Winning

As a kid, I was competitive. I envisioned myself cruising the victory gallop, huge ribbon on my horse’s bridle and stupid smile planted on my face. Competitive may actually be the wrong word, I didn’t feel combative about my desire to win. I wanted nice things and someone to agree that I could indeed ride decently (which, my trainer was not always vocal about, as trainers are this way).

Because of this desire for blue satin, I would grow overwhelmed by the idea of showing. The mornings of horse shows destroyed my health, physical and mental. Consistently concerned with perfection and the possibility of something going wrong, I spent the hours leading up to my classes in agony.

Then I turned 18.

Once I started paying for these things myself, there was a lot less guilt and pressure to “have fun at all costs”. Since I approach each show now as sunk costs, it’s easier for me to be open to gasp – not taking home blue ribbons, or any ribbons at all.

I don’t need the victory gallop, I am cool with demonstration of growth, the days with the barn family, and the time with the horses.

So these days, when I do win big, it’s almost strange. It rustles up this old-time feeling I thought I had set aside in the attic of my mind. It’s difficult to name, but the feeling feels like a spotlight is fixed on your stomach, and the rest of the day is spent giggling and smiling.

I have to sometimes remind myself, it’s all one person’s opinion, one stranger’s opinion. But when this stranger does look at a class and says, yup, she’s the best from not knowing the history of your riding or horses, that’s a special moment.

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This is his “game face”

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.

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.

1

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.

2

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?

 

The Plan

Tomorrow I ride for the first time in a week and a half now. It is so good to be getting back in the saddle, and I now have some more news to look forward to.

Horse show in March!

Hilariously, I do not have any respectable show clothes that I can wear in the divisions I will be riding in. My European-inspired jumper flair is not going to work for Adult Hunters and Equitation. So, the hunt begins for new clothes that won’t make my trainer gag when I step into the ring.

How my current trainer sees my bedazzled KEP helmet…

But this also presents something tangible for us, a goal!

Now all our work will lead up to time in the show ring. Cheers to wearing my tall boots again!