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Amateur Hour: Horse Shows - Expectations vs. Reality

This horse show will be different. That's what you tell yourself.

Your horse is a horse show VETERAN. He will not fall victim to the emotional dependency of his trailermate. You're sure of this. He's an independent horse that's never even bothered to look in the trailermate's general direction.

You arrive on the show grounds and unload. Said veteran screams like a mother that's lost its foal. Suddenly, you've got the crying baby on the plane and the other riders in the barn are glaring at you as they say goodbye to frequencies that they will never be able to hear again. Your horse is placated only when grazing. You raise your white flag, hand him his horsey bottle, and spend the next hour letting him drag you around the lawn.

You are determined to have a white horse - not cream, nor a green and white Appaloosa - you want WHITE. You're loaded with ammunition - purple shampoos, a variety of sponges and scrubs, a well as two kinds of whitening spray that hang from your belt loops like a holster.

You're almost finished bathing your horse and you're sure that the subtle yellow tinge on his knees is just your imagination or maybe the light from the setting sun. A fellow competitor walks by and with a pitying look shares a tip from her dog groomer. You give up and head to trailer to change into dry clothes. Two hours later you're trying the dog groomer's tip to no avail.

You swear up and down to your VISA that you will NOT buy anything at the show. That afternoon you walk by a vendor, and a browband that would PERFECTLY match the piping on your saddle pad practically calls to you as you stroll by. So do a set of polos. You answer.

You bring a set of "nice" clothes, thinking you might go out for at least one civilized (meaning showered) dinner. By the end of the day your standards are shot. Instead, you grab takeout and eat it on the floor of your hotel while you clean tack and drink drugstore wine out of a paper cup.

You will keep your horse clean (at least not less white than he currently is), and when you leave him in the evening he's practically wrapped from head to toe including a sheet that wraps around his stomach. In the morning, you smugly remove the sheet before finding miraculous green stains on his flank. You're convinced that you've just witnessed a magic trick. Your horse is clearly Houdini reincarnated.

You tack up for your first class and admire your new browband. You notice the clouds moving in overhead and realize that while you can't control the outcome of your test, you can control how good your horse looks. You take what you can get.

As you enter the warmup arena you anger the weather gods. The sky opens up and pelts down rain on the roof of the arena. You pray to them to take pity on your equestrian soul as you watch a horse in the corner start to detonate under the pressure. You ask your horse to pick up the canter and wonder if it's a mistake. The howling wind and torrential downpour drowns out the sound of your cursing.

You hope to get over a 65%, but with your horse pogoing past the judge's booth you decide that simply staying in the saddle will be enough.

You are certain that you will be launched into the ozone before you hit 'M', but your horse seems to fear doing the test alone and has therefore decided to keep you along for the ride.

You expect the right lead changes to be late behind. They are.

To everyone's surprise, you manage a respectable score. You even nab second place, beating out at least one other rider.

You promised yourself that you would eat healthy while at the horse show, but it's noon and you're across the street at a Mexican restaurant drinking a margarita and inhaling chips and salsa like it's your first time having carbs. Showing amidst a near natural disaster has given you a greater appreciation for life and in retrospect your diet seems trivial. Your brush with death has allowed you to grow as a person.

The next day you have your game face on. Wind and rain be damned you will own this test. You salute the judge at the end and you already know that you've nailed it. That test was SO much better than the first. You get your score to find it's half a percentage less than yesterday's debacle. You throw up your hands and head back to the Mexican restaurant.

By 7pm you've got the horse put away and you've just arrived home. You're 'too-tired-to-shower'' exhausted and you hope you're husband won't notice. You don't want to think about horses until tomorrow. Next time you decide to dump money down the drain you're going on a vacation where your accommodations cost more than that of your horse's.

It's 8:30pm and your mind starts churning. You lay out all of your tests on the kitchen table, examining them like a mad person and thinking about all of the 'what if's'. Your husband is watching you nervously from the couch. He's either worried about your sanity or how much the next horse show will cost. Maybe both. If only you could go ride the test again tomorrow you could definitely nail the right lead flying change. That movement is a coefficient. So is the turn on the haunches. You think, "I can do better, at least by two percent". You realize how completely horse shows consume you. They are a vicious cycle of either disappointment or momentary satisfaction followed by the insatiable desire to improve even more. It's a white-knuckled rollercoaster ride that wracks your nerves but at the end you're pretty sure that you enjoyed it. To compete in dressage means resolving yourself to rarely be content and for some reason you're OK with it. Because what fun would that be, right?


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