Lessons in Horsemanship: What Taking a Green Horse to Its 1st Show Taught This Junior Rider

Photo © Nathanael Hardgrave @itsadandysignpainting

BY CHLOE HARDGRAVE

For many competitive equestrians, the time will eventually come to show a green horse. Maybe it’s a baby Warmblood you have trained yourself, or an OTTB recently retired from the track. Regardless of the situation, someone has to get over the hurdle that is the very first show. 

Recently, I had to get over that mental barrier myself with my OTTB, Walk the Line. Having not ridden him much, I had no idea what to expect from him or myself for that matter. After all, my little chestnut was young and had never been to a show. He was talented, but he had no idea how talented he truly was. 

Johnny and I in the warmup ring. Photo © Nathanael Hardgrave @itsadandysignpainting

I had grown up on completely broke horses. Yes, I had been on some fresh horses, but I soon realized that fresh is not the same thing as green. I had to learn how to control a whole different side of my riding, to focus so much more on my body movements, head, legs, and even the smallest nerves. 

By being brave and heading to the show with my green horse, I not only learned more about riding, but also as myself as an equestrian.                       

A ribbon itself is not worth much. I used to think that horse showing was all about the ribbons, but what will those ribbons mean in twenty years? 

Johnny’s first horse show ribbon. Photo © Nathanael Hardgrave @itsadandysignpainting

From this single show with my green horse, I learned that what you put into your round and what you come out knowing after is more important than the place you receive at the end of the day. Because I did not expect to place at all, having that in the back of my mind caused me to be happy with how my horse performed even if we had a rail and a bunch of time faults. I learned to treasure the lessons I learned in the ring rather than coming out upset because all I could think about was how I blew it. 

I was also reminded that riding is about you and your horse—not you and your friends. Previously I would get off after my rounds, and quickly rinse my horse and put away my tack before going to hang out with my friends. But having a green horse there made me realize I have much more responsibility. Instead of going on long bike rides, I would stay back at the barn and make sure my horse was handwalked or turned out so he could experience the horse show world. Or, despite wanting to hang out in the morning before my rounds, I got on my horse early to release any nerves that he or I might have and finish all the chores. My friends often asked where I was, but I learned that missing being in a few instagram posts, or not getting the insights on a silly inside joke was okay if I was able to bond with my new horse. Having a solid bond with your horse allows you to work together better in the show ring. 

Photo © Nathanael Hardgrave @itsadandysignpainting

Instead of things coming easily, I learned the trials make you more thankful for the triumphs. With a young horse, you struggle a lot. In just a single day, the rhythm you had yesterday could disappear, causing confusion and disappointment. But even though you have those “bad” days, they make you more thankful when your class does go great. Trials make you and your horse grow to become one, and push yourself farther and farther. The sweet feeling of success makes you continue to defeat the trials despite all odds. I have learned to face the trials and view them as just mountains I must climb to get to my final destination, or goal I have set before me. 

Amid all this I had one final realization—life is good. Enjoy it! Once I realized that I am not trying to earn a ribbon, that I do not have to worry about pleasing my friends, and that success will eventually come to me if I continue to work past failures, I found a new love for riding. I thought of it as fun again. It’s so easy to get caught up in the competition that we forget why we even started riding in the first place.       

So, I’m excited for the journey with this green horse. I know it will be hard. I know there will be days that I want to give up. I know I will fail. But, I also know I will continue to learn these valuable lessons by riding my green horse.