The Importance of Watching the Upper Levels of Our Sport

By TPH Blog Editor SARAH WELK BAYNUM

For me, there’s always been a certain magic about horse shows.

Be it a local show or the best weekend all year—aka, The Kentucky 3-Day.

Maybe it’s the excitement in the air that can almost be felt, or the fact that I can see horses everywhere I look. But either way, I’ve always been just as happy to spectate at the horse show as I’ve been riding in the actual show ring. And let’s face it, watching is way less anxiety-triggering than showing yourself.

That’s why any chance I get, I watch the upper levels of my discipline, and even the upper levels of some other disciples I don’t personally ride in.

I’ve found there is always so much we can gain from watching other riders—especially in the upper levels.

But whether they completely blow their course or have a perfect round, you can always learn something from watching other riders.

I was recently at the Kentucky Horse Park during one of the Spring Hunter/Jumper shows, and couldn’t help but notice the grandstands were nearly empty during the Grand Prix.

Sure, it was probably a long day of showing for everyone. But still, I think watching a few rounds of riders competing at this level are worth it.

The Kentucky 3-Day

But I don’t like to watch from just anywhere.

Of course, there are times like during the Kentucky 3-day that I just take what I can get seating wise. However, anytime the opportunity presents itself, you can find me in the very front row.

Why?

Because if the dirt being kicked up by the horses galloping by isn’t threatening to reach my seat, I’m not close enough.

When you sit front and center, you see things in a different way. You really see every single aide the rider gives the horse, where that horses footfalls are right before they leave the ground and when they land, as well as so many other minor details that are easily overlooked from far away. But those seemingly minor aides could make the difference between taking down a rail and a winning round. 

I’m not sure about you, but after I’ve spent hours watching other riders in the upper levels of our sport, I start to see patterns.

I start to notice different rider’s seat positions and how they affect the horse’s way of going. I notice the way they use their hands, their legs, and how the horse responds to those aides—good or bad.

I’ve ridden horses most of my life, and I’ve watched others ride even longer.

And yet, every single time I watch the upper levels, I learn something. I take what I learned and find I can use that information the next time I’m in the saddle myself. I can visualize what those riders did, the effect it had on their horses, and mimic it myself.

There is no replacement for becoming better as a rider than to ride, of course.

But watching other riders is a close second.