BY CIRA PACE MALTA
Breaking news—this sport is really, really hard. No matter how long you’ve been riding, how many blue ribbons you have won or how much you were able to spend on the horse underneath you… this sport is hard. There are so many things that can go wrong at any given moment in any ring but we can make it easier on all of us by supporting one another.
I grew up as a trainer’s daughter showing green ponies. The hardest part of those days wasn’t the fact that I was younger than most riders that I was showing against or that my pony was younger than most ponies in our division, it was that I grew up in a time when it wasn’t commonplace to cheer for your competitors. Even in my own barn, I didn’t feel the support from barn mates because I was the trainer’s daughter and not the paying customer. My wins had to be kept a bit quieter and celebrated a little less.
Decades later, I was lucky enough to buy a horse with my mom that was supposed to be a sale horse. That was eight years ago, and I now compete with our not-for-sale horse who has changed everything for me in the Amateur Owner Hunter division. When we made our break into the division, I hadn’t shown in an A rated division since my Large Pony Hunter days. I had never shown in a division with jumps higher than 3’ and neither had my very green horse. I was back to being the youngest rider on the greenest horse in the division, but this time things were different.
I started showing in the AOs in December at the very cold horse shows in New York, competing against a large group of amateur riders who had all won at all the biggest shows—Devon, Harrisburg, Washington International Horse Show, and The National Horse Show. I watched them lay down round after round with such precision and style. I felt like I was that young rider again on her very young mount trying to keep up with the rest of the class.
At our second horse show in the AOs, we were second in one of the jumping classes. I was on cloud nine. My mom, husband, and I all celebrated after the jog and I remember my competitors and other trainers coming over and congratulating us. This was new! I hardly ever spoke to the riders that I showed against as a junior because we were all too focused on winning. But week after week, these ladies and other trainers watched my rounds, clapped for us, gave me advice, and commented on how my horse was coming along at each new show. I could not believe that these riders who had won everywhere were telling me how well I was riding even when my horse would green up and spook in the handy round or get too strong on the ends.
It was different and it changed horse showing for me.
The horse show is a place where we go to put our skills to the test. We work so hard day after day. We put our horses on the trailer at an ungodly hour, write large checks, grab our number and jump around the show ring as best we can while the judge, other trainers, competitors and spectators all watch and critique everything we are doing (or not doing). I repeat—this sport is really, really hard.
But we don’t gain anything by wishing our competitors bad luck. We don’t get better as riders if we don’t compete against the best competition. Cheering for others can only help us be better riders. It makes us feel better by making someone else’s day a bit easier.
When things don’t go as planned but you have support from others, you may be a little kinder to yourself and not harp on your mistakes as much. When you have support from others, you may be able to give support to another rider who is having a hard day. When you have support from others, you might be able to really listen to an outside perspective and know that your mistakes were not as earth-shattering as you had originally thought. At the end of the day, we are really only competing against ourselves.
Thank you to everyone who has cheered for me and my horse over the years—other competitors, other trainers, horse show managers, announcers, photographers, course designers, and in-gate staff. You all have changed the game for me and I will always try to do the same for others.