What I Hope
For many of us, the world looks significantly different than it did at the beginning of the year. Many stables shut their doors to anyone other than those directly involved in their horses’ care. Others have altered how and when riders can come so they can “limp along” during the pandemic, trying to make enough to cover their bills.
With horse shows on hold, I have done a lot of pondering about why we show. Attending horse shows has typically been a sizable part of our business model, but not so much that we live with our “trunks on skates,” going from one show to the next. Frankly, I’m happy that we have had other revenue streams to help us get by during this crazy time.
I feel horrible for everyone whose life’s work is showing: the show managers, braiders, ring starters, announcers and judges. Some people need shows in order to put food on their table, and my heart hurts to think of how difficult this time has been for them.
Why Do You Show?
Why do you show? You answer depends on who you are. Do you show to see where you are, training-wise? How your green horse handles new situations? To travel to beautiful locales around the country? To meet up with friends? To buy or sell a horse? Are you aiming for a year-end award? Or to qualify for a zone or national championship? Do you like the feeling of winning? Do you want to soak up the tradition or culture of the equestrian life? Are shows how you make your living?
I want shows to start again because I enjoy the different days. In the past, I have lamented the merry-go-round of showing – always the same show on the same weekend every year. Now, I miss the change from week to week. I’ve realized that every Sunday looks the same right now, and I know I need more variation to feel energized and balanced. I also like working with my students on goal setting and shows provide a great way to know how well we are doing in working toward those goals.
What Good Can Come From This Break?
Really, there can be some good that comes from the hiatus in showing:
Maybe riders will come to enjoy the learning process. Instead of learning to show, maybe they’ll learn to ride. I hope riders take the time to enjoy the journey, to educate themselves – to be a student of the sport. We are never done learning about horses, their care and training. The language we learn to speak with our horses can become more nuanced and special over time. But it does take time, and it can’t be bought. There is no substitute for time in the saddle. Ultimately, work ethic, grit, and love of the horse will bring more fulfillment than a box of ribbons ever could.
I hate to say it, but there are trainers in our industry that don’t want owners and riders in the barn. They want to meet them at the shows because it’s convenient. They work to keep each horse’s training in place, and it’s easier if the rider doesn’t actually sit on the horse, to undo all the hours of training they’ve put in. So the horse doesn’t get “used up” or untrained or lose his value. Is that really why those riders got into riding in the first place?
Now, in the best case scenario, riders are going to the barn to ride. Maybe they are lucky enough to groom their own horses. That way, they can learn about their personality, and develop an eye to notice when something – a shoe nail, a puffy fetlock, some hives – doesn’t look right. Even if they can’t go into the barn, maybe they can spend enough time riding their beloved partners to forge a deeper bond, recall why they fell in love with the sport, and find enough challenge in the day-to-day training at home that showing doesn’t need to be the centerpiece of their efforts. Hopefully they have a trainer that can support them well at home.
I would love to see “B” and “C” shows make a comeback. Once we are allowed to engage in shows again, how many people will want to jump on a plane or stay in a hotel? I wonder if shipping into a show and working off the trailer, like days gone by, will be the “new” way?
I’d like to see more divisions that run on one day. How many riders do C-rated divisions (Children’s and Adults) and unrated divisions that could go on one day? How many folks who show at rated shows actually need to show over two or more days? Selling stalls is a huge way for show managers to bring in revenue, but is that the best way to serve exhibitors during this time?
Maybe rated shows will find new ways to be relevant to the rider just starting out, who wants the benefits of doing rated shows, but needs a safe, convenient, and affordable option. Right now, the choice is between paying lots of fees and being forced to stable overnight, or un-rated shows, which are cheaper and way easier to get in and out of on a single day. Is there a way to fill in the gap? How can someone seeking state or zone points stay closer to home and minimize their time on the show grounds? For someone who firmly believes in the even playing field that rated shows offer – the stewards and rules, as well as the drug testing – is there a way to serve them through rated shows that won’t require stabling?
I hope show managers are thinking about the value exhibitors get from showing, and that we can have in depth conversations about our sport and what really matters to riders.
I also hope that the USHJA can step into the spotlight as the educational organization it was meant to be. This is the time for trainers, riders and owners to be safely shepherded into a new era of riding and training – and showing. I’m always amazed at how many people think the USEF and the USHJA are one in the same. They are not. They serve very different roles. There are so many programs that the USHJA offers, designed to meet the needs of its members, whether they be professionals, amateurs or juniors. Take a look at their website and find a program that suits you and your horse’s needs.
If showing – and points and money won – isn’t at the forefront right now, then education’s time has come. Getting back to basics and shoring up the foundation of the house that is our riding education system can be a wonderful outcome during this extraordinary time.
Here are some things you can do:
1). Recall what you love about riding when it doesn’t involve showing. We’re building courses from past championships to keep skills sharp – riders of all levels can benefit from this, even if it’s just poles on the ground. We’re also doing some different things, like learning dressage tests to work on precision and accuracy.
2). Find new resources to learn more. There are so many virtual learning programs now – judges evaluating rides, virtual shows, online training programs – find one that interests you and dig in. Check out USHJA’s Horsemanship Quiz Challenge; it’s a great program.
3). Reach out to show managers near you to ask how they are handling new protocols to keep their exhibitors safe when they start holding shows again. Offer suggestions. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Many voices united can have a big impact.
4). Your horse is likely appreciating the break in showing. Find time to ride out of the ring or hang out with him in the field. Your relationship with him will flourish.
Enjoyment and education. Let’s get the most out of our precious time with horses, while staying healthy in a sport that serves all of us.