Finding My Joy In Showing

I used to hate showing. It would make me physically ill just sending in my entry forms. I would start to have nightmares once we settled on a date: missing my ride time, forgetting the test or bungling the whole thing somehow. There was a lot of unspoken pressure from my peers (but perhaps more so from myself) to go out and do well. My first few times down centerline I got tunnel vision, my ears roared as if I were about to pass out (thankfully that never happened), my brain stopped working and I felt lost in a sea of better horses, better riders and very loud rail birds.

One of my trainers used to tell me “you just need to get in the square a lot more, it will go away.” She would

give me the mantra of “It’s not the placing, it’s the score” when I would come away empty handed from a class. I would smile and nod but secretly I didn’t get it, especially coming from a Hunter background. To me, the ribbon mattered most.

My first year on my own, I made the decision not to show. Inside I was doing cartwheels. I got to avoid what I dreaded and call it “no time to show while building a business!”. Despite enjoying that time off, I knew I couldn't avoid it forever. As a professional rider and trainer, one of the first places a potential client will look for competence is a show record. They might not all admit it but riding under someone or sending your horse to someone who has been recognized by people who are paid to judge this kind of thing for a living is a pretty easy indicator of general ability. While I might not wholly agree (considering there are loads of professionals like me who have never had the opportunity to take an already trained horse down centerline let alone one bred for this sport), it is still the nature of our industry. Everyone likes a winner.

Bearing this in mind, I couldn’t avoid showing forever. I had goals that depended on my show record and I was not going to give them up. I am way to stubborn for that. It took a while to get into the swing of things that first season back, but something surprising happened. I started to look forward to hooking up the trailer and taking Will into Aiken. We were holding our own amongst the big name professionals down here and I felt, for the first time in our show career, that William and I were a team. We both knew what it meant when we got in the warm up ring or when we would make our way around the square, working and waiting for the bell. He could read my mind and usually I could his.

Somewhere along the bliss of training and progression and several positive show experiences in a row, I was starting to get addicted to “the road”. I smiled over the small improvements to our tests instead of beating myself up for them. It tickled me to see that the work on our changes did indeed get noticed and made a big difference in our overall scores, or taking the time to work on the quality of gaits several days a week made William easier to adjust. My view of shows had changed: it became fun.

I have since found the joy in taking other horses down centerline. I have become one of those people whose existence I just couldn’t understand: the rider who loves to show. Now don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous even on William before getting on for a test but this time around it’s not dread. It’s not absolute fear; it’s the anticipation of performance! I can confidently tell my students when they profess a loathing of shows that that feeling can and will change. It does get better, its not about the ribbons but the whole experience leading up to and following it.

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