First, don’t feel alone with your challenge here. It’s normal for most horses, after competing for a while, to develop somewhat different personalities in the two circumstances. You are showing good horsemanship to recognize both the root cause (your horse has learned what his real job is), and to realize that you are fortunate to have a horse that moves his game up when it counts.
If you are competing frequently, serious schooling – at least jumping over larger fences – isn’t really necessary at home. Use your time to keep your horse healthy, happy, sound, and fit. Vary your rides as much as possible. Frequent trail rides are great for body and mind if you are fortunate enough to have good places to ride. Being restricted to the same arena day after day can become mind-numbing to both horse and rider. If you are limited in where you can ride make a real effort to put as much variety in your rides as possible.
Here are a couple of examples:
One day work on fitness by doing trot and/or canter “sets.” Use a watch to do 2 to 3 minute trot sets, followed by a loose rein walk breather, and repeating or alternating with gallop as appropriate for your horse. For this work, keep it relaxed and forward; make it a “fun” day when you don’t ask him to be on the bit or even totally obedient!
Another day alternate short periods of asking for total concentration from your horse. Use transitions, circles, leg yield or shoulder-in, lengthening and shortening — each transition coming one after another quickly enough that your horse must really pay attention to your well executed commands. Doing this in a pattern you’ve planned in advance will make both of you sharper and better partners — doing them over ground poles will make you more accurate and be more interesting to your horse. Do a pattern twice to improve it (three times maximum) and then vary it.
Whatever your work that day, begin by giving your horse a chance to relax mentally and then time to stretch his muscles at the start and don’t forget frequent long rein walk or trot breaks during your ride. When you jump at home do mostly cavaletti or other exercises that will strengthen both of your weaker areas when you compete. Enjoy the challenge of staying one step ahead of your smart horse!
Thank you for this great advice! I too have a very smart horse that is wonderful at shows but very seemingly “bored” at home. He does also anticipate a lot so I have to constantly vary whatever we are doing. It’s a challenge and the information in the article is very helpful!