One unseasonably cool weekend this summer, I reached a long-awaited milestone in my Human training: we finally went to our first show.
To say that things could have gone better is of course, a complete understatement.
I console myself with the knowledge that all first (and possibly second) horse shows are supposed to be terrible and that exhibiting a green rider will not dent my reputation among my colleagues. Still, we finished an abominable umpteenth out of umpteen, and I hope that in itself is a lesson to her.
In preparing your Human for her first experience in front of the judges, there are a few things you should consider:
- Be prepared. The week before the show, I like to begin breaking, muddying, or snotting on everything I own… or whatever is left after our annual March Madness game. Ditch your halter. Develop a cough. Leave a rainbow of earth tones on every single saddle pad. Anything to inspire your biped to pack the tack room into her trunk. She has no idea how unprepared she is, even before she’s started packing.
If possible, email the Horse Show Boyfriend a list of must-have items for your Human. Optional inclusions: Carrots. Pepto-Bismol. Carrots. Breath mints. (Lay off the Mexican food, eh?) Carrots. Hair spray. Carrots.
If she doesn’t yet have a Horse Show Boyfriend, sign her up for Match.com immediately.
Another strategy to encourage preparedness is to stable the night before your competition, allowing your person to see other, better-trained Humans at work. She may realize that they cleaned their tack before arrival, that they remembered collapsible saddle racks, or that they all have identically perfectly-pinned hair beneath their helmets.
Then again, she might be too busy hurling in the bushes to notice.
- Study, study, study. There is no such thing as knowing your dressage test too well. No matter how many times you’ve taken your Human through it, it’s unlikely she will perform as well away from home as she does in familiar surroundings. At the showgrounds, there are lots of distractions for her. The concession stand. The loose horse zooming by the ring. The concession stand. The fact that halfway through her test, she’ll realize that she forgot to change into no-line underwear.
For one reason or another, her legs will turn to spaghetti noodles but her arms will be as solid as ice blocks, failing to allow you to do your best Dressage Strut. It will fall to you to navigate, and basically write the test yourself.
This is where you can earn back points by showing off your uninhibited talent—airs above the ground, side passes in place of free walks, and shoulder-ins just before you halt might not be part of the program, but they’re sure to get you creativity points.
- Take plenty of game film. The Broncos coaches don’t show Peyton Manning film of his touchdowns after the game, do they?
One of the first things you should do on entering the ring is to take note of the show photographer. Primarily, you should be ensuring they get your good side. Secondarily, you should be making sure they capture your Human at her worst.
This is where I find I can correct many fashion faux pas by proxy. Was she in denial that she needed to go up a size in breeches? Did she fail to get your bridle as shiny as you’d like? Did she cancel that Jenny Craig subscription you had shipped to her house?
Ready for your close-up, Miss Desmond? No? Excellent.
- Completion is in itself, a victory. Your Human’s two-legged trainer will likely remind her that the goal of a first outing is to complete it, not necessarily to pin in it.
(You probably already knew this. You are prepared for the fact that your Human will choke. She can’t remember what she did with her car keys, hoof pick, or that second helping of dinner you asked for 20 minutes ago, so expecting her to remember a 12-fence course was never realistic.)
There are a few ways you can emphasize this point to your Human. I chose to move as slowly as possible through our dressage test, halting frequently and without provocation, with the hopes my Human would start focusing on finishing the thing and give up all ideas of scoring well.
I saw other veterans in our division take off bucking in the warm-up areas, hoping to remind their trainees that just staying aboard can be made more challenging if they’re starting to sweat the big stuff. One particularly clever gelding got loose in the warm-up area and took off on a tour of his own. It worked—the Human running after him forgot to brush the grass off her shirt before their stadium round, and I can promise he’d bounced all thoughts of a grand prize out of her head.
Above all, it’s important to remember to have fun. Your show day is about you, not about the judges, your Human, or her insipid insistence that you look “ooh so cute” in blue. This means that if you get bored or annoyed, you’re well within your rights to throw in a nonsequitor rear, a sneeze on your Human’s show breeches, or stage a little polka in place of trailer time at the end of the day.
After all, life (and horse shows) are too short to be unhappy.
|Jitterbug is a Michigan-bred Professional Draft Cross who skillfully avoided saddles until age 5. Since then, she has been lauded for her talent in successfully managing humans while training herself to one day achieve eventing greatness. Jitter and her human live in central Kentucky.
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Photo by Dark Horse Photography.