There are healthy reasons, and there are reasons that are eventually going to backfire. Haley Ruffner pauses to evaluate her own motivations.
Photos courtesy of Haley Ruffner.
As we approach the middle of July and the peak of the summer horse show season, many of us could benefit from taking a step back, a deep breath, and a look at why we do this. Early mornings (or really late nights, depending on how you look at it), permanently purple-stained fingers from too much whitening shampoo, constantly searching for that one spur/bit/crop/boot that disappeared after the last show, approaching arthritis territory after braiding — and all for the chance to win a blue ribbon, trophy, saddle, or belt buckle. But is that really why we put ourselves and our horses through a hectic show schedule? For a piece of fabric with some shiny writing on it to hang on a string in our bedroom that already sags with the weight of a hundred wins?
After attending the IEA Western National Finals in Oklahoma, I had the chance to reevaluate my perspective on why I love horse showing. Looking back on that week, I came to realize that I love it because, to me, it’s not all about winning. I spent about 38 hours in the car to get there and back, and my total time spent actually showing amounted to a scant five minutes. Sure, the thrill of competition and riding in such a prestigious show was exciting, but I doubt I’ll remember my placing in 20 years. The ribbon I won might be in a garbage bag in a corner of the attic then, or maybe my parents will throw it away when I go away to college. That thought doesn’t provoke any sadness whatsoever; although the memories I made in Oklahoma will last me a lifetime, the placing I received is not an important one. I know that I will remember the quality time I spent with my friends, the new people I met, and the joy I felt when one of my friends came out of her class holding a seventh place ribbon and grinning from ear to ear.
In my opinion, horse shows are what you make of them. If you go in with the mindset that you want to have fun and learn something, it will likely be a positive experience for you and your horse. However, it’s so easy to get caught up in the ever-present undercurrent of horse show drama — wherever you go, there’s always the angry trainer, the girl who cut you off in thewarm-up ring (and didn’t apologize), the child who becomes monstrous if she leaves the ring without a blue ribbon (and, with her, the parent who will incessantly criticize the judge in a loud voice if this occurs), and the girl who wants to be your best friend as long as she’s ahead of you in points. These things, when you focus on them, can make you wonder why in the world you wanted to leave your farm in the first place. Learning to ignore all the chaos and concentrate on the positive aspects of horse showing is a difficult task, but it can be accomplished.
When I find myself becoming overwhelmed or frustrated at a show, I force myself to stop and pet my horse and tell him he’s a good boy, because ultimately he is the reason that I’m there: I’m there for my horse and myself to learn and improve. I’m not at the show to prove myself to anyone (although, admittedly, it would be great if I could prove to the judge that my horse is the best) or to compare who has the most money or the best trainer. Focusing on everyone else’s skills or shortcomings won’t facilitate the improvement of your own riding; fixating on others’ drama has yet, in my experience, to benefit anyone. Maybe equestrians as a whole measure success at shows incorrectly — what’s really worth more, a shiny plaque that’s fun to look at, or a lesson learned that will better your riding?
Haley Ruffner is a high school student who rides on Alfred University’s hunt seat and western IEA teams. She also owns and trains her 5-year-old quarter horse, At Last An Invitation (“Cricket”). Haley is an avid reader and writer and has been riding since she was five.
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