Photo by Deb Dawson Photography
By Lauren Aubert
You are gliding down an open road, over bumps, potholes, gravel; your nerves are bubbling inside of you like boiling water, ready to explode out into the open air. Each twist and hairpin turn brings you closer to your ultimate destination, one step closer to furthering the dream you have had since childhood, the one with colorful rosettes, the sound and feel of horses breathing in the morning air, warm against your skin, the feeling that you have found your inner peace, the place where you belong.
The morning of a horse show. Starters walking around the showgrounds, conversing on handheld radios, planning the rest of their day. Dedicated riders cantering past the in-gate on big-stepping beautiful hunters, preparing them for their rounds to come ahead. Grooms chattering, walking, eating breakfast before they help the horses look immaculate for their classes. Tireless trainers walking the early morning equitation courses with their students, carefully explaining the correct track to jump three.
The show circuit is a wonderful place. It is the place where I learned things about myself that I did not learn at home or at school, and where I made eternal friendships, both equine and human. In other words, it soon became my second home, and still is to this day.
I did not start my horse showing career on the A-circuit. At first, I spent time gaining experience and practice at local schooling shows. Soon, though, my trainer told me I was ready for the Medium Pony division. This was music to my young ears. All of my hopeful pony dreams were to become a reality. Inexperienced and optimistic, I believed I could place well the first time I set foot in the highly competitive arena at an “A” show. What I did not realize was that immediate success is unrealistic.
I learned that to be successful in a competitive division, I had to put in hours of work, both on and off the horse, prepping, preparing, and training. My motivation to work grew with my ambition as a rider.
After my initial debut in a rated division, I decided to set goals for myself with the intention of staying in the zone and keeping my eye on the prize. With each hour spent in a lesson working on flatwork or without stirrups, I slowly began to see progress. With each round in the show arena, no matter if it was bad or good, I saw that I was getting better. Whether I missed a lead change or aced my distance to the dreaded single oxer, I was learning.
Through my successes, I recalled the work I put in to achieve them, and through my failures, I reflected on what decisions lead me to that point. One of my goals was to be able to see a distance, which I had no idea how to do, nor did I know how I would learn it. I distinctly remember when I checked that goal off my list, and it was the best “aha” moment I have ever had. I could not exactly say how I achieved this goal, but all I can say now is that it took time. Staying motivated about that one goal was important to me, and I am glad I stuck with it, because it has helped me in all areas of my riding.
A couple years into my pony experience, there came the moment no rider wants to go through. It was time to say goodbye to the tiny hooves, miniature pointed ears, and the endless array of colorful pigtails. It was time to move to the horse world, the world of scopey hunters and graceful equitation riders, a world of immense possibility for my thirteen-year-old self. However, I was to be on a bigger, stronger animal, and that frightened me.
I wanted to know it all, the outcome of every possible situation, every distance, how the lines would ride. I felt I needed absolute control every single second, every time I came down a line. This made me become tense, and I ended up scaring myself.
I learned to live in the moment, to let things happen. I wanted to be in control all of the time, but I slowly learned it was okay not to know what distance you were going to have to the “in” of the diagonal line; your fate to the single oxer was not decided the moment you kicked up dust in the schooling arena.
I learned to take fear in stride. I relaxed my tense arms and smiled, because when I appeared to others as confident, collected, and nonchalant, I began to believe it myself. The A-circuit taught me to let go of my anxiety, to enjoy my time in the arena, fence after fence. My rounds improved and I was indeed living in the moment, stride by stride, all the way to the final fence.
Showing on the A-circuit was in no way easy, but it was not the hardest thing I have ever done. Eventually, I stopped caring about what color ribbon I won, how I placed compared to others, how I thought others perceived me. What mattered now was how strong my connection with my horse was, how well I learned from my previous mishaps, how much I had prepared for a specific class, and if I had achieved the things I had been working on in my lessons.
If I set a goal and drove away from a show having made a dent in it, I had succeeded, no matter the placings. I learned perseverance, not to walk away from a task until I had accomplished my desired results. I learned the value of hard work. If you are deeply passionate about a goal, try, fail, and get back up when you are knocked off your feet. You can achieve your goal and beyond. I will always be learning and everyday I am one stride, one round, one final jump closer to becoming the best rider I can be.