BY LAUREN MAULDIN
Even though I’ve been riding for well over twenty years, nobody would ever consider me an authority on training, equitation, or really anything to do with horse showing. And that would be correct! I’m kind of on the eternal struggle bus when it comes to being the best rider I can be, but I’ve been in this sport long enough to know the things that will or won’t make a difference in my path for success.
Don’t: Compare Yourself to Other People.
I’m sure it’s true in any sport, but especially in this one… if you want to thrive you cannot try to be anyone else. Someone is always going to have a bigger show budget, a nicer horse, a bigger name trainer. If you play a game of keeping up with the Joneses in the equestrian world, you’re playing to lose. There’s no winning there. Ever.
Instead, focus on what you have. Each of us come to the ring with different strengths whether we’ve been riding since we were four or just started. Focus on you, your horse and your journey together. That way, you can follow your improvements in the bigger picture instead of feeling like you’re constantly playing catch up to someone else.
Do: Cut Yourself Some Slack.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nothing good comes easily. A true equestrian isn’t made in a year, but instead a lifetime. The great thing about this sport is that people can do it forever. If you’re a junior and you think your life is over because you haven’t made it to the 3’6″, there’s still your entire amateur career to get to that height. If you’re a young amateur, there’s the older age groups up on the horizon and if you’re in that older age group now… well Japan had an 80 year old man compete in the Olympics for dressage. So really, we’ve all got time.
It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to stay in a lower height until you feel confident and comfortable enough to move up. It’s okay to go off course. It’s okay to fall off. It’s okay to spend the entire afternoon walking your horse around the pasture if you’ve had a hard day at work and don’t feel mentally up for a tough ride. It’s all okay. At the end of the day, this is about having fun. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect all the time. Just be with your horse.
Don’t: Spend All Your Money on Fancy Clothes & Tack.
Now I don’t have my R card, but I can say with a certain level of authority that no judge has ever placed a class exclusively by the kind of breeches the riders were wearing. It’s not that I don’t love fancy clothes. I love fancy clothes, but I will never put buying a new show coat above taking a few extra private lessons.
That might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised. I used to lease half lease a horse that had entire color coordinated outfits of different colored tack, but the owner was too strapped for cash to take regular lessons. Don’t be that owner. The judge doesn’t care if you’re TS breeches are the old style. Your horse doesn’t care if his bridle is twenty years old (if it’s clean safe and well oiled of course!).
Do: Put the Hours In.
It doesn’t matter if you have a perfectly trained horse or a greenie off the track, you’ve got to do the work. Proper equitation and a good feel don’t happen magically after a few lessons. Riding is as much about muscle memory as it is about natural skill, and the way you get that muscle memory is by practice. Ask your trainer for “homework” on days when you ride yourself, and listen to the exercises they suggest for you. Also make sure to keep things fresh for your horse. He’s going to get really tired of going around on the rail for laps and laps of the sitting trot while you practice without stirrups. Whether you’re doing hill work or gymnastics, make sure to practice as perfectly as possible while engaging his brain. We don’t like doing 100 math problems in a row when we’re learning algebra… the same is true for your horse!
Don’t: Brag About Your Accomplishments To Make Yourself Feel Better.
We all know that person. You know, the one who can’t stop telling you about the time they won the 3′ Adult Equitation finals four years ago or who says things like, “Yeah, I used to ride Thoroughbreds before I upgraded.” That person might have all the ribbons in the world, but I venture to guess they must feel incredibly insecure to have to remind themselves of their greatness all the time. Even though it’s nice to have had success in the past or present, an amazing junior career isn’t as important as how the adult rides in the ring today. If you focus on accolades, you won’t improve. Nobody ever is untouchable in this sport. We can all get better if we’re open to the challenge.
Do: Be Your Own Cheerleader.
When we show, we pay to get judged. After ten classes in a weekend, that could get a little rough on the ol’ mental health. It’s natural to get discouraged when things aren’t going right, but we can’t get better if we don’t believe in ourselves.
The next time you swing your leg over a horse, think about something that you do well. Something that you’re proud of. Okay, I need to work on my lower leg today but I’m really learning to get a good feel for the inside bend. When you walk into the show ring, don’t think about merely surviving… think about thriving. You have to know you have a shot of being the best to ever have a chance at winning. Clutching crystals and chanting, “I’m going to win!” won’t magically make you win a Grand Prix, but never underestimate the power of positive thinking.
Above all though, enjoy the ride.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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