We’re back with the final installment of the new pony parent horse show guide! Make sure you didn’t miss the vocabulary lesson and prep/clothing guide, but for today we’ll get on to surviving the actual show.
The truly exceptional thing you will learn at your first show is the art of “hurry up and wait.” It is a skill not necessary in most other areas of life, but essential at a horse show.
Much like how time ceases to exist at the barn, with a one hour lesson often taking three hours, shows are amped up a bit. Let’s say your tiny tot is doing walk/trot/canter at the show. It’s going in ring 2, after the conclusion of the jumper classes. The prize list might say something like “these classes will not start before 12:30.” A sane-minded, non-horse person would look at that and think, “OK, my kid is in the second division after the 12:30 time mentioned, so little Susie will show at 12:45 probably.”
A horse show-savvy parent would look at this same situation at think, “ OK, my kid is in the second division after the 12:30 time mentioned, so little Susie MIGHT go at 12:30, or she MIGHT go at 4:00, or she MIGHT go at any time between those two.”
We know the scheduling is mind-numbing. We know it’s silly and we know you cannot wrap your head around the nonsense of it all. Honestly it makes us crazy too, we’ve just accepted it for what it is.
Which means you’ll need to be at the show by 8:00 am (dirty pony…it will happen). Your trainer will tell you that you have loads of time so eat something, watch some of the big hunter classes in the main ring, clean your stall, clean your tack (child is getting dirty too in all of this, you understand. The pony law says that all dirt that leaves the pony, must end up on the kid). The the same calm trainer who told you moments ago that you have loads of time, will suddenly announce that your precious tiny tot will miss her classes if she doesn’t get dressed and on the pony RIGHT NOW!
You will frantically scramble to get the child into her appropriate (and hopefully still clean) show clothes, while some poor kid gets roped into tacking up the pony, rush down to the ring…where you will sit and wait for an hour before actually going in while listening to a lot of frustrating reasons why the show is delayed. There’s a trainer conflict at the pony ring, or they need to water and drag the ring, or any number of seemingly insignificant factors, that have you standing in the sun for what feels like forever, before little Susie finally gets to the actually showing part.
My husband and I have been together since high school. He has been through me going to many, many shows. Every single time, before I leave we have the same conversation:
Him- what time are you showing?
Me- Friday, Saturday, and probably Sunday
Him- right, but what time?
Me- Friday, Saturday, and probably Sunday
Him- Ok, well what time will you be home?
Me- probably Sunday
Him- uugghh, I give up
The sooner you accept the time-warp that is a horse show, the easier it will be on everyone. Best advice, don’t make other plans for that weekend. Even if you do get done at a reasonable time, you’ll be exhausted.
Not going to lie, this part is painful. Best treated like ripping off a bandaid – don’t think about it too hard and just get it over with. Horse shows are not cheap. There is the fee to the trainer, a trailering fee, stalls, shavings, splits (the sharing of the cost associated for the whole barn, including an extra stall for tack and feed, groom/help if needed, much needed coffee and food for the trainer, hotel rooms for the trainer and grooms, if applicable), plus the actual classes. It’s easy to see how the number grows, and grows quickly. But any seasoned horse show parent will tell you, it is worth every penny!
That moment, when your child finally gets that thing she has been working on so hard at home. The feeling when you look at your tiny tot coming out of the ring and she is just beaming from ear to ear because she knows, in her heart, that she just gave it her all. That first time your itty-bitty discovers that she can pilot a 1200 lb animal around a course of jumps better than a kid twice her age. THAT is what keeps us coming back for more.
My car is chronically a wreck. My washing machine frequently full of show pads and standing wraps. My checkbook is empty, and I will keep doing it for the rest of forever, because the lessons we learn at horse shows extend far beyond the color ribbon we take home.
We learn the value of teamwork, because we cannot do it without our four-legged partner. We learn that despite being small, we are stronger than we look and tougher than we think. We learn that a show, as in life, isn’t always fair, and sometimes your best isn’t good enough, and not everyone gets a participation prize. Sometimes you plan and practice, and still fall, or go off course, but you don’t give up. You just try harder next time.
We learn to put someone else’s needs before our own and even though you might be hungry, your pony needs to be untacked and put away first. We learn to thank your pony every single time, no matter what. We learn that it’s more important to be a good sport and congratulate the winner, than it is to be the winner.
This is why we do it. We watch our tiny tots grow up into responsible and decent people who care about the other living things around them. They learned how to treat others, by being shown how to treat their pony. These tiny tots turn into valuable employees, who don’t expect a raise without putting in hard work. Spouses and mothers/fathers who know it’s as important to take care of their “team,” as it is to take care of themselves. Friends who will always find a positive to congratulate you on.
So, when you go to write that check for your first horse show, know that you are paying for far more than a couple ribbons. You are investing in your child’s future, and that takes a little time and a little work, but man is it ever worth it!
About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, perpetual amateur, and accidental co-owner of Black River Show Stables in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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