What I Learned Horse Showing, Without My Horses

Showing in the 3’3” Junior Hunters at the Colorado Horse Park. Photo by Amanda Shaw.


Packed clothes, filled trunks, my bike secured to the back of the car – I was ready for a great three weeks of showing at the Colorado Horse Park. Except for one thing: my horses weren’t coming. One way or another, neither of my Junior Jumpers nor my Junior Hunter were fit for a trip to the Rockies, making for a horse show experience unlike any other. Despite being disappointed and disheartened at having to leave my horses behind, I had an amazing time in Colorado and picked up a few valuable life lessons along the way.   

1. It’s okay to make mistakes when showing unfamiliar horses.

It’s easy to dream of winning a blue ribbon in your first class on a new horse, but reality is, it probably won’t happen. I had the good fortune to receive the opportunity to show a friend’s horse in the 3’3” Junior Hunters weeks one and two, and the first weekend was a series of learning curves. While I didn’t pick up any ribbons worth bragging about, the process of figuring out how to ride him was rewarding on its own, which brings me to my next point.

A bit of love after a good round. Photo by Amanda Shaw.

2. Sometimes the best achievement is the improvement award you give yourself.

Each round got better and better as I learned how to work with this new horse, and this process was more exciting to me than any ribbon I earned. By the end of week two, we were able to put forth solid and consistent rounds that I was proud of. I ended up placing well in a few of my final classes, but it was truly the progress in my teamwork with this horse that gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment.

Warming up for the Junior Jumpers at Summer in the Rockies last year with my horse Adico. Photo by Amanda Shaw.

3. You can practice and learn in smaller classes no matter what level you compete at.

Weeks two and three I was lucky enough to show a horse in the Children’s Jumpers, and although I have been showing in the Junior Jumpers for quite some time, I learned just as much jumping 1.10m as I do jumping 1.30m. It was a great opportunity not only to adapt to another unfamiliar horse, but to practice my tracks and to create and execute a course plan that suited my horse’s strengths. It was a challenge to ride a jumper so different from my own, but it made it so much more rewarding when we completed a solid and competitive round.

Discussing my Children’s Jumper course with a friend. Photo by Amanda Shaw.

Although I missed my own horses dearly, I am eternally grateful for the showing opportunities I received in Colorado. I learned so much and developed my riding skills monumentally, for each horse has their own unique lessons to teach. To anyone heading into a horse show on an unknown horse, my advice would be to focus on discovering and adapting to new aspects of your horse and celebrating the progress you make together. Ribbons are fun, but building a successful team with your horse can be the most rewarding of all.

About the Author: Ashley Shaw is a senior at Lafayette High School in St. Louis, MO. She trains with Shannon Hicks and competes in the Junior Hunters and Junior Jumpers, and her goal is to qualify for the Devon Horse Show next year. Outside of riding, she enjoys photography, cooking, and hanging out with her retired horses.

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