BY LAUREN MAULDIN
Whether you show on the local circuit or at the biggest AA shows in the country, chances are you’ve reviewed a new list of rules that have appeared during the pandemic. Each state and facility has their own guidelines, but some common themes are:
- Face coverings must be worn by anyone not on a horse
- Only one parent allowed per junior entry
- No spectators
- No group seating at barn setups
- Grandstands/bleachers closed or enforcing social distancing
- Exhibitors must leave the facility an hour after their classes are done
- Courses are handed out versus posted around the facility
- Overall capacity is down as low as 50%
If you’re anything like me, you might have taken a look at all of those regulations and thought, Ugh do I even want to bother?
I know I had those feelings when I looked at our local circuit guidelines—especially banning spectators and our normal hang outs at the barn areas. And truly, if it weren’t for the fact that I needed to get my green OTTB off the property I might have passed on showing this year all together. I couldn’t imagine how it would be without a big barn family gathered at the barn to cheer each other on with snacks and camaraderie.
Walking up to the temperature check and health screening on the first day of the horse show, that feeling of dread and unfamiliarity felt stronger than ever. But as I began to set up the stall for my baby horse and walk him around the property, I waved hello to friends I hadn’t seen in a year. Behind the safety of my homemade mask, I caught up on the local circuit gossip. And when I swung a leg over to school my baby horse for the first time off the property, I suddenly wasn’t focused on all of the anxiety of the world. For the first time in months, the pandemic melted away and I was just normal Lauren taking deep breaths to give my horse a good ride and good experience at the show.
That’s when I realized that the core of showing hasn’t changed at all.
Things look so different now. It feels like the news cycle changes faster than I keep up—even when I’m anxiously watching and reading all the things way more than I should. And as much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think things are returning to normal anytime soon.
In my personal life, I made a decision a few months ago that I wasn’t going to put life on hold until the pandemic was over… because I don’t know if it’ll ever truly be “over.” No, this doesn’t mean I’m running wild downtown at crowded bars without a face mask, but it does mean that I’m adapting new routines and habits into my life. Since I can’t frequent my normal happy hour spots with friends, I host and attend socially distant patio gatherings outside. Traveling is out of the question right now, so I’ve taken up hiking to find beautiful new places within my city. I’m doing my best to keep putting a positive foot forward as safely as possible, and this includes horse showing.
There’s a lot about showing that feels different right now. I’ll admit, it’s a little jarring to see the familiar faces in the schooling ring obscured by masks and scarves. But a lot of it is the same as it’s always been.
There are naughty ponies. “That” rider is still that rider. There are milestones you see your friends and barn family accomplish, and you congratulate them with a happy heart instead of a hug. We are all still working to better ourselves and our horses, and relish in the recognition that showing can offer.
For me, my first Covid show was also my first show since my heart horse died. Even though I only did a flat class to give my baby horse experience, I felt like I won overall champion when I picked up our sticky lead correctly and walked away with a ribbon. In that moment, I was a normal equestrian accomplishing her goal in a very unusual time for our world.
It’s understandable if you’ve been on the fence about showing. Opening yourself up to strangers, even in the safest ways, comes with a certain amount of risk. I’m not here to tell you what to do when it comes to safety decisions. We’re all on our own path.
But I will say that if you’ve been avoiding shows because the restrictions seem like it will smother the joy of showing, you might want to reconsider. Yes, things felt different, but I had just as much fun as I have had at any other show.
We’re living in uncharted territory right now, and there are no guidelines about how to proceed. But you might find that the horse show can provide something to look forward to and a little bit of happiness in a dark time. In that way, things are no different than they’ve always been.
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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