The Seven Stages of Horse Show Preparation: A Look Back

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A photo from this weekend’s horse show. Was it a success? Read on to learn more.

Want to find out how I did working on the seven stages at this weekend’s horse show? Read on for a deeply personal and truthful look about how I faced my challenges.

Stage 1: A friend texts and wants to know if I 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.

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Unfortunately I haven’t yet learned to resolve the tiny butterflies’ issue.  The reality is that I may never learn to; however I would like to learn to view them more positively by instead looking at them as nervous excitement.

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.

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The percentage of our good vs. terrible at home practice sessions is improving but I’d like to continue to work on that. It seems like the closer that I get to a show the more nervous I get which leads to mistakes. I’d like to start look at show preparation or even showing itself as nothing out of the ordinary and therefore not letting my nervousness lead to mistakes from sloppy riding.

Stage 3: After a friendly debate of pros and cons, 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 the brain with limitless possibilities. What if I die? What if my horse dies? What if one or both of us falls?

The day that we departed for the show my confidence levels were on a wildly swinging pendulum. I ranged from “we’ve got this” to “I wonder if the footing in the arena will provide for a soft landing when I fall.” This was an epic fail on my part and has GOT to get better.

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.

I have many responsibilities in my life and I love them all but my reality is that preparing for show as an adult amateur looks vastly different for me than it did as a youth. Fitting everything in is hugely problematic. Plus, in certain areas I tend to over prepare. I packed way too much but STILL managed to forget some key items. We seriously looked as if we were moving to a third world country with supplies to last for roughly a year. Today I get to face the wreckage this is “post horseshow.”

Stage 5: The day of the show arrives. I realize that the start time is insanely early. 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 survive this it will take days to recover. I have to work on Monday.  What have I done coming here?

What I have done by showing is proven to myself that even though I am middle aged, even if there are people competing with me who have more going for them in terms  of time, talent, and finances, I can still do this. I may not win every time but I can hold my own.

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.

Here is where, in some cases, I feel as if I really let myself down.  A combination of two extremely long days, lack of sleep, and nervous energy caught up with me and I let it affect our performance.  Don’t get me wrong, we had some great moments but we also had some not so great ones.

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.

The end of a day at a horse show is another area that will likely never change and that’s okay. I can embrace this. Today, for example, I probably feel worse than I ever remember. Aging is hard. Luckily, I have a very supportive family and wonderful friends to remind me that it is so very worth it to repeat the experience again and again.

The Overall Analogy:
Was I able to positively change everything that I wanted to? Not by a long shot. In fact, in terms of show ring success, I’ve had better days. However, over the years, I’ve also had worse.  The good news is that I was able to change some small things.

Progress is always good, even if it’s not as much as you would like. Heck, sometimes staying the same is good too. Going backwards, at least as far as these areas are concerned, should never be an option.

As this year’s show season draws to a close I can make reflections and begin preparing for next year. I can see areas where I’ve made substantial progress and areas where I need improvement. I vow to keep in mind that I GET to do this again. I don’t HAVE to, but I GET to and with a little progress each time I’ll be one step closer to where I eventually want to be. Happy riding!

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