The Riding School: Showtime

Horse shows offer riding students an opportunity to put their skills in action–and practice other virtues, like persistence and sportsmanship, in the process. The Riding Instructor shares some insight.

From The Riding Instructor:

I have to admit, I hate horse shows.  They’re hot, dusty–when they aren’t a freezing sea of mud–and last forever.  Although I started in the h/j world, I’ve been an eventer for more than 20 years and I far prefer the “trains running on time” efficiency of my sport: If you’re not riding in the ring at precisely 8:22, you are out of luck.

But the barn where I teach is focused on general horsemanship, rather than eventing, and our lesson ponies are ring specialists, so when the riding school kids are ready to venture off the property to show, it’s off to the local hunter shows we go.

I wasn’t happy about it in the beginning; I thought we could go to some two-phases to give the kids a little adventure and not have to worry about waiting for Trainer X to make his appearance–20 minutes after the rest of the riders have gone–at the beginners’ ring.  And if you think watching dressage is boring and esoteric, you’ve never sat through Beginner Walk/Trot Pleasure: Try explaining the judging of that one to the fathers!  But the shows are starting to grow on me a little bit, because I can see the virtues I can use them to teach.

First among them is my favorite: persistence.  The nice thing about these shows is that the kids get many chances.  If your first class doesn’t go so well, you have another opportunity to fix your earlier mistakes.  I keep the focus on the quality of the ride, not the color of the ribbon; you’re a winner if you picked up the correct lead both directions in your second try.  Unlike at an event, where you have to go home to fix your problems another day, the hunter schooling show gives the kids more immediate feedback on their improvements.

They also provide many opportunities (if the trainer and parents take them) to teach consideration.  I am a nut about being ready and being on time; we don’t hold up other people, we volunteer to go first when no one else will.  Before every show, we talk about riding considerately: not cutting people off, giving plenty of room, being careful around any horse that looks like it is losing it.  Down the road, if they choose eventing as sport, this will make them better riders in the warm up; the experience of negotiating around 10 or more horses in a flat class is a valuable one.

And, of course, we teach sportsmanship.  Just as the horse shows give lots of opportunity to win, they also give lots of opportunities to lose.  I find myself repeating the same words over and over again: “fun” and “learning experience.”  I get a lot of pleasure from watching my riders smile and laugh if their horses are being a little silly or if they jump the wrong fence. Yes,  I want them to be prepared and professional, but at the end of the day, riding is something we do to have a good time; mistakes are to be fixed, obviously, but with a positive attitude, not one of doom and gloom.

So we’ll be heading back into the dust and heat this week and patiently waiting as they hold the ring up for the girl who is just now tacking up or decide to take an unscheduled schooling break.  We’ll love our ribbons, no matter the color, and, most importantly, we’ll love our horses for the pleasure they give us and the lessons that they teach.

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