BY CIRA PACE MALTA
When the first announcement from USEF was made suspending all horse shows for 30 days, I thought I would never survive that much time at home. Do we keep our normal schedule as if we were still showing? Do we not jump? Do we jump smaller? Do we ride at all? There were so many unknowns that it was almost hard to sleep for the first few weeks.
As 30 days of shut down turned into 60 days and then “to be determined,” my perspective drastically shifted. Things that seemed so big were suddenly no longer a thought. Why was I so upset when we were told we could not horse show? Maybe the break from the stress of showing all the time since I was practically born was much needed. Maybe it was time to press reset and focus on why my life has revolved around horses my entire life.
Growing up as a trainer’s daughter and being a very competitive person, I still can never get enough of ponies, horses and showing. I’ve loved riding since day one; literally, I would not get off the pony at my one year birthday party and I certainly was not going to share him with any of my guests. I have never taken a break from being burnt out. The only time I have missed in the saddle has been time to heal from injuries.
Horse shows have always been where I want to spend my time. I grew up riding and training young ponies with my mom, and we brought along the horse I am lucky enough to own now. In my opinion, horse showing takes on a different meaning when you’re showing a horse or pony that you’ve taught everything they know. You get to experience all the firsts. Their first time in the show ring, showing at a big venue, showing in the rain, doing a handy course, and jogging in for a ribbon.
For me, horse showing is not always about ribbons and points—especially when you are showing a green horse or pony. Horse showing becomes all about the experience you and your horse get to share together. You get to travel to a new place, ride in a new ring, jump new jumps, meet new people and make new friends. You also get to show the judges and everyone who’s watching what you and your horse can do together and you get to experience how far you’ve come together. To me, I’ve found no greater reward than when you take a horse from trotting cross rails, to learning lead changes, to qualifying for Devon and indoors.
During this time at home, I have had a chance to slow down and remember all of the ponies and horses that have brought me to where I am now. I’ve had time to watch old videos of my horse when he learned to do his lead changes and remember what a huge accomplishment that was for the both of us. I’ve had time to look at old photos of my first pony who went from jumping jumps made from milk crates to competing at Pony Finals. I’ve had time to think about the training I received from my legendary college coach, J.T. Tallon, and remember all of the horses I got to ride during those four years. In doing so, I shifted my mindset from “how are we ever going to get through this?” to being grateful to have this time to reflect on how and why I’ve gotten here.
This pandemic has also taught me that everyone handles stress and crisis in very different ways, and that’s okay. Some people are worried about getting sick, while others are solely focused on getting back to work. We need to try to not judge anyone for their opinions, no matter what side they are on, because we don’t know what they are going through.
Regardless of how you’re handling the current situation, be kind and supportive to others. We’re all doing our best. We’re all trying to follow our why.