Saturday, October 15, 2016
The Hard Part of Showing
I love showing horses, truly I do. I enjoy the training and strength-building process, then taking that training and polishing it up until it is performance ready. I enjoy figuring out how to ride each movement so that it earns the most possible points, every time.
I enjoy writing the pre-show training schedule, timing the hacks and variety days so that the horses are mentally ready as well as physically ready. I like writing the show schedule (yea, I’m weird like that), playing trailer-packing Tetras so things easily come out in the most efficient order for set-up – load riding stuff first, then tack stall hardware, then stable management, so they come out of the trailer in reverse order.
The night-before anticipation, that’s the best. When the actual class is still far enough away that nerves haven’t taken over, and hope runs high. In those moments, we all see Valegro in our mounts, and it is wonderful.
I enjoy walking my tests in the barn aisle, reviewing the parts that are important to each horse. I enjoy going over and practicing warm up plans for both my rides and my students. I like clarifying goals for each trip down the centerline, so everyone knows what a “good show” will look like for them.
Sometimes it all works out, I have a ride I’m happy with, and I earn the score I want, we get a pretty ribbon, and everyone is happy. Those days aren’t hard at all.
Sometimes it goes well, but I don’t place in the class. Sometimes good riders, mounted on better quality horses than I have, take home the ribbons. Of course I get a twinge of “I wish I had the ride on that fancy horse,” but those twinges don’t last long. I tend to be a “love what you have” kind of person, so that isn’t the hardest part for me.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and I’m stuck dealing with the emotions that come with disappointment. Sometimes my test falls apart for whatever reason, be it environment, weather, or distractions, and my horse’s trust in my aids evaporates. Sometimes judge thinks less of the ride than I did.
These days are tough, but they aren’t the hardest part of showing for me.
After the tough rides, I wouldn’t be a good trainer if I didn’t spend the next weeks dissecting my training, looking for weaknesses in my system. I wonder if show stress affected my riding, and made the I-thought-we-had-this-solid movement somehow fall apart in the exact moment I needed it to work. I wonder what I can do to better prepare my horses for the crazy, completely unnatural conditions we call a horse show.
But even this isn’t the hardest part for me.
The hardest part for me is after the show. That’s when the ugly inner-demon of self doubt shows up. And that demon isn’t picky, he’ll rear his nasty head whether the show went well or not. If the show went well, the demon tells me I got lucky, and “the big boys” weren’t there, or the score could have been higher. If things have gone poorly, the demon starts in with “A more skilled trainer would do a better job with this horse.” The demon feeds on after-show fatigue.
No matter how solid my track record has been, either with a particular horse or in this sport in general, when I’m show weary, the demon speaks loudly, and ignoring him, and the emotions he dredges up, that’s the hard part for me.
I suspect anyone who works in a performance industry is plagued by this demon. Our “what have you done for me lately” society seems to value current success over historical track record. But horses don’t have the same values. They prosper with long-term consistency, or, in short, good history.
I battle the demon with rest, a hack, a long groom session to remind me why I love these wonderful animals. If that isn’t enough, I go with facts – I look at my strengths on each horse, and the trends of their scores. When all else fails, I whine to my support system, who either look at me like I’m nutty for listening to the silly voices in my head, or get me off the farm for a few hours or more, to remind me that the pseudo-reality called horse shows, that I care so much about, is only a part of who I am as a person.
But the bitter truth is the demon could be right. My mounts might progress faster, or show better with different trainer. Then again, the demon may be wrong. But even if the demon is correct, I know that I have done my best for each and every one of my mounts. I know that I will continue to hone my skills, every day, so that tomorrow, my best will be better than it is today.
Hopefully that is enough to banish the demon.