Outfitted for Showing

My upcoming show is not my first goat-rodeo. I have been lucky to take many horses around hunter, jumper, and equitation classes from age 12 onward. The majority of this was done in my early teens, with the financial and emotional willingness waning a bit as I aged.

I cherish the memories wearing wool coats in 100 degree heat. I still remember the tension of reaching to the bottom of a garment bag and not being able to find the matching ratcatcher. I was a bit of a loose-brained child (not much changed) so this happened… frequently….

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I’ve actually recently shown with wool coats. Still not cool, despite graduating high school!

But times are changed. Now we wash our huntcoats. And our collars come attached. And some even wear feathers in their hair (which I am so much a fan of, I love tradition as much as the next person, but c’mon, we are also here to have fun).

Unfortunately, when I detailed my showing attire to my current trainer, which includes 1) Navy disco KEP helmet 2) Navy blue gloves 3) Grey technical fabric coat with somewhat odd embroidery (never worn, bought used) 4) Beige Tailored Sportman’s bought in the 90’s with “saggy butt” fit. No one was terribly impressed with this lineup.

It was time for a small update. The KEP helmet must stay, mostly because I caused an internal hemorrhage by buying it in my university days, and while it does not totally match my down-to-earth mantra I still love it.

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Pry this KEP helmet from my cold, dead hands.

I have picked up a nice, respectable used RJ Classics Navy Coat. I tried so despearately to squeeze into an XS Kerrit’s coat that was only $50, but not surprisingly, it did not fit the way a hunt coat should (thank you saddle shop worker for talking sense into me).

Yes, this sums up my experience with the XS Kerrit’s coat.

Next I may pick up the Trauma Void helmet. Also considering a velvet Charles Owen. Will open that one to the crowd as to what they think is best (assuming everything fits safely, of course, which they both do).

My one item that probably does not need replacing is my show shirt, which I bought recently on sale. Phew. Now I am not a complete disaster.

That leaves one item – saggy butt beige Tailored Sportsman’s, actually bought in the 90’s. I have a really hard time replacing these, mostly because when I am riding, they look perfectly normal. It’s only when I get off that they look like parachute pants.

Especially since this will only be a schooling show… we will see.

Who’s in Charge Here?

I had a situation at work recently that called into question my authority. I am not a hierarchical role-based person, so I laugh off most of this behavior and allow others to worry more deeply about it.

My feelings on corporate politics

But it did (as life-events often do), make me think of horses.

There are horses that question your authority regularly. These are one that trample you in-hand, resist pressure, and act more predatory. This questioning of leadership can be dangerous for us horse lovers, as the 1,000lbs animals must submit to a level of respect in order for us coexist and work together.

Horses follow other parts of my life in that they are treated delicately when possible. Rather than be an aggressor, I prefer to work with the animal and coax them into performing / behaving to my expectations. Much of consists of positive reinforcement and soft touches.

My stance intensifies though once a line is crossed. The line is strict, if a horse is endangering me or someone around me (by biting, not respecting space, bucking, rearing, etc.) the answer must be swift and certain.

All this contributes to higher authority. If there is no hard line on behavior, a horse can toe across the line and act outside our established guardrails.

Oftentimes, this reminds me of a halflinger who I used to teach lessons on. This pony was beautiful, the type of Barbie horse you dream of with a palomino body and feathers on her legs.

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Pony in question. Don’t ask. But she was a good sport.

But she was lazy as all heck. And her behavior was not outright dangerous, per say, but she would not at all respect a leg aid from someone shorter than 5 feet tall (which was hilarious, because she was a medium pony, at best).

We’d call her dull to the aids if it were just that she was slow to transition upward. But this mare would, at times, just refuse to move then would act offended when you finally did convince her it was a good idea to move forward.

She was clever, and many students ended up red in the face and frustrated due to this pony insolence. The pony did not respect her riders, and while it is a light-hearted example, it shows relationships complimented with a healthy amount of authority are more… successful? Advantageous?

Biddable horses are willing. They trust you. They want to please. Their natural state is to join their goals to yours.

Liv

So while I do not like to demand and decree in my professional life, I admit its importance in my horse-loving life.

What are some times when horses have pushed the boundaries with your authority?

Mutual Progression

At the risk of being a broken record, I must say Q has been out of this world. We have to consider where he began. The first time I rode the little guy he would –

  • Be incredibly behind your leg, borderline catatonic
  • Not engage his hind end (weak, plodding tracking, see point above)
  • Crane his head and chomp on bit
  • Aggressively pop his shoulder to the left
  • Fall in through any inside turn (see point above)
  • Lean heavily on your hand
  • Refuse to do walk to canter transitions
  • Fall and stumble on downward transitions

Now, hold on, I am not saying I am the savior that fixed these problems. Far from it. Nor am I saying that all these symptoms are fixed.

However, I cannot believe the horse I sit on when I ride this week as compared to the one I rode a couple months ago. With a good farrier and regular work under non-beginner-lesson students, Q has so much more balance and strength to each of his gaits.

Truly, cantering up to jumps is enjoyable (and not feeling as if we are in reverse, on a treadmill).

Night rides help, or so I think.

I have also come a long way with Q, as lord knows, he is not the only one with issues to unpack. I am a leaning, fingers-opening, shoulder hunching monster at times. His balance question marks have instilled a center of gravity that is deep in my heels, rather than pinching in my knees as I am occasionally known to do.

His slower pace transformed by aggressive “get ‘er done” tactics with relaxation and nuance.

It’s a wonderful thing – to do right by each other – and in that way I truly feel as though we are partners.

I call Phoebe, Q can be Rachel.

This weekend should finally mark a jumping lesson. I am looking forward to hopping over some fences for the first time in over a month (darn, rain).

How have you all progressed over winter?

The Less I Weep, The More I Wonder

Never do I generally provide a warning for my thoughts, but the rain has been nothing but stormy and recent life transitions has me looking back. Consider this a warning.

I had a horse in high school that was too good to me. I mean that in the most honest, not-at-all humble way ever.

This horse did not stop. Ever. Even if the jump was on fire. Even if I was hauling on his mouth. This horse lept over everything, and all we had to pay in return was a touch of sass. A little buck after a big jump. Nippy in the cross-ties, that sort of thing.

While I am not a subscriber to the theory of heart horse, this horse would hold that honor if I ever bestowed it on one of my past rides. He was a spicy, brave, difficult, forgiving liver chestnut trakehner. And I loved every bit of him, especially the ragged bits.

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My memories of him are so cherished, that when I think of my best times on horseback, they are behind his ears.

When push came to shove, we simply could not afford him anymore. With no resentment, I do not envy my parents’ position, telling a sobbing child that they have to take away her best friend.

I could write for decades on Riley (and likely will continue to), but my loss of him is most interesting to me at this current juncture. Already in life, I have allowed many things to cycle in and out, but the loss of Riley rocked my foundation. My sense of security was at the barn with him, 5 times a week. He appears as a horcrux, something that split my soul, part of it may always reside elsewhere.

Once I was able to rebuild normalcy, which took probably a full year before I could even unhide all my photos of him and not cry upon sight of him, I had a new battle-tested composition.

Other breaks in my heart, both horses and people, hurt and continued to build my tolerance for departures. Confidently at my age, still young by definition, I am borderline blase about those who enter and leave my life.

It is not horses specifically that did this, I have them to thank for everything about my sensitive and sympathetic tendencies. But I can look at the systemic requirements of ownership and sigh a bit.

The years of leasing, years of letting go, and years of never being able to financially hold on to the horses I loved. They have changed me.

It has made me strong, but also formulaic.

How has losing horses contributed to your overall sense of self?

Smile Worthy – A Bit of Fantasy

Part of my 2019 mantra — to be happy with what you have — has practicing a neat little Jedi mind trick.

Normally my arrival to the barn after work goes something like this –

  1. Panic, stress, panic about getting to barn late.
  2. Speedy groom.
  3. Ride for 20 minutes.
  4. Panic, stress, panic about getting back home late.

At that level of frenetic, what is even the point?

So now, I arrive to the barn, take my leisurely time, even if it means I will be there kind of late. I snuggle the horse. I walk around the property. We sniff grass.

More importantly, I indulge in a bit of fantasy.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want to slip into delusional or unsafe. I am not jumping property fences, gleefully claiming I am the new wave of Beezie Madden (which, is sacrilegious to begin with, if you ask me ).

The scene is typically only me with a small collection of other people at the property in the evening hours. So I strut around and pretend.

I own this horseLie.

I own this beautiful property. Lie.

I don’t have to worry about Property Taxes on this beautiful, development-rich landTRUE.

I love this moment. Most truth ever! Shrink my nose into my head.

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Lady, you crazy.

At any rate, my re-ignition of childhood imagination has me feeling much happier. I need a re-calibration of my mind to stop focusing on what I don’t have, which is not healthy and endless.

I encourage everyone to lie to themselves in small doses, when the mood is right and your heart needs it.

Sunshine, is that you?

We had our first day of sun (pause for applause) in ages at the barn today.  It was a hilarious start to the day, when we heard that the rings were closed, then they weren’t so we played a bit of chicken on being able to ride.

It turned out to be a beautiful day though!

See that blue sky!

I started the ride with a hearty number of companions in the one viable riding ring of what is typically multiple arenas. I didn’t get as complete of a warm-up as I usually do, mostly because I felt it better to keep moving rather than plod along the rail, doing shoulder-ins and other lateral movements while new riders were learning how to steer.

Reading the ring, I kept it pretty simple to start. Q felt great, he had been a little pigish my first ride on him on his left side. Always tougher that direction, after a long break of regular rides, he will try to bulge  his left shoulder inward and swap his lead tracking left.

If you let your guard down, he will push that button. But today, he was tremendous at the canter going left.

Tomorrow is hopefully a jumping day, and we are also (fingers crossed) going to have a couple less people in one ring at once. I am grateful to be able to ride, but it’s hard to be productive and hyper-vigilant of the different riders (with varying experience leves) around you.

How was everyone else’s Saturday rides?

 

The Nightmare Show

While I am still swimming underwater (seriously, when will it stop raining, California?), I am dreaming and scheming up ways to make the horse industry better. What else would one do with their spare time, certainly not taxes or anything useful?

To grow into good, we have to reflect on the bad. Rarely does change happen without friction and those people who demand it.

While I don’t consider myself a showing expert, I have done experienced a gamut – A’s to locals, collegiate to long stirrup, 1.15m to crossrails. All riding too many horses to name, with too many trainers to name as well. The breadth of my experiences does give me a large sample size.

Of course, my experiences are not conclusive. I encourage everyone to add their own pain points. Maybe the next steps are to prioritize and determine what is solvable, and what is just tough.

Without further ado, I present to you, the nightmare show.

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Day Before / Arriving at the Show Grounds

  • Parking is few and far between. You park in a field (which, if it rains, good luck getting the compact city car out of that mud pile) approximately 10 miles from your barn stabling.
  • Show communications has been mum on where you are stabled. Walk Dobbin around as he reenacts a Lipizzaner capriole until you stumble upon signage or someone who may know a clue (usually identified by the level of stress shown on face, or a pulsing temple).
  • Stalls are parked in a valley, in the height of the summer, in the midst of the heat, with limited outlets for fans. Remind yourself that you skipped the gym this week, so exercise?
  • Closest water source is a pilgrimage to premium stabling.
  • Schooling in the show ring is not available past 6pm (because screw working riders?).
  • Dobbin is elated to be at the show and must smell and subsequently spook at each average piece of grass.
  • Tween girls are tearing around on golf karts and dirt bikes, which Dobbin does not bat an eye at, but nearly stops the heart of his rider.
  • Check into the show office and get verbally attacked for asking a mundane question. Clutch checkbook fervently.
  • Overnight it rains. A lot. But the morning is hot and sticky as molasses.

Schooling Ring

  • Footing is questionable, at best.
  • Ride around a schooling ring with 85% of the horse show riders. One trainer insists on giving a full lesson to a group of juniors, complete with lateral movements across an entire half the arena.
  • Kids a quarter your age warm up for the Grand Prix sharing the same space as the beginner hunters.
  • Get yelled at for being off the rail. Get yelled at for being on the rail.
  • Dobbin wants to eat the adorable short stirrup ponies. Dobbin also has a panic attack when you will not let him eat the short stirrup ponies.
  • Crackly announcer sound system makes your name sound very similar to 3-4 other people. I can’t have 6 entries, right?
  • Call jump loudly twice. Then a third time for good measure. Still almost collide with someone.
  • Dobbin is so well behaved, you suspect something. You though conveniently have forgotten how to ride after 15 years.
  • Lose an ear puffy to the ring and accept it as a sacrifice to the show gods.

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Show Ring

  • Beautiful weather in the schooling ring turns into a downpour monsoon on brand new saddle.
  • Hunter course is set unevenly, with one line obviously riding very long, and the other quite short.
  • Awkwardly placed angle is aligned for the in-gate, creating a treadmill movement away from the gate and a freight train towards.
  • Show crew has cut down Christmas trees on certain jumps and created an electric-green mini-golf course on others.
  • Hay jump is haphazardly created. Did they run out of brush?
  • Oxer is unevenly set. Or is it just on a weird lump of sand?
  • One poor show crew person is manning 3 rings, doing Usain Bolt impressions to keep the show going.

Over Fences

  • Trainer gives you a pep talk, which you realize half-way through that you should have been listening more carefully to.
  • Walk into ring, pass through the next Great Lake in the process of creation. Dobbin takes the opportunity to splash muddy sand, which miraculously makes it directly into your eyes.
  • Canter to first jump, realize ring is set on a hill. Chip.
  • Canter to long angle, freight train approach, downhill. Waterski for 4 strides.
  • String together fences through flurry of sheer panic. Dobbin questions your sanity, but saves your butt everytime.
  • Leave ring, and notice trainer is already talking to the next rider. Bad sign.
  • Round 2, slightly better than the first, except for a spectator who has opened a green umbrella while Dobbin is in flight over the oxer, which causes Dobbin to turn into rocketman.
  • Survive. Remember when you were a competent junior.

Under Saddle

  • After over fences rounds, wait 2 hours on an empty ring for one trainer with a conflict. Internally debate for full 1 hour hiking the full 2 miles back to the barn stabling.
  • Finally go back. As soon as you take off your helmet, you hear them call your undersaddle over crackly loudspeaker. Apologize to Dobbin fling tack back on. Trot back to the ring without your number.
  • Trainer hastily makes a number from a napkin with ketchup stains and a broken hair tie. Get told, you will never live this down.
  • Spend 30 minutes at a sitting trot.
  • Question why the entire 20 person class is traveling in a pack mentality.
  • The 500k hunter that goes to Florida in the winter insists on cantering (erm, floating/gliding/levitating) next to you. Dobbin pins ears at his fancifulness.
  • Realize the judge is enamored in a conversation with a show personnel, complete with laughter and wild gestures. Is she writing anything down, even?
  • Rain gives way to stiffing heat. Sweat profusely.
  • Really, sitting trot, again?
  • Line up, Dobbin is done, leaping in place when he has never been antsy at the halt.
  • Spend 10 full minutes in line up. Continue to do standstill aerobics.
  • Receive a reserve call (Woo hoo! Or maybe it was a mistake and they couldn’t read my number). Beg trainer to end on that.

Show Grounds

  • Eat hot dogs, crepes, and chicken wraps. All for 15 dollars each, cash. Gastrointestinal system begins revolt.
  • Lust over European brands you’ve never heard of but have a strong Instagram presence. Bank account begins revolt.
  • Hand walk Dobbin in parking lot / grazing area, because stall’s temperature is appropriate for frying eggs.
  • Close out show account. Get verbally attacked again by office staff. Sigh heavily. Promise not to stop for snacks on the way home to save money.

Leaving Show Grounds

  • At 9pm on a Sunday, you have 2 hours to drive to get to the barn, and you have a meeting at 8:30am tomorrow.

Despite all this, you are smiling because you had the best day ever at a horse show with your barn community.

I must reiterate, I do love horse showing. I hope this provided a humorous and over-exaggerated read. Any pain points, common experiences, or aspects you feel like I missed?