For as long as I can remember, at every horse show I have ever competed in, I have gone through the following stages. Some of the stages are not so bad but others could use some work. Established cycles are hard to break. As I get older though, I’m working to keep the positive ones and transform the not so positive ones into new and improved habits. If all goes according to plan, this weekend I’ll enter the show ring once again. I’ll let you know which habits that I kept, which ones I discarded, as well as what worked and what didn’t.
Stage 1: A friend texts and wants to know if you want to go to a horse show in a few months. Since the dates I am considering are in the future and the calendar seems clear, I agree. The first tiny butterflies begin to flutter.
Stage 2: I practice relentlessly in preparation. Some training sessions are brilliant. Others are unmitigated disasters. The two proposed dates loom closer on the calendar. I wonder if we are ready. It is time to decide.
Stage 3: After a friendly debate with said friend on the pros and cons of the different shows, the closer date is chosen. The show nerve butterflies are no longer tiny. They are roughly the size of pterodactyl dinosaurs.
Abject terror and a wild imagination fill my brain with limitless possibilities. What if I die? What if my horse dies? What if one or both of us falls?
Stage 4: A marathon final week of practice rides, packing the trailer, tack cleaning, clipping, and bathing begins. We appear to be not so much going to a horse show as moving across the country. Sleep, despite my tiredness, is elusive the night before the show.
Stage 5: The day of the show arrives. I realize that the start time is insanely early and I am running on pure adrenaline. Judging by its complicated nature, the jump course appears to have been designed by an Olympian. My inner self begins to speak.
Silently I question my sanity; as in why am I doing this to myself? I am middle aged. I have nothing to prove. There are people here less than half my age that are capable of handing it to me. IF I manage to somehow survive this it will take days to recover. I have to work on Monday. What have I done coming here?
Stage 6: Despite my reservations I plunge ahead with the madness and enter the ring. The others fade away and it’s just me and my horse performing the job we were created to do. Successful in terms of ribbons? Sometimes. Successful in terms of having a fantastic time? Almost always.
Stage 7: At the day’s end there is physical and mental exhaustion. However, despite my catastrophic levels of doubt, I have managed to best my show nerves which have allowed me to remember the courses and turn in solid rides. I am proud of myself and my horse. Despite everything I have had a fantastic time. This is why I do this, not just once but over and over again. If you should see me at a horse show, just catch me ringside and remind me.