I call it the horse show hangover. Defined as: malaise, depression and general laziness that follows a week (or in my case, six weeks) of sleep deprivation, stress, adrenaline, sun burn, more stress, overwhelming joy and/or crushing defeat of non-stop competition plus/minus an actual hangover from beverages consumed to cope with/celebrate aforementioned horse show.
I got back from the Gulf Coast Classic Winter Series (Miss.) two weeks ago and I detoxed for a week. I’ve spent an entire season working at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), I went to Ocala, Fla., with three of my own for a month last year but this was the longest stint I’ve done with the most horses stabled on grounds.
We had 12 horses showing for the six-week circuit at Gulfport. And it was great.
This is the best possible scenario I could hope for my fledging business. Don’t think for a second that I am anything less than thrilled to have had so much to do. And I consider myself very fortunate to have the help of two tireless working students and a great group of clients who never hesitated to pitch in. But I realized after being home for a couple days that I wasn’t so much physically tired but mentally exhausted. I didn’t turn my brain off in Mississippi.
At shows, I am constantly thinking of how best to prepare the horses and clients for competition. Should we do a morning prep ride or not? Lesson in the ticket ring on Tuesday or just a flat ride? Which bit might work better? And I’m also sorting out all the details of having this many creatures on the road for this long. From the important details of who needs ulcer medications and whose skin is threatening to explode into total body rain rot to the silly things, like stressing out over our stall-front set-up not being nearly as elaborate as our neighbors or how many ribbons we have on our banner. Oh, and I was showing my own horses for the first time since September, so there’s that.
The thing I want to tell you is that yes, if your trainer looks stressed, she probably is. And it’s because she cares very, very much about your success and her own.
It goes without saying that this is an incredibly hard industry to be in without substantial financial backing. And there are many good competitors out there. It’s easier not to think about the competition at home in your own barn but when you’re stabled around the corner from them week after week it’s harder not to compare yourself. For the first three weeks of the horse show I was not entirely on my mental game as a rider. I was caught up in what people thought of me and I let the comments of outsiders affect my thinking.
I felt crappy that I wasn’t showing in the welcome or the grand prix. And I know people meant well when they told me my horse looked good in the 1.30-meter and asked if they would see her in the welcome. But they didn’t know that I’d had a setback with her last summer and we’d lost confidence together. They didn’t know that I was wrestling with my own fear of failure and doubt walking through the in-gate. They didn’t know the enormous pressure I feel to be perfect every time I walk in the ring. Or maybe they do. Maybe they feel it too.
Despite all the temptations of regional standard grand prixs and welcomes, I stuck to my plan with Fiona. I would not move her up until I felt that I was giving her the confident, accurate ride to every jump that I know she needs. And as wonderful and serendipitous as it would be to sing from the rooftops that we went around our first grand prix together, I have learned that my horse needs me as much as I need her.
So we stayed in the 1.30-meter. We did the classics on Saturdays and placed well enough to win some entries back and I coached the short stirrup girls while the grand prix ran on Sundays. And I feel like after six months of doubt, I have my horse back.
And other wonderful things happened. My absurdly athletic dragon of a 6-year-old, Solana moved up to the 1.20-meter and only tried to buck me off once (unsuccessfully) all circuit. My darling homebred 5-year-old, Mischa, made her debut in jumper-land and rode around just like her mother, who taught me what fun it could be to ride a jumper track seven years ago.
And the kids and the ponies reminded me every day why I do what I do. My youngest student is a little girl named Sally. She’s 7. We lease a pony for her who will be 23 this year. It’s never a bad idea for your first pony to be at least three times your age. He is a short-stirrup machine. And when Sally counts her strides and steers, Baby Jaws (that is his actual barn name, I kid you not) usually takes home a primary colored ribbon.
But after six weeks of showing with Sally, I noticed something. She didn’t care. She entered and exited the ring with the same smile, no matter what. Because it was a beautiful day and she was riding her pony and it didn’t matter what place she got. She was just so happy to be there.
As I continue to recover from the winter circuit, I remind myself to enter and exit the ring with a smile. Because it’s really awesome just to be here. And it wouldn’t have been possible without my amazing crew at home that kept the world turning while I was away. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such loyal friends and customers. Thank you all so much.
And now time for the shameless plug, the growth is continuing at Country Fox Farm as I’ve added an additional barn with 16 more stalls and I’ll be on the hunt for another working student or two.
Chronicle blogger and up and coming hunter/jumper trainer Paige Cade spent most of the 2015 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival working for Margie Engle’s Gladewinds Farm, and in 2015 made the decision to return to Virginia to start her own riding and training business, Country Fox Farm, Inc. Paige would like to thank Antares, Equine Omega Complete, Dr. Sallie Hyman and Total Equine Veterinary Associates for their continued support for the 2016 season. Read all her blog entries.