BY INTERN CARLY PHOON
My dad is the classic, supportive horse show dad. He listens to rapid-fire accounts of my rounds, and raving over my equestrian idols. He grudgingly watches USEF videos with me. Tries to counteract my natural attraction toward Mary’s Tack and Feed store, but ends up in its gravitational pull as well. And of course, my dad considers himself a very skilled videographer.
But my dad is also different than the typical horse show dad. He hasn’t just watched riding from the sidelines… he’s actually tried it out himself!
According to my dad, his first ride was “bumpy, thrilling, and not just a little painful.” While the bumps and thrills were there to stay, the pain was fixed by the head trainer’s suggestion for Under Armor underwear.
All in all, my dad’s experience during lessons was pretty enjoyable. However, my dad’s experience in the crossties… not so much. He got stuck between a slightly intimidating horse, and his diligent kid who berated him whenever he “missed a spot!”
Yet, my dad kept riding. It was partly due to the lack of excuses to quit, after the undergarment issue had been solved. Partly due to him being able to admit that horses are not as scary as they look. And he kept at it because he realized that riding is surprisingly fun. “It made me feel like a kid, like when you discover something new and interesting.”
As my dad discovered the kid in himself again, I found my unexpected place in his shoes at the side of the arena watching my dad competed in an adult amateur walk-trot class.
The swell of pride from a blue ribbon pinned to your horse’s bridle is universal. When my dad exited the ring, he had a kid grin. I felt pride worthy of a horse show dad.
A trademark of many horse show dads is being preoccupied about safety. My dad would monitor me relentlessly for concussion signs any time I fell off. Once he knew I was okay, he was relieved when the fall was my fault and made me one less fall away from, well, not falling off so much! However, the added element of actively participating in the sport threw him for a loop.
In a lesson on day, my dad passed me a little too closely. His horse’s rear swung into my horse’s face, and the end result was me getting plopped in the dirt. Funnily enough, when this happened, along with the usual “I hope she’s not hurt!” my dad said another thought popped into his head: “My wife is going to KILL me!”
When my dad and I broke the news of the fall to my mom, it wasn’t alarming; falling off was a regular activity in that point of my riding career. We both decided to cover up my dad’s part in my fall, and bonded together over ice cream after. Staying true to his horse show dad character, he still checked me for concussion signs for a week.
Another trademark of horse show dads is their amusingly straightforward answers to obstacles. You had a rail? You should tell your horse to jump higher! I kid you not, my dad’s proposed solution to my inability to see distances was getting me prescription contacts.
But my dad recognizes how riding has changed his viewpoint beyond that of a spectator. He told me, “I once heard a dad yell out at his kid in warmup, ‘C’mon! It was easy yesterday!’ earning a glare from both daughter and trainer. Dads can’t avoid thought bubbles, but rider dads tend to keep those thought bubbles from echoing across the show arena.”
“Having a go at actual riding has a long term result of quieting Crazy Dad or calibrating Thinker Dad.”
My dad doesn’t regret his short-lived dip into the sport. In fact, he’s very glad he went through those experiences. I asked him what he learned from riding, expecting a droll answer back like, The dirt is not as shock-absorbent as it might appear.
Instead, he said seriously, “People say you can do anything if you put your mind to it, but this seems especially true in riding, where your horse hears your thoughts and responds to every declaration or loss of confidence.”
Let me tell you, hearing that gave me the most proud-horse-kid moment of the century.
Because of problems with back pain, my dad decided to return to the sidelines and assimilate into the crowd of typical horse show dads again. But when asked if all horse show dads should try out riding themselves, his answer was, “Oh, absolutely yes.”