for achieving show jumping success.
1. Get a good horse.
There are not many riders who have made a horse’s career, Todd says. But there are countless good horses who have catapulted a rider to the top of the standings.
“Start with a good athlete. Then find a horse that wants to be a winner,” he says. “There are a lot of horses that are athletic, but they don’t have the desire to win. Some horses that don’t have as much natural ability have a burning desire to win. Those horses can be more successful than the naturally talented horses.”
2. Invest in the whole horse.
Today’s show horses receive the benefits of many of the same therapies and treatments human athletes use for peak performance. That wasn’t the case when Todd started his professional career in 1980. People didn’t talk about ulcers or skeletal problems like they do today, he says.
“The advancements in equine sports medicine have been amazing,” he says. “We didn’t talk about ulcers or skeletal problems. We didn’t talk about treating necks and polls back then. Work with your veterinarian, farrier and health care professionals to keep your horse performing at their best.”
3. Provide individualized care.
Todd compares his horses to professional athletes. Football, baseball and basketball players train together as a team and individually to maximize their potential. Horses need the same level of individualized attention.
“Don’t categorize or lump all the horses together. Train each one as an individual,” he says. “Pay attention to each horse’s needs. Some need breaks and rest. Others need consistent, steady work to continue performing their best.”
4. Use the KISS system.
Everyone has heard the mantra, Keep It Simple Stupid. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and stress that accompanies training for and riding in all levels of competition. Attention to details can mean the difference between first and second place but overthinking a ride can be as detrimental as a lack of preparation.
“Don’t overanalyze your ride,” Todd says. “Put in the time and work at home and when you get to the show, trust your training.”
5. Refer to step one.
It doesn’t matter how good a rider someone is, if they aren’t riding a good horse, their chances for success are limited. Todd emphasizes finding the best horse you can afford to advance your riding career. Professional trainers can help guide you.
“Find a trainer with a style that you like and join their program,” he says.