Kate Samuels rediscovers why schooling shows are such fantastic educational opportunities for horses and riders alike.
Top photo: Lynn Symansky competes in the Morningside Schooling CT
This past Sunday, I had the great pleasure of being asked to attend the Morningside Training Farm Schooling Combined Test to take photos of all the competitors. I spent all day in the sun, getting covered in Pinnacle footing and the most absurd tan lines a human being could have, and I realized one thing: schooling shows are completely amazing.
Bear with me if you’re way ahead of the curve on this one, but I feel like recently schooling shows have come back into vogue, and rightly so. They offer great advantages for training young horses or young riders, and cost you about half as much as a recognized show. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good three-day more than anything, but the allure of the schooling show has me hooked, let me tell you.
The first reason is this: babies. Yep, babies. Of course I don’t mean infants! I mean baby horses! Spooky, gangly, uncoordinated and un-exposed, off the track or straight out of their sheltered home-bred lives, schooling shows are the most amazing place to take your babies. No matter who you are, at some point you’ve got a baby or two that just isn’t quite ready for the big show, but is getting proficient enough at home that you don’t need your air vest for dressage. This is when you go to a schooling show. The best thing about these shows is that they offer the opportunity to contest multiple dressage tests and multiple jumping rounds. Your baby still has first-jump-itis? Go in again and jump your cross-rail round twice!
Carolyn Rice & her baby, Ianto in the BN
The second reason why schooling shows are awesome? Cost efficient. There’s a bit of a gap between what you practice at home and how your horse reacts to the show environment. Anybody can tell you that you’ll be jumping 2’6 courses with ease at home, and the second you go to a show your horse is convinced their are dragons living under the poles. For more experienced riders, they can just cowboy it around a bit until the horse becomes accustomed to shows, but for younger or less experienced riders, this poses a problem. Why spend all your paycheck on a big show, count the days down, get ulcers because of your nerves and then suffer at the hands of fate and horse-eating dragons? Use your schooling shows to get the sillies out, to practice your craft outside of the comfort zone of your home arena, and don’t break the bank while doing so.
Schooling shows also offer the opportunity to get to know your grassroots neighbors. A lot of farms that don’t have recognized shows offer schooling shows, which enables you to check out their sweet facility, as well as see the young generations of kids on ponies doing their first cross country courses. My very first exposure to eventing was through locally run Virginia Horse Trials, which are wonderfully organized by Brian and Penny Ross. I wish I could thank them every day for introducing me to the dark side!
Of course the last, and most obvious reason why schooling shows rock my socks off is simply that they allow us to practice in a situation where we usually can’t. Eventing is a unusual sport because it doesn’t allow you to make multiple attempts in order to achieve your goal. You have one shot, one moment, one mili-second to decide how to react, and if you choose wrong, you can pay the price. Within a sport so competitive, there is really no room for error. Everybody has left the showjumping ring wishing they could go back in there and ride it again. Once in a while, everybody wants to go back in the dressage arena and make their horse do that movement out of the corner properly, but at recognized events, you just aren’t able to. At a schooling show, you can do two dressage tests, and three show jump rounds of differing heights if you so wish. You can truly use the competition as a learning and growing experience, instead of a woulda-coulda-shoulda experience.
In short, don’t miss out when it comes to schooling shows. Find them around your area (sometimes it’s tricky) and go to them. Take your students, your kids, your husband (he can be trained for the big events here too). Get on the bandwagon!
Sunrise over Morningside CT (aka, best picture I’ve ever taken)