This last weekend I was away at a schooling show at the Woodside Horse Park. It was a fantastic opportunity to expose younger / greener horses and riders to a multi-day show at a busy facility. However, I saw a lot of riders who had forgotten that their horses aren’t machines you press to start and expect the perfect performance out of.
Like us, horses are animals. They have their good days and they have their bad days. They have days they are tired or stiff and days they are excited to get to work. Unfortunately, you can’t pick what you get on show day.
When you go to a show I think it is important for riders to remember this. Especially at a larger, multi-day show where the horse is in an unfamiliar stall at a high energy facility.
How many of you have trouble sleeping in a hotel room? If you have kids, how are they in a hotel room? It’s not that uncommon that people have a harder time relaxing and sleeping in an unfamiliar environment like a hotel room. For horses it is no different. Chances are they aren’t getting as good a rest as they would at home in between their rides. The more they go to shows and experience all the hype in the unfamiliar environment the better the horses going to be, but they may never be as good as at home.
Our job as riders is to evaluate what state our horse is in when we take him out of his stall and do our best to make him as comfortable and happy as possible. Some days that may even mean scratching your classes because your horse is just too tired or stressed.
Instead of getting to a show determined to win, we should be getting to a show excited to help our horse perform to his fullest ability. This change in perception allows us to take the time and spend the effort to get our horse where he needs to be as well as taking the pressure off us to get in the ring and make it work.
I wish more riders would take their sore horse for a walk in the evening after their classes to stretch their legs. Or take a moment to graze a stressed horse by the scary ring. Taking your horse out in the morning for some light ground work to supple his body and relax his mind should be the norm, not a strange concept.
These last few years I have taken a bit of a break from the show world because I struggled with how to balance my horse’s well-being with the show mentality. Returning to the show ring I realized that it really isn’t that hard. You just have to dare to be different and make a conscious choice not to push your horse when you know he isn’t in the right mental or physical place to perform. If people look down on you for that, so be it. You can proudly stand by your actions knowing you are taking care of your horse. After all, competitiveness should always take a backseat to good horsemanship.