The best words to describe horse showing, for me, is anticipation and relief.
You know that moment before you go into your class? They call your name, and you know you’re up next, and you gather yourself and horse — hopefully to go do something great. And if not great, at least something worthwhile.
Showing (and for the sake of this argument, I’m going to include going to clinics under the same umbrella) takes a lot of time. And it takes a lot of money. So why do we do it?
The American Horse Council estimates that there are 481,000 people in the US that are involved in competing across every discipline. For the average girl that owns her own horse or has been riding for a couple of years, horse shows are often a highly anticipated next step.
I’ve narrowed it down to 8 reasons you (and your daughters) should go to horse shows and, if you’ll give me 5 minutes, I’d like to argue why we should be encouraging riders (especially our young girls) to do it more. And, surprise surprise, it has nothing to do with the competition itself.
Let’s get started!
It Gets You Out Of Your Comfort Zone
As riders (and as people) we can get in a habit of doing the same thing every day. Go to the barn, talk to the same people, get your horse from the same paddock, groom with the same brush, ride in the same arena and – here’s the kicker – rencounter the same challenges in your ride every day.
I realize, all the time we are working and growing and learning through baby steps. But haven’t you struggled with your horses shoulder in that same corner? And don’t you do that with your leg at the same spot in the circle? Sometimes it’s not that we are struggling with the same problems, but more that our routine habits can cause the original challenges to linger on. (Haven’t you heard that saying, it’s never the horses fault?)
Leaving your normal routine can help you get unstuck from your rut. Of course, it won’t magically fix your problems but being out of your comfort zone can help you tackle them in a new way, simply because of your surroundings.
Leaving the property, riding in a new place (sometimes with a ton of riders to navigate in a warm-up ring) will bring new obstacles that may help you tackle old challenges.
I always found that the week after I went somewhere new – rode on the beach, went to a clinic, went to a horse show, my riding was refreshed and both my horse and I were much more “on top of it”.
Getting out of my normal routine was one of the best things to help me take both my riding and my mental ability to the next level. If I had to put money on it, I’d bet the results would be the same for your girls.
It Makes You and Your Horse Travel
Traveling brings new and exciting challenges. Traveling with a horse brings many things… Stress for one. Exhilaration for another.
Traveling with horses can be stressful and wonderful at the same time – they are always more “awake” than they are at home. Their attention is here, there and everywhere, and you really have to focus to connect and get your job done. Depending on your horse, you may also spend a lot of time training because they’re out of their normal element.
For a young rider, this experience is spectacularly fun but also can be very daunting. Your horse doesn’t act the same at home as they do in a new location, so not only are you dealing with your own nerves, you’re also dealing with theirs.
This all may sound very daunting for a young rider, but it’s spectacularly good practice. Just the act of traveling to a new place will allow you to deal with a little bit more horse than you may be used to, but your horse is still your horse — you handle the situation because you still understand who they are and what makes him tick.
On the flip side, have you ever had a really great ride in a new place? It’s the best feeling — being able to connect and focus together, despite all of the hubbub around you, makes you feel really accomplished. All in all, the act of simply going to a new location can be stressful but wonderful mental practice for both you and your horse.
You Get Feedback From Different Perspectives
Whether you are going to a clinic or a show, you will get worthwhile feedback from a new person, whether it is an instructor or a judge.
For better or worse, this person does not know you, your horse or your history. Because of that, you’ll have to take their insight with a grain of salt.
However, this “outsiders perspective” can be spectacularly helpful to your training. It means their feedback has no strings attached, and can either confirm or deny what your instructor at home has been saying.
They can also may bring to light issues that you have avoided that are ready to be addressed. For example, when I was young and used to go to dressage shows, I’d hear very similar comments to what my trainer was saying at home. That would always confirm to me that I was on the right track and then I needed to keep working on exactly those things.
I’ve also been to clinics where I’ve been able to approach an existing problem in a totally new way, which helps you grow leaps and bounds in your riding. To be able to fully understand the theory that you’re applying in every ride, it’s helpful to be able to look at problems from different perspectives through the training of multiple instructors.
You Get To Watch Other People Ride
Being able to sit and watch so many great riders is one of my favorite past times when I’m at horse shows.
Of course, I know you can always watch people ride at home (if you’re not sitting down to watch other peoples lessons regularly, you should start. Listening to other people’s lessons and watching other people ride really help you get a fuller understanding of the theory you’re trying to learn).
At a horse show with all of the great horses and riders around you, the value of doing this is even more undeniably clear. There’s a huge range of skill found at these outside events. Often the greatest riders aren’t even people you could ever hope to learn from— simply because they’re not instructors or because they live far away from you. So take advantage of this precious time to watch them closely and try to understand what they’re doing on their horse.
You Get A Deeper Understanding Of What It Means To Be A Rider (To You)
Being able to watch other riders gives you a broader understanding your discipline’s community as a whole. I’d like to tell you a story.
Once I was at a dressage clinic at a big college in Massachusetts. I was in high school at the time, and I was watching a spectacular 20-something rider. She was confident and strong, on a gorgeous young horse who looked to be about 4th level. I was swooning with a horse crush.
Of all of the things that this girl could have taught me, I only remember one thing about her: she was wearing leggings. Yoga leggings. For years, I had always thought that good riders only used expensive stuff, including expensive breeches. I believed that, to earn my place as a good rider, I needed to have equally nice expensive stuff. But this girl, made me completely re-evaluate what it means to me to “be a good rider”. Had I never stepped out of my barn, I never would have learned that with the same impact.
I’ll give you one last example. When I was 13, I was at show watching a musical freestyle test. An older girl on a gorgeous bay horse entered the arena. Instead of the usual classical music, I heard rap come over the speakers as the pair entered the arena. She halted in the center on, “HOLDUP”, a classic line of the 90’s song The Next Episode by Dr. Dre.
It completely shocked me that a musical freestyle could be done to any music. And I would never have learned that had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and gone somewhere where they were completely different people, at different age ranges, doing different levels of riding.
(PS – If anyone can track down a video of this test around 99’ – 01’, I’d love to see it! It’s still my favorite musical freestyle of all time.)
You Get to Spend Time With Your Neighbors and Horse Community
Some of my favorite times at horse shows have been when everyone is sitting around at the end of the day enjoying food and sitting on lawn chairs. It’s such a community filled time— you’re done with cleaning for the day and there’s nothing more you can do to prepare for tomorrow. The evening is spent talking with friends, eating and prepping for the next day.
Even if you’re not at a multi-day show like this, you will still get some downtime to spend with your friends. Unlike the usual time at the barn, you’ll see people from neighboring barns and other places.
You can watch people ride together, you can browse tack stores or just graze your horses and hang in easy silence. It’s a time where you’ve been forced to slow down, when you can really just enjoy each others company in a setting that you both love.
You Get To Spend Quality Time With Your Horse
Yes, your neighbors are cool, but you know who you’re spending even more time with at a horse show? Your horse. From morning till night, you’re cleaning stalls, grooming, braiding, riding, grazing and grooming again.
How often do you have a day where you can spend the entire time together, just hanging out and riding. Chances are, at least for most adults, if you’re at your barn at home, you can’t commit that kind of time very often. Most people are in and out, always on the move, with a long list waiting for them at home.
Show days have been put aside for you and your horse to enjoy, so sit back and spend some quality time together!
You Have Fun
You go to horse shows in the first place to have fun, to learn and become a better rider. So at the very least, you should always be enjoying your horse show experience and feel at least somewhat accomplished when you return home.