Showing As A Skill
|Game Face is a skill I'm pretty good at.|
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!