Showing As A Skill

Game Face is a skill I'm pretty good at.

Unlike a lot of you, I didn't show much as a kid.

From the time I started riding at age 10 until I left for college at 18, showing for me was a rare twice-a-year affair, if that. My early riding education was somewhat unique in that I spent those eight years at a massive county-owned lesson factory sort of barn, riding once a week in a group lesson and showing twice a year - once in the spring, and once in the fall. We wore uniforms reminiscent of the military and were sorted into "squads" and "troops" by level of experience. Until I reached the more advanced ratings within the 1st Squad, there were usually only two classes that I even qualified to ride in at each show.

Our shows were an IHSA-style affair, with each rider drawing their horse's name out of an envelope a few minutes before each class and no warm-up. When I was 17 I took my leased horse to a local hunter show once, but I had no help or supervision from a trainer or even a more experienced friend, and so I never really learned the skill of showing as a kid.

In college I showed a lot, both in IHSA and at the two or three in-house schooling shows we held at the college. But again, while these experiences helped me grow as a rider and certainly got me in the ring quite a lot, I still never really learned how to prepare my own horse for competition. It's one thing to develop the ability to get on almost any type of horse and have a successful class or two, and catch riding is something I am certainly glad I did a lot of, but it's something else all together to develop a partnership with one horse and figure out how to train it for a certain goal,  get that horse to the show grounds, mentally prepare yourself, and get the absolute best out of yourself and that particular animal on any given day.

Until I brought Dino home five and a half years ago, I never really had a "normal" horse show experience. I can count on one hand the number of times I'd loaded a horse onto a trailer to take it to a show. (Exactly two.) Until that point, I was either competing on school horses on-site, or in luck-of-the-draw type situations, which we all know are vastly different from the way most people horse show.

So,  as an adult I've been learning to develop my showing skills, and I have to say, it hasn't been easy!

I'm waiting for the day when the process of competing in a show doesn't feel like I'm totally making it up as I go along, and I'm not just getting through my courses and tests on a wing and a prayer. Traditional showing, for me, has almost always been something I go into with the goal of mere survival, and ribbons would come if the stars aligned and I got lucky. Any strategy I may have concocted prior to setting foot in the ring or the start box promptly exits my brain the second I hear the bell, whistle, or "Have a great ride!"

Plus, you know, I switched from H/J to eventing without a whole lot of supervision on a pony who is most definitely not a packer, so that's been challenging.

But like any skill, the best way to get better at showing is just to do it. A lot.

I'm extremely thankful that I live in the Horse Country of Bucks County, PA and that there is a schooling show of some sort pretty much every weekend within an hour's drive (or less) of the barn. I've been trying to take advantage of that as much as is reasonable this year in hopes of getting closer to the point where I can THINK and RIDE in the show ring and on the cross country course just as well as I can when I'm schooling at home. At the ripe old age of 30, I'm still figuring out how this whole showing-your-own-horse thing works, and the constant repetition is helping me figure out what works, what doesn't, and how to keep my brain functioning during competition. Perhaps someday I'll feel like I have my shit together in the show ring!

How about you? Have you shown since you were young, or did you come to it as an adult? What has helped you develop your competition skills? Do you feel like you know what you're doing and can implement strategies to get you closer to a blue ribbon, or do you just kick on and hope for the best?



  1. My experience is pretty similar to yours. Did the IHSA stuff in college, butt also all the local schooling stuff with my barn and trainer too, where I learned a little bit about show management. Really tho I mostly learn it as I go - and jumped off the deep end into eventing pretty much the same as you haha. Probably the biggest help to me tho was also hauling out for weekly lessons. It definitely made the process fee routine, and helped establish what stuff we really needed and what was just extra.

  2. I showed 4-H throughout middle school and high school, dabbled a tiny bit in IHSA, and then took a break until about 5 years ago when I started showing at Hunter/Jumper shows.

    I've struggled with all of the things you've mentioned here within the last 5 years... and I think part of that is because now I'm an adult and I think about these things. When I was a kid, sure I "prepared" by basically bathing my horse, packing my stuff and taking lessons... that was basically it.

    But now, every little step is a skill to be refined. I've had Miles for three years now, and I'm still learning how to best manage him at shows. How much hand walking? How much lunging? How many shavings does he need? Do I need to wrap and pack his feet? Does he need any meds upon returning home? And that's just for him, much less me!

  3. This is so interesting to me! I had no idea there were programs like that in existence with only two shows a year. I'm intrigued.

    I wish I had done IHSA, sort of, for the experience of riding several types of horses and having to learn to cope with that. However, I grew up showing almost every weekend either eventing, dressage, 4H or jumper shows. I worked my butt off in summers to pay for the shows, and learned a lot in the process. My parents were 100% hands off, except for driving the trailer and has zero clue about anything horses. SOmetimes they would hold a horse here and there, but mostly it was up to me. I read a TON of books and learned by trial and error. By the time I got to college, one could say I was a bit of a "pro" when it came to showing. Once I turned 16 my parents refused to be involved and essentially handed me the keys to our POS rig and I went from there. Essentially I've been driving myself for over 10 years, and learned a LOT along the way. I have def had my series of mishaps! My list making skills are on point though and I rarely forget anything. Over the years I learned what worked well and what didnt and I can def say that my parents hands off manner helped a lot in the ways of responsibility and learning to sink or swim.

  4. I showed growing up, but haven't had the money in forever and a day. I suspect things have changed muchly. I'm stunned at the prices too!

    I grew up in h/j/e world, with knowledge of dressage, but find myself being drawn to eventing BC of the lack of, or at least way less, pretension.

  5. I grew up doing some showing, but not much, because I had to pay for everything. After college I spent 2 years showing fairly heavily, but then had to retire my horse at the age of 11. I took the next 10 years to raise a family, and am just now - within the last two years - getting back into showing heavily. It's definitely an acquired skill, and you have to practice to get better at it.

  6. It definitely took me a couple of years to get into a good show routine. It's hard to factor in the little things like long it takes to get yourself dressed, or how long it takes to walk down to the warm up, etc until you've been at it awhile. I live off of having a set schedule and routine, and I think that's a large part of why I've been so meh about shows this year. Not being familiar with any of the venues around here freaks my OCD mind out a little bit. :P

  7. I've been showing since I was a kid, but the method has evolved considerably. As a junior rider, my trainer took my horse and me to all the shows. She did the entries, drove the trailer, lunged my horse, etc. I did all the riding but under her direction. My very last junior year I wanted to travel a little further than my trainer wanted and so I went for the first time without her. I rode with a fantastic trainer, but was in charge of all the care for my two horses. My trainer there just met me at the ring for my lesson or to school for the classes. In college it went back to being more like high school was. We filled out our entries ourselves, but our trainer drove the horses, and helped make sure we were prepared. Now that my horses live home with me, it's ALL my responsibility. I still have a trainer, but she just meets me at the ring. Usually. I do have a young horse in her care, but I barely feel like he's even mine except for when the bill comes.... Looking forward to having him full time, but that's a story for a different day.
    I don't show in the winter since I don't have access to an indoor to keep the horses fit. And I feel like every spring it's extra stressful trying to get to the first few shows. Eventually it feels like a routine though, and it does get easier.

  8. Always interesting to read everyone's horse background! I started riding at 40, competing at 44. My previous 'show experience' was as a horse show mom. Just when I pretty much got a routine down with my mare as far as how much warm up we needed, etc, I got a new mare. Now we are back to square one! I think it depends on the horse - level of show experience and the rider of what works.

  9. I enjoyed reading about your experience; it's definitely different than mine!

    As a little kid (8-11 or so), I showed fairly regularly in local 4H and Bridle & Saddle Club shows. When I joined Pony Club and started eventing, I went to less shows because they were more expensive, but I still managed 4-5/year. When I turned 14 and acquired a hardship driver's license due to my parents' divorce, my dad taught me to drive our rig and told me I could now take myself to shows! That was quite an adjustment- suddenly I didn't have a parent to help me get ready, to haul water over to the trailer, or keep me on schedule.

    I feel like spending so many years doing it by myself with minimal help has set me up for success as an adult showing. I can go alone and be fine (as I often do to dressage schooling shows), but I am always very appreciative of having Johnny or a friend along to help!

  10. I only showed three times as a kid and those were hunter/jumper shows. Now, as an adult between not having a trailer and a pony that also doesn't have much show experience means that it's more difficult than I'd like. I look forward to the day when it's easy and more relaxing and fun.

  11. I didn't show a lot as a kid either, but I was a working student/groom for my barn, so the whole routine became pretty standard. It's the riding parts I struggle with more.

  12. The riding program you were a part of sounds really cool to me and I would have loved to experience that. I think I'm pretty good at showing especially in the context of your post, but I really want to learn to get better at it

  13. I definitely did not grow up showing. In fact, I think the first 6 months of 2016 probably doubled my show experience. I've ridden almost all my life but never had regular coaching to where I felt confident about getting out there and trying.

  14. I basically never showed as a kid because there was no money for that. I'm also learning the whole showing world now as an adult. And I definitely find myself asking questions like an idiot. I miss living in Bucks County. I want to go back to the world of constant local shows and just a general horse culture.

  15. I was fortunate in that I grew up being a trainer's kid, so even if I wasn't showing I still got dragged along and was made to be helpful however possible. I also worked as a working student for a few different show barns, and I got to show both my own ride and catch ride, so I've developed a lot of various skills, but really getting to know my own horse and how best to show and manage him is very new for me, since I didn't have a horse that was really and truly mine until recently. I'm so jealous that you have so many options though! If there were that many options nearby, I'd probably cave and get my own trailer just so I could go to all of the things.

  16. Definitely a skill - but I find writing everything down and iterating helps me a LOT. Like okay, I need a 15 minute warm up with Tango before doing anything and at this point jumping in warm up is more upsetting than anything else. So if I get his body warm, I can go right in and jump.

    Kat is closer to 30+ minutes to warm up for a jump round, but maybe 10 for dressage.

    And so it goes.

  17. As a kid I showed pretty sporadically. My dad was terminally ill and my parents were pretty hands off. Once in high school I showed a little more regularly but I wasn't as involved in the show plan as I would have liked. Once in college I really started to get more serious about competing. I didn't get to go to a ton of rated stuff but I did try to get out to some events and slowly but surely I have developed a plan.

    Traveling in someone else's rig helped me learn pretty quickly how to efficiently manage my necessary items. Now that I have my own trailer I make sure to check my list so that nothing vital is left behind.

    Having a trainer has definitely helped me figure out what my plan is. This year I have traveled so much that I have it down to a science. The more you go and do the more comfortable you will get :)

  18. I showed in C rated HJ land for about five years as a kid and haven't really shown since besides my stint at recognized dressage shows last year. I took this year off to sort out mental things and I'm really looking forward to digging back into showing next year. Mostly more local/schooling shows!


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