Taking “Show” Out of the Weekend

Photo Credit: Jen Whitfield Photo Credit: Jen Whitfield

This past weekend, my awesome barn hosted one of several schooling hunter shows that we put on throughout the summer.  These days are a great get-together of riders from all over the area, and they just keep getting bigger each year.

Being in a tough part of the country there are not a lot of opportunities to put oneself into a show situation, and so we try to take advantage of every opportunity we can.  Le Cheval runs a very casual atmosphere for the day, with a concession stand put up by the local Pony Club, young horses get to come out to their first real horse shows, and lots of young/new riders get to compete for the first time.  Schooling begins at 7:30 and then classes begin with cross rails at 9 am, with the big divisions wrapping up around 4pm, posing for a very long yet fun day.

These shows are great exposure for the young horses. Photo Credit Jen Whitfield

These shows are great exposure for the young horses. Photo Credit Jen Whitfield


While these are technically hunter shows, we break all the rules are very lenient as far as equipment, attire, and turnout are concerned.  These shows are treated as schooling opportunities for horses and riders; if a rider would like their horse to wear open fronts, then they can wear open fronts.

Most of the riders who compete are also event riders, so we see a lot of flash and figure-eight nosebands which would be promptly turned away from the hunter ring.  The entire point of the day is to have a good time, jump some jumps, maybe win some ribbons, and most importantly have some fun.

We allow shameless posting and announcing of horses for sale, and rounds with coaching from the sidelines are common.  Our announcer is always worth listening to, especially when she is announcing for her own child.  We laugh, we cheer, and at the end of the day no matter where a rider is from we are all supportive.

Photo Credit: Jen Whitfield

First timers get great show experience. Photo Credit: Jen Whitfield

The most beneficial part of our schooling show is that I suffer from crippling show nerves, especially in the show jumping.  I have yet to figure out what I do to myself, but when I have expectations it does not matter how large or small the setting, I freeze and all of a sudden my round is close to a train wreck.  Who is reading this that does not suffer from show nerves?  William Fox-Pitt maybe (how cool would that be for him to read my blog!) that man has ice water in his veins, but I would harbor a guess that even he got nervous at one point in time, and maybe he still does.

The mental aspect of this sport is part of what makes it so difficult to be good all the time, and those of us who are lucky enough to channel that nervous energy into grit are the ones who rise above while under pressure.  Yes, this weekend was just a schooling show, but I still managed to strive for perfection, and in that struggle managed to almost eat dirt.  While talking through a lot of my frustration with my trainer over the next couple of days, since this was at no fault of my horse, she said exactly what I needed to hear: “You have to take ‘showing’ out of the weekend.'”

Photo Credit: Jennifer Whitfield

These are fun shows- smile! Photo Credit Jen Whitfield

While it is difficult to think that way when you’re in a competition setting, people are standing at the rail, and you name comes across the loudspeaker, that is essentially what has to be done.  No matter how much money we spend to go around the ring once, or sometimes twice, these rounds all still need to be about confidence building for ourselves and our horses.

If I were a big named professional then I may give you a different opinion (but by then I may have a handle on my nerves and would not be writing this in the first place!) but for the majority of us out competing coming home confident and happy is more important than just getting by and then playing catch up or paying for it later.  One of my good friends took complete advantage of her rounds and worked on her ride-ability on a veteran horse when she easily could have gone out and water skied and won both big classes and been division champion.

She focused on the quality of the ride and used the small bit of nerves the schooling show created to simulate the feeling she has at a proper event.  Looking back, I wish after a hairy jump I had done the same, and reestablished the connection I needed between myself and my horse before just hoping that things would get better, which they ultimately did, but at what price?

Photo Credit Jen Whitfield

Photo Credit Jen Whitfield

When you don’t have a lot of opportunities to get into a show situation you have to make the best out of each round.  While we all want to go in and be competitive, no matter how large or small the scale, when in a casual situation it is more important to treat it as a schooling than any ribbon.

Sometimes as eventers we get caught up in “it doesn’t have to be pretty, that is the beauty of the sport” which can ultimately catch up to us in the long run.  Yes, it is ok to go out there and get the job done from time to time, but when in a Combined Test, Mini Event, or schooling show you start to feel the wheels falling off, forget that you are showing and make a circle then start again.

Also, try and establish in your own mind that all of these rounds and just you and your horse jumping jumps, like any other day at home.  It may be your first Beginner Novice, or your first three-star, but if you treat it as just a schooling round your chances for success increase.  Well, at least I’m going to try and go with that frame of mind and I’ll let you all know how it turns out after my next event!

As for now, take advantage of local schooling shows and support local barns in the area by attending.  It never hurts to work on the mental game, and sometimes all it takes is having people you don’t know stand at the rail and judge watch you.  Good luck!

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