I was recently asked by to write an article for Parelli Natural Horsemanship’s Blog on showing, and how to keep it fun and positive for both the horse and human. With that prompting, this article was created…..
Why do you compete?
The competitive spirit was sparked within me at a very young age; In the beginning, I exercised it by trying to keep up with my two older brothers. I then, aimed it at sports which lead to a national basketball league and by my mid-teens, it had leaked into my life with horses. I began by showing my young Andalusian horses “In Hand” at the breed shows and ultimately decided that Dressage would be my equestrian sport of choice.
More recently, my pursuits in performance took a five year hiatus. Through my journey of becoming a Parelli instructor, and two + years spent on the Parelli campus, I was challenged to rethink my whole mindset and attitude around competitions. I began the proverbial dipping of my toes back into the show scene about two years ago while in the midst of my Protege position with Linda. With her support I re-calibrated my habits on preparing for a show, playing with the horse the week/days before a competition and how to “present the horse that shows up that day” (even if they have suddenly transformed into a being completely foreign to you).
I am out on my own now and am running full steam ahead towards my goals in performance with my partner, Quest.
Reentering this stage after such a long gap has offered me a chance to step in with eyes wide open and a fresh perspective. For this, I have Parelli to thank! Being completely immersed in the program during that five year gap, and spending time with the masters of horse psychology, completely realigned and reinforced my values.
If you have been exposed to the Parelli Program for any notable amount of time you have likely heard or read the phrase “Purpose driving horsemanship” or “putting principles to purpose”. For me, competing not only feeds my competitive nature, but also keeps me accountable to my horses and horsemanship. It shows me where my holes are, how far I have come, and tests the endurance of my principles.
I will be the first to admit that when I was younger it was more about the placing, the ribbon, the score and the validation of others, than it was about my horse. As I write this I am over the mid 20’s hump and happy to say that today, it is ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP. Don’t get me wrong, I still have every intention of being the best. However, I have felt the highs and lows of triumph on both ends of the spectrum and have come to this conclusion. It feels 100% more satisfying to earn a 5th place ribbon in partnership with your horse than a 1st place ribbon without the willingness and dignity of the horse.
In addition to refining my horsemanship, and chasing that euphoric feeling of accomplishment, I also compete to experience and develop community.
Although competitions can bring out the most unbecoming and predatory characteristics of humankind, it CAN also unite us on so many levels. Pat often says “there are only two types of people. Horse people and the other kind….” I have been saying for years that “horse people are crazy, and I am one of them.” I believe there is truth to both statements. People who love horses are often unable to shake that infatuation which leads them to crazy measures. Waking up at 3:30 AM to feed, bath or load a horse before a show, spending your whole paycheck on your horse whilst eating ramen noodles or spending your weekends exhausting yourself at a show or clinic before returning to work on Monday while everyone else relaxes.
Whether you are an amateur or professional, western or english, with this element of crazy, we all have something in common. Having the opportunity to spend quality time with like minded individuals is just another rewarding element, and reason why I show.
How do you keep showing a fun experience for you and your horse?
1. OVER PREPARE
I have been fortunate that the dressage trainers I have studied under have adhered to a true and steady progression of showing a level below what is being schooled at home. For them, a horse is not “confirmed” at a level until they have successfully shown in it. Until that happens, they will refer to the horse’s ability as “schooling” such and such a level. For example, Quest is confirmed at 3rd level and schooling all of the 4th level movements.
On the flip side, I have had the honor of performing in many Parelli events where I received some of the best advice ever. “Don’t show what you don’t know!”
Have you even gone out to do a demo, entered yourself in a class, or even tried to show off to your friends something above your skill level? From my personal experience it usually doesn’t end well. Although we may be overcome with a wave of self assurance, we know when we are lying to ourselves. Generally, the wave of presumptuousness is quickly replaced by self doubt and nerves. In this moment we can not be good, clear or fair leaders for our horses, and as a result fall short and loose rapport with them.
Before you decide to strut your stuff, take some realistic inventory of your skill level, and choose your classes accordingly. It is so important to preserve you and your horse’s confidence in these situations by setting yourself up for success, over preparing and only showing what you know you know.
2. BRING SUPPORT
In my experience, one of the defining factors of a successful show weekend is dependent on the level of support you have. If you have access to a trainer who is willing to go with you to the show, book em! For me, taking advantage of this specific support system increases learning by leaps and bounds. Having a trainer helping you in the warm up ring, talking over your performance and scores at the end of the day, and sharing all their savvy tips is invaluable!
If you do not have a trainer established, rally the troops! Is there someone at your barn who has expressed interest in showing or getting their horses exposure off the property? If so, work as a team to encourage one another through the process. Or, enlist a friend or family member to come and help. Although it is totally possible to go lone wolf, you and your horse will benefit from having a ground person to help you remember your number, pull your horse’s wraps/boots, check with the ring steward and most importantly, remind you to have fun!
3. MENTALLY DETACH FROM THE OUTCOME, SCORE, or OPINION OF OTHERS
Easier said than done…….However, this is the only way that you will be able to remain present, stay “left brain” in what could potentially be a “right brain situation”, and put your horse’s needs first.
4. ELIMINATE AS MANY UNKNOWNS AS POSSIBLE
If possible, trailer your horse to the venue for a field trip before the big day. Or, spend the time and money to arrive the day before the show to become familiar with the venue and get your horse accustomed to the facilities. This extra time will allow you to cross the endless list of questions off of your mental checklist the morning of the show.
“Which exit do I take off the freeway again?
Where will I park my trailer?
Which barn is my stall located in?
Where is the warm up ring, show office etc?
How does my horse feel about that arena, that spooky corner, those decorative flowers?”
6. BE FRIENDLY, MAKE FRIENDS AND SUPPORT THE OTHER COMPETITORS
Everyone has the potential to become “tight” in the show environment, and some people get downright ruthless and abrasive. However, that type of behavior is just proof that they have not yet come to the humbling terms that the 1st place winner is simply “the best of the worst that showed up that day.”
Through my years of showing I have been amazed at how far a passing comment can go!
“Have a good ride”
“You and you horse looked great out there”
“How is your day going so far?”
“Do you need help with anything?”
My good Friend, Byana Smith and I competing together in 2016.
This kind of rhetoric oozes positive energy and will not only energize YOU, but will break down the barriers of rivalry and offer camaraderie as an alternative. These positive words, friendly gestures and acts of selflessness will ease the tension around you and act as a catalyst for good vibes to infiltrate the entire show grounds!
As I reflect on my show experience as an adult, some of my brightest highlights can be found in the kindling of friendships and team mentality that developed among “competitors” from the same region.
If you intend to show more than once a year there is a very good chance you will cross paths with the same people show after show! Make it your mission to be that familiar face for someone as they pull into the show grounds. Show days are often taxing and there is nothing sweeter than sharing in a high-five, nightcap or commissary conversation, to seal the day with a new found friend.
Upon moving to the west coast, and ringing in a new year I am filled with excitement at what this show season may bring. Last year was a big step up for Quest and I, as we competed at our first ever Regional Championships, and qualified for Nationals! My hope is to use the list of tips stated above to break ground on new levels of performance, new relationships and build positive habits within a new community of competitive horse lovers.