Warning in advance – most of these videos are VERY OLD and of VERY POOR quality with annoying music. Mute and watch at your own discretion haha.
I have been showing basically since the beginning of my riding career. My first horse show couldn’t have been that long after I first started riding. The plan was simple: a walk/trot class at a schooling show at my barn.
I have it in my head that the show was only an “in barn” one, but who knows if that was true at this point. I don’t think I had a riding coat or any of the special “stuff”, so it must have been pretty casual. I really don’t remember much from that show, other than the horses.
Shortly before that show, the barn lost the horse I had been riding. The only horse I had ever really ridden. A quick plan was made to have me ride another school horse (who I did poorly on), but it was then that my complicated relationship started. Somehow, my first experience with death and loss coincided with my first horse show.
I moved barns and the next few years were filled with “horse shows” at the end of each week of horsey summer camp. I even remember a quick 4H show when I was maybe 12? I don’t remember much other than SPEED… in a hunter class. Needless to say, the barely schooled pony I rode in his first ever show was not competitive.
I did not really learn how to horse show, but I did learn how to ride green and rank horses of all shapes and sizes. I changed barns again, wanting to get more experience and more opportunities to ride. A small barn 15 minutes from my house seemed perfect!
I still rode green horses, but I started to show more.
And you know what I remembered most from those days? Blackness. The kind of blackness where no sound, light, or feelings get in. Why do I remember blackness? Because I remember being SO TERRIFIED that I held my breath around my course of 8 cross-rails. Because my ability to ride the pants off anything at home did not translate to even an IOTA of success in the show ring.
The barn I was at changed a bit and had more of a focus on showing Welsh ponies. Again, I rode the green beans. But now, it was in whatever rail classes I qualified for. I went years without showing over fences. I did fairly well, all things considered. I learned how to get a horse to “show off” on the flat, how to hide the spook, and how to alleviate tension.
I wanted to get back into jumping… so I moved to a hunter jumper barn. I rode slightly more broke horses, and through pure repetition. The tension started to go away. I rode a really lovely little bay thoroughbred, and he taught me so much.
Bud, however, decided that jumping wasn’t really his thing anymore, and I switched to a gorgeous Chestnut mare… with one of the biggest bucks I have ever ridden. I showed more.
When she got hurt, I took the ride on a total pocket rocket of a pony. I learned to do the jumpers, and honestly, I LOVED the jumpers. The tension for perfection went away, and I just rode.
When the chestnut mare was ready to start again, we figured her sassy attitude would be fine in the jumper ring, so that’s where we went… and frustration and fear started to set in again. I never knew what I was going to get. I couldn’t move up. My riding stagnated. I figured it was just the result of college, so I pledged to get back at it when I graduated.
I graduated, and as a very generous birthday gift from my dad, I got to go horse shopping. I saw a lot of lame… and a lot of crazy. My budget was HUGE for a 22 year old… but tiny for the hunter jumper world. “I’ll just get a jumper type that could maybe cross into the equitation classes.”
I found Winston. On paper? Perfect. 16.2 Quarter Horse type. Sweet as sugar. And tense as anything I had ever sat on. I have time. I thought. I have patience. What I didn’t have was a cool head in the show ring…
We never made it further than the lowest of the low classes. Trust broke down. I tried to move him to an eventing barn (since he was WONDERFUL out of the ring), but the combination of us together was miserable. Rides ended with tears and my habit of not breathing while on course came back. Tense rides turned into complete meltdowns for both of us.
I cried more, and I put him up for sale. I had a plan. I wouldn’t buy anything. I would just enjoy being horseless for a while… ride some school horses… learn to event on something more made. Instead, I was faced with the proposal to trade Winston for May. Obviously, I bought May… but I figured I would just do what I was good at (putting on miles at home) and then sell her.
I owned her for a few weeks… and we took her to her first show. It was even a combined test! I remember riding with my trainer to the show, asking her how to do a Dressage test… because I had never done one.
It was the first show I actually enjoyed since riding Cowgirl more than five years earlier, and I learned that horse shows aren’t about having the most talented horse… or winning ribbons.. or laying down a perfect trip. Horse shows are about competing with a horse you love.