Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2024

Managing Expectations

Succeeding at the USEF Pony Finals takes practice, planning and luck, but also tremendous mental preparation. Most young riders who traveled to Kentucky for this year’s renewal had grown comfortable picking up ribbons, but this show always shakes things up.

PUBLISHED

ADVERTISEMENT

Succeeding at the USEF Pony Finals takes practice, planning and luck, but also tremendous mental preparation. Most young riders who traveled to Kentucky for this year’s renewal had grown comfortable picking up ribbons, but this show always shakes things up.

With more than a dozen falls and twice as many eliminations in the regular hunter divisions alone, many of this year’s competitors arrived unprepared. Even the riders who had left their stirrups in their trunks for a month, scheduled extra lessons and reread their Hunter Seat Equitation book weren’t necessarily ready to enter the Walnut Ring if they weren’t in the right frame of mind.

Rider after capable rider, including several of last year’s ribbon winners, walked into the ring and looked around the very difficult over fences course. With their parents on-hand armed with video cameras and crowds of knowledgeable and critical spectators observing, they then panicked and proceeded to regress two years in their riding abilities.

Trainer Bill Schaub cited creating realistic expectations for the riders and their parents as the most difficult aspect of Pony Finals. Well-meaning, supportive parents—who have done all they can to help their children succeed and watched them win all year—may inadvertently add pressure to their nerve-wracked kids when it comes time to showcase their hard work.

Before this year’s Finals, Bill sat down with all of his students and their families to stress this point, telling the kids point-blank that he knew who among them could hope for a ribbon and who should aim to get around the course safely. He encouraged them to enjoy the experience and to be happy that their parents had the means to get them there.

ADVERTISEMENT

And, sure enough, when it came time to show, all of his riders felt confident enough that they could ignore the distractions and follow his final instructions to a T. Bill’s five medium pony riders ranged from nervous first-timers to Pony Finals veterans, and they all earned scores in the 80s.

Bill said having his riders mentally prepared for the competition was his biggest coup of the year, a greater accomplishment than the many ribbons—including the medium pony championship—that his students earned at the show.

Successful experiences, rather than top ribbons, should be the focus of this introductory championship competition. A spooky pony that’s used to hacking in the show ring in the morning doesn’t stand much of a chance of a ribbon at Pony Finals, where he can’t get into the ring in the morning and has just one opportunity to jump. But that fact doesn’t mean that he and his rider can’t have a great experience, especially if his connections plan to set their personal bar a little lower.

Parents and trainers should remember to keep this competition in perspective for the children, reminding them that while Pony Finals may be the pinnacle of this particular season, dedicated riders should consider the competition a stepping stone on the way to future challenges and championships.

Categories:
Tags:

ADVERTISEMENT

EXPLORE MORE

Follow us on

Sections

Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse