In My Boots: Big fish, small pond

“I had this show in the bag,” Kristen Kovatch thought, going into the ring at a recent horse show. Famous last words, every time…

From Kristen:

My best intentions to horse show all summer long have fallen by the wayside, like many of the things I get myself hyped up to do seasons in advance. I did get to take my green pleasure horse to a couple of good starter shows and I’ve had a great season so far with my reined cowhorse—it just hasn’t been the whirlwind of championship ribbons and glory that I foresaw back in March. It’s not a huge deal to me; I get to compete plenty with my intercollegiate and interscholastic teams so being able to show my own horses on the side is just a secondary bonus.

So when my mentor called me up and told me to come to the county fair’s open show and ride I was happy to take advantage. He had brought two horses for his granddaughter to show—her own and one of the school’s mounts, our best horsemanship mare hands-down. The granddaughter would be showing her mare, so I could just drive in the morning of the show with some tack and clothing thrown in my car and mount up on the school’s horse.

The Allegany County Fair is not necessarily the hot spot for cutting-edge equestrians to bring their horses to show. It’s a great fair, with all of the wonderful attractions that celebrate summertime in an agricultural county: the midway, complete with every kind of greasy fair food imaginable, the cow, sheep, goat, pig and horse barns, a big draft horse show featuring four-in-hand classes, a demolition derby, a rodeo, etc. I was quite impressed that the mares, stabled just across from some sort of incredibly loud and frightening carnival ride, didn’t seem to mind any of this chaos. Bless the Quarter Horse.

The open show consisted of classes in hunt seat and western, all shown on the flat. Sarah, our school mare, was a decent mover and could be quite competitive in the hunt seat; her true calling is in the western pleasure and horsemanship. I dressed myself up in my hunt seat attire, making sure to have my hair properly tucked into the helmet and netted, my pearl earrings just showing. Being part of one of the few professional equestrian staffs in the county, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to demonstrate the best practices in horsemanship, as well as the little things like attire. Let’s not lie—I just like playing dress-up.

Sarah and I made a respectable showing in the hunt seat classes, winning adult hunter under saddle and equitation and placing third in equitation stakes. After a hurried costume change for both of us—me being very pleased to model my brand-new and incredibly pristine white hat—we headed into the arena again for the western portion of the day.

The competition was not fierce—there was another trainer with a client with some nice horses and my friend turned up with her barnful of solid if not fancy mounts. I was pretty certain I had this show in the bag; my mentor’s granddaughter had beaten me in some of the stakes classes hunt seat but there would be no way she would beat me in the western. I had the superior horse, after all, and I was her coach. Bring it. I considered myself as setting the bar for western horsemanship in the county—this was exactly where I belonged.

I placed third in western horsemanship. The stakes class, which called back the top three, on the other hand, was a pattern—Sarah’s specialty and one of my strengths. I glibly rode up first to strut our stuff. So what if it was just the county fair? I had this show on the run.

I started my pattern and promptly biffed the entire thing, failing to set up well for leads. My own student beat me, as did a number of the other riders in the class. All in all, I was fairly embarrassed—though I was getting increasingly better at laughing off such situations.

So much for being the pillar of cutting-edge horsemanship in the county. My ego saddled up long before I did. For all the fancy horses, silver tack, new clothing and polish in the world, I’m still learning—not just how to ride, but how to win, how to lose, and how to do everything in between.

About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team, teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving, and keeps several of her own horses in training on the side. She shows reined cow horse and also shows western pleasure and horsemanship for fun. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian and Take the Reins.

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