Blue ribbons don’t mean it was a perfect season.
The final regular-season Intercollegiate Horse Show Association western show of the season took place last weekend, and although Alfred University won the region and I qualified for Regionals along with most of my teammates, I learned a lesson that I won’t forget for post-season shows.
For shows during the second semester, Regionals included, horsemanship patterns are included in all divisions to increase the difficulty level and prepare riders for post-season shows. Having pointed up to Advanced, there were fewer people (only three, actually) in my class, but I was nervous about patterns nevertheless. There is so much more that could go wrong — there is pressure to remember and execute the pattern correctly, maintain correct position and guide the horse with precision and efficacy. Riding exclusively on the rail at all the shows before this one had made me a little bit careless, and that became obvious during my pattern.
The horse I drew, Sarah, is easily one of Alfred University’s most solid horsemanship horses and could probably have done the pattern without any help from me after watching the two runs before mine. It was smooth sailing, and Sarah did her job as usual. However, there was a transition from lope to jog for which I didn’t have enough leg, and we put in a walk step. Minor though it seemed, I had a chance to look at the score sheets today.
The break of gait, small though it was, earned me a -2 penalty and a -1/2 for the maneuver itself. As my coach told me today, a mistake like that would take me from first to sixth at Semi-finals if I make it that far. Today was the reminder I needed that it’s time to step it up and learn all I can before I have to compete at tougher post-season shows; my efforts during the regular season won’t be good enough to get me very far now. This isn’t a comforting recognition, but it’s one that I know is necessary to keep me motivated and competitive at the shows to come. It’s time to put in the work to make sure I won’t repeat my mistakes as well as prevent others from happening.
I had a wonderful first IHSA season thanks to great coaches, saintly horses, and supportive teammates, and I look forward to the learning experiences the post-season will provide!
Haley is the author of Horse Nation’s “Academic Equestrian” series, following her collegiate experience as she balances her studies with participation on the varsity equestrian team and time with her own horse. Catch up on past columns by clicking the #ACADEMIC EQUESTRIAN tag at the top of the page!
Haley Ruffner is attending Alfred University, majoring in English and minoring in Business and Equestrian Studies. She has a green Quarter Horse, At Last an Invitation “Cricket,” and he is also “enrolled” at Alfred. She rides western and hunt seat and also loves to rein and trail ride.