You know that feeling when you are practicing at home and it all comes together? You and your horse are almost mastering that never-ending, elusive, perfect ride of suppleness, connection and communication. Then you go to a show. What happened to all that training, all that hard work, all that self-affirming success you’ve had in your home arena?
Well, it’s still there. You’re just being judged on that four to seven minutes you are in the pristine and tastefully decorated dressage court. The judge has no idea that finally getting that smooth upward transition has been the bane of your existence for the past month, or that you’ve finally been able to get your horse relaxed in the poll, or that you’ve, at last, got your horse to understand that it’s okay to canter on the wrong lead in some circumstances. What the judge sees is what you do in that short period of time and they are scrutinizing your every move.
Chaco and I have just finished competing at a show in Arizona. During practice sessions I hit upon a few problems. He was above the bit and leaning on the left rein. I wasn’t activating the outside rein, or using enough right leg, so then I ended up trying to muscle through. Ugh! Frustration! So, my trainer took me back to the basics. I needed to work from back to front, use my seat to push him up into my hands, use my leg to get him off the rein he was leaning on, effectively use the half halt. I felt like a beginner all over again.
Truth is, everything is different at a show. Your energy is different and your horse’s energy is different. You are in an unfamiliar place with all kinds of activity. There are water trucks and tractors going by, golf carts zipping around, un-supervised children running or careening around on bikes and scooters, screaming at the top of their lungs with pure joy at the fact that their parents are so busy they have complete run of the show grounds. The weather can be a factor. Sometimes, you have thirty mile an hour sustained winds to deal with, or rain, or excessive heat. It’s always something!
Add all this up and your adrenaline is higher and your horse feels it. And just wait till that competitive spirit you have kicks into overdrive as you enter a class. The Art of Horse Showing is being able to overcome all of that and remember and rely on all the hours of training you’ve logged for weeks and months and even years before the show. It’s never easy and every show is different and presents new challenges.
I have in no way mastered the Art of Horse Showing, but I am definitely trying. One of the things I like to take away from a show is learning what I need to work on. The challenges become quite clear, and who doesn’t love a challenge?
The last show Chaco and I competed in was empowering. Everything went our way. This time, we ended doing pretty well. We were able to sort out the problems we had at the moment, and I ended up with a softer connection and communication, which is what I needed to accomplish. Our scores were not what I had hoped, but we have a lot of horse shows ahead of us. It’s not always about the ribbon. Keep those challenges coming! We’re in this for the long haul. Please feel free to share your show experiences! I love hearing from you!