Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Horse Shows - Not Just About Showing!

Going into the Finals Show this past weekend I wanted a different experience than the one I took away from the Region 1 AQHA show in August. I didn’t enjoy my rides at Region 1 and got really down on myself during and after the show. It was a big part in my decision to not go to Vegas this year for Novice Championships. I stand firmly by that decision and believe that Grace and I are not yet ready for that level of competition. For the Finals show I set a few goals ahead of time in hopes that I could keep my brain working in the show ring and not tune out like I’ve done in the past at a higher level shows. The goals were as follows:

1.       To not compare Grace or I to other riders/horses. I was overwhelmed by the level of horses at Region 1 many of which I believe don’t flick an ear without permission. The same cannot be said about my horse and I honestly don’t think I want it to be. I also don’t ride like the top equitation riders, I need some polish for sure but I think I will skip the Toddlers and Tiaras Horsemanship Class. My goal was to stay in my personal bubble in the warm up areas and in the show ring. What other riders and horses were doing was none of my business.

2.       To be present on pattern, to work the stride I’m currently on and not skip ahead to the lead change 10 strides away or the trail obstacle that we haven’t gotten to yet. By riding each stride I am able to arrive at that lead change or trail obstacle in a better position than when I forgot to ride on the way there.

3.       To have fun! This sounds so simple but I was so locked up in my head at Region 1 that I made myself miserable. I didn’t go out of my way to talk to other competitors and I really missed out on the good time that everyone else was having.

So, how did it go? I would say I hit all three goals over the weekend and had one of the best shows I’ve been to. At one point I said that from now I plan to haul to shows to hang out, wear pretty clothes, have great schooling sessions on my horse and never set foot in the show ring. I accomplished so much outside of main arena at this show that walking into the pen was almost an afterthought.

When I stall with Sarah’s barn at shows we usually stable close to another trainer. He and Sarah are good friends and we all enjoy watching him and his students show. He helped Sarah school her futurity horse and she suggested that I let him ride Grace and have him give me some pointers. I jumped at the chance and was thrilled when after he rode Grace for a few minutes he told me that “all the pieces are here, you just need to rate her lope”. The trainer went on to show me some exercises to unlock Grace’s shoulder and an exercise on the counter lope. He also worked with me on my Horsemanship patterns giving me some great tips.  It has been years since anyone but Sarah or I have ridden Grace. The last male trainer I had sit on her had nothing nice to say about my beloved horse. It made my day to have a trainer that I respected give me hope that my horse may just be as possibly as great as I think she is.

My classes went well; I even placed in a few of them. The trail pattern started off with a right hand gate followed by lope overs. It took 3 classes before the lope work was where I wanted it, but the jog work was the best it has ever been in Trail. There was a set of trot poles in the Championship class that I was concerned about, but we executed them without a hitch. Grace was the best she has ever been in my Horsemanship classes. We were the 27th to go in my first class and 22nd in the second class. In the past Grace hasn’t done well after sitting in the ring all that time waiting for her go. She’s been stiff by the time we start our pattern and often starts her lope by throwing her head and squealing. I made sure to keep her engaged while we waited in line and was able to circle before starting my pattern. The result was a quiet soft horse that executed the pattern when I asked without argument. I walked out of the ring still liking my horse. Showmanship also went well, I had practiced the patterns before the show and for the first time in a long time I enjoyed the class. During the team competition I saw a woman run a Showmanship pattern without a lead, her horse worked entirely off her body commands. Grace and I are SO going to do that

Western Riding gets a paragraph of it’s because it is by far my favorite class. My 3 classes were held first thing on Sunday morning and if I had to do it over again I would have gone to bed before midnight on Saturday night, maybe a little less of my #3 goal above. I only gave myself 15 minutes to warm up and I was first in at 8:00am. I needed more time, Grace was stiff as a board going into my first class and I felt like I was communicating with a brick wall. This wasn’t what I wanted at this show because I know what we are capable of and I didn’t want to go backwards at a show. I had more time in-between the 2nd and 3rd class to work with Sarah to unlock and soften Grace. There were 9 other riders in the class but I didn’t watch any of their rides, I just had to focus on my own ride. My pattern for the Championship was much better; we hit every lead change in the correct spot, loped over the pole as opposed to jumping it and for the most part kept a steady rhythm. I knew it could be better, but it was closer to the ride I was looking for, I scored a 68 and a 70 on the ride. I assumed that I would place at the bottom of the class so I was beyond pleased when they announced that I had placed 3rd and 4th in the Championship class. I know that we can go out there tomorrow and put together a nicer ride than that one so with that in mind I am really looking forward to that class for next year.


Overall I had a great show and learned that there is so much more value to the horse show experience than what happens in the pen. Grace and I had some of the best schooling sessions by far which have continued into the week after. I had a great time with new and old friends and caught up with people I only see at shows.  I am patiently waiting for pictures so I can show you the Diane Olson Show Shirt I picked up for $70 and the beautiful show halter I picked up for a steal! Got to look good for hanging out in the warm up ring next year!

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