Returning to Our (New) Horse Show Normal

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BY PONYMOMAMMY

I never thought I would miss the inevitable horse show hangover, but after months of quarantine and cancelled shows, my body was craving the Monday morning exhaustion, empty bank account, and crazy tan lines.

The last few months have felt like some kind of bizarre dream. For the most part, I found a lot of positives in the changes in our new pandemic lives. The flexibility of e-learning was actually enjoyable at my house; we got to spend more time together as a family than we have in forever, and my teen and tween children actually got along most of the time (to be fair, they didn’t really have much choice though). 

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Our barn did close for a few weeks, but we used that time to get back to basics with the kid’s new pony. LOTS of lateral work, transitions, and addressing of medical concerns and saddle fit. We did it all, and in that regard, the global pandemic really was a blessing in disguise. It gave us the freedom to work slowly and methodically, without the pressure of looming show dates. We focused on fundamentals so that when shows did resume, kid and pony would be ready.

But as we reopened and began discussing shows, there were still so many questions. How would the new rules affect things? Would it be less “fun” with social distancing protocols in place? Would the required masks make things more difficult (and hot)?

As May went on, there were several tentative show dates set and then cancelled. Eventually our local Harmon Classics show series teamed up with the Tryon International Equestrian Center to put on the first full show the east coast had seen since the beginning of March. I was still a little wary if the state government was going to let it go forward, but the week before the show we officially got the green light. We were told there would be strict requirements. It was clear this would be a different kind of horse show, and none of us knew what to expect.

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My ponykid had planned on moving up to the local large pony division prior to everything shutting down. After so much time off we were a little hesitant to put them in a situation where they may be in over their heads, but my kid is not one to back down to a challenge. She works her hardest when there is a goal on the line. And true to form, she buckled down and put in the effort, doubled up on lessons, hacked with a game plan, and did the work to move up. 

We packed up the trailer with little idea how things would go down in Tryon. Even on the day we left for the show, my child still asked, “But how will this work?” 

I told her again, “Kiddo, I just don’t know yet how any of this will work!” but the excitement of getting back some semblance of normalcy was worth the unknown.

And this is what we, as equestrians, are so gifted at already. We adapt. We overcome. We find a way. 

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The crew from Harmon Classics as well as staff from TIEC were ready and prepared to make as many adjustments as possible to minimize contact. Entries were done online in advance. Stall charts were posted in advance and available online so you knew exactly where to go upon arrival. There were staff at every entrance checking temperatures of everyone coming onto the property. Masks were required for everyone on site unless they were physically on a horse (and they checked…a lot). 

Websites listing estimated start times, and sites to post courses were utilized instead of clustering too many people at the in-gate. For schooling, trainers were not to adjust jumps. Instead, schooling times were assigned by fence heights and show staff made the adjustments. Spectators were not allowed, but family members and fellow competitors were able to sit in the viewing areas to watch friends ride. Restaurants were closed to inside dining, but numbers to call for carry out were made readily available.

Was it easy? No. Was it different? Absolutely. Were the masks incredibly hot and made it hard to recognize who that was waving at you? For sure. But you know what? It really wasn’t that bad. 

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At one point, while sitting in the viewing area waiting for the ponykid’s undersaddle, I had pulled my mask down to chug some coffee (early mornings did not change!) and neglected to pull it back up. A TIEC staff member came over and apologized for asking me to return my mask to it’s correct place. I assured her that she didn’t need to apologize – that we were so grateful that everyone had been so kind and gracious, and willing to adapt so that we could do what we love while keeping us all safe. Her response really gave some perspective; she said that it was she who felt grateful to us! She had been out of work since March. At that moment, I vowed to stop complaining about the masks, and the temperature checks, and the minor inconveniences. 

Yes, horse shows are a privilege. We enjoy showing off our hard work, and seeing our friends, and feeling “normal” again. But also, a really large part of our industry needs us to be willing to make small sacrifices so that they can have an income again. Our show staff, braiders, grooms, trainers, restaurant and shop owners/employees have all been trying to get by for months. They were ready to work. They need to get back to work. 

Certainly I can put on a mask for 12 hours. I can give them the courtesy of a smile for the extra 30 seconds it took to check my temperature. I can bite my tongue when a class gets delayed because of a trainer conflict, because said trainer is a 30 min walk away. Because so many other people were so excited to come show they had to have seven rings running from sun up to sun down. 

So, as impressed as I am with my kid and her pony and their partnership, I am equally impressed with what can happen with a group of like-minded and dedicated equestrians decide they can make it happen. I am proud that a few inconveniences would never stop us from supporting our industry. Will shows ever be the same as they once were? I honestly don’t know. But I know that no matter how different they may look, the feeling of community will never change.


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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