10 Lessons to Survive the Horse Show Circuit
Traveling the horse show circuit can be quite an adventure, especially when you're traveling with your daughter. Below are 10 "school of hard knock" lessons we've learned along the way:
Some of our more interesting experiences:
1. RV fire in Gulfport: We had an electrical fire and totaled an RV three days into a two-week stint at the Gulfport show. Instead of visiting the beach like we had planned, we instead went from motel to motel and took whatever room they had until we had to leave to accommodate their reservations. We lived out of plastic bags filled with tack and clothes that smelled like smoke. Despite this setback, my daughter was a champion that weekend. We stayed focused on our work and problem-solved the rest moment-by-moment. I think she became a pro at working under adverse conditions.
Lesson: Roll with the punches and move on.
2. Nationals 2003: Both the rider and horse did very well, received many ribbons, and was named reserve champion for her division. There was an awards ceremony, pictures, and a very excited kid and trainer who had made it to a goal. Two months later as we were reading the Chronicle of the Horse, we were amazed to see someone else listed as the reserve champion for her division. Does anyone inform us at the show or call to say there was a mistake in the interpretation of the rules? Nope, we had to read it a magazine. When we called to find out what happened, the response we received is that we should "get a life", as it's not their responsibility to tell us they took away a reserve champion from the NHS.
Lesson: Life is unfair and that adults do not always act responsibly, rules are unimportant, and your connections and who you are is more important than playing by the rules.
3. Ambulance takes daughter out of the ring on a backboard: Yes, my daughter had the great fall. She took a distance long at 3'6" and then crashed with both rider and horse going down. Her neck snapped and she was unconscious, but she came to thinking she is in the roundpen at home. She had no memory of crash and we called the ambulance for a ride and afternoon at the hospital. Thank goodness for helmets with back piece for the neck. She had a MRI and CAT scans and was fine, and she even walked out of hospital on pain medication and rode a flat glass the next day.
Amazingly enough, we never heard from the horse show office or the officials. We went to sign out and they wanted her ribbons and money back because she did not finish the division. We then encountered a steward who lectured me on division rules. I did not disagree with him, but was simply stunned at office's response and speechless at their tone.
Lesson: Do not send calm but shaky mother to check out an accident. There's a new rule needed when kids fall off their horse and nearly kill themselves. You need time, care, and practice to come back from a bad accident.
4. Major year-end EQ class: We leased a horse and practiced for months to try to rebuild my daughter's riding confidence. We also took up EQ, won medals classes and all was going well. The big EQ final class was down to the top five. My daughter was not called back for top three. Her ride was beautiful and she, along with her trainer and others at the gate, were surprised that she wasn't in the top three. We decided it would be helpful to get some feedback from the judge, as we assumed she must have made a major mistake that no one saw.
We found the steward and got permission to speak with judge when show was over. The judge took my daughter aside, looked at her score sheet and told my daughter that she simply overlooked her despite the fact that she was top in the class but her score was overlooked when the finalists were called. My daughter was sworn to secrecy and could only tell us (her parents) and her trainer that the judge made a mistake. Wow, months of preparation go down the drain. The judge was honest and we appreciated that. We did need this show for her college tape, so we didn't call attention to the situation. However, no one offered to reimburse our money (I guess this was much too high an expectation on my part). We honored the judge's request, kept our mouth shut, and moved on.
Lesson: Judges make mistakes. We need to focus on the fact that we are riding for the best ride and not ribbons/trophies.
5. Teamwork and partnership replace normal mother-teen daughter relationship at the shows. We have developed a way of working together that has laid a foundation for our adult relationship. We each had our roles and job description, and it only worked successfully when we did our jobs. My role was her partner -- driving, grooming, holding horses, and providing a safe horse and a solid trainer.
6. Let the trainer and the daughter work as a team. Parents need to stay out of the training, even if you showed as a kid and think you know as much as the trainer. You are hiring a professional, so let them do their job. If you feel you must speak with the trainer, have the conversation in private away from the kids and the ring. I developed the habit that once they left the barn, I stayed a safe distance away in the schooling area and at the ring. I never stood at the gate but on the side to give them their space to work, and I stayed out of the way.
7. You are not the customer. I finally realized that I was not the real customer for the horse show managers and secretaries. The real customer is the trainer, who is the person who picks the horse shows and classes, brings multiple horses and riders, and is someone with whom they feel they more comfortable negotiating.
Even though I may pay the bill, at the end of the day the show managers do not treat me like the customer. This is the only situation I can think of where I spend thousands of dollars and am not the real customer. Once I adopted this mindset, I saw the picture of my place in the show world.
8. Judging is political and can be unfair. There are too many situations where the judges buy, sell, train or do business with other trainers. It is just the way it is in the show world. I do not see any way of fixing this -- it is just a fact that you have to deal with that. Help your rider focus on the best ride and the experience rather than the politics of what trainer is at the ring, who knows what judge, etc.
9. Parents focus too much on winning and put pressure on the kids and the trainers to perform for the ribbons. I have watched parents stand at the gate yelling at kids during a class, recounting points with the gatekeeper, putting down judges, and giving a tough time to their trainers. At Nationals I remember one mom who yelled at a kid during a flat class while only five feet from the judge. Another mother publicly told her child that she would never show again if she couldn't win. Kids and trainers are working with horses, not robots, and it takes a combined effort of the rider, horse and trainer for it all to work together. We as parents really need to watch ourselves and the impression and tension we create at shows. Our focus should be on the ride done to the best of our rider's ability that day.
10. Kids need to be held up to a standard of sportsmanship. They may be individually competing against each other, but there is no excuse for rudeness, lack of common courtesy to the trainer, the horse, and other competitors and parents. I have shared our golf cart with many crying mothers who just had a rude exchange with a teen daughter. Maybe we do too much for them and make horse showing a right instead of a privilege. I don't have the answer to that, but we need to role model sportsmanship.
Would I do it again? Absolutely yes, as my daughter gained confidence, learned to set goals, discovered that hard work can help you achieve those goals, and developed the discipline it takes to be an athlete.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Veteran show mom Kathy Keeley is founder of ShowMom.com, the first online community created especially for horseshow mothers and daughters who want to learn how to successfully navigate the horseshow circuit and maintain a great mother-daughter relationship. Get our free horseshow packing list when you sign up for our free email newsletter, The Savvy Show Mom, at ShowMom.com.