The Academic Equestrian: How to Horse Show

A helpful guide to the organized chaos.

Remember to change into show boots BEFORE putting on chaps. Photo by Ellie Woznica.

Remember to change into show boots BEFORE putting on chaps. Photo by Ellie Woznica.

The first step comes the night before, when you spend several hours fretting over what you will forget. Go to sleep at least two hours later than planned. Pack and repack your garment bag several times, then forget something strange like one spur or your hat can.

In the morning, do everything frantically. Gulp down coffee at some ridiculous pre-dawn hour while half-dressed in pajamas and show clothes. Spill some breakfast on something you were planning on wearing that day, and panic a little until you set things straight.

Arrive at the show very early but feel like you’re very late. Undo your horse’s wraps/blankets/boots/bubble wrap and tack him up. Ride in the foggy warm-up pen while dodging everyone whose horses are lunging in crazy circles. Argue with your horse over whether or not that fence post has claws and teeth. Dismount, thank your horse for not being the craziest one there, and return to your trailer to get dressed.

Put your clothes on in entirely the wrong order and with great haste despite the fact that there are at least three hours until you’ll show. Remember to take your muck boots off before putting your chaps on (or not, and later laugh at pictures your friends took of your wardrobe mishap). Locate your hat or helmet and wander off in search of your show number, which you’ll have stored in a safe place that is also the last place you will think to look.

Bathe or thoroughly brush your horse again, because he will have rolled in his own poop or strewn hay through his banded mane. Get yourself dirty in the process. Consider changing clothes, but in the end settle for brushing the dust, hoof black and/or horse slobber off as best you can.

Eat something greasy for lunch and regret it immediately. Tack and mount your horse, then wait around for at least another hour. Lose a safety pin on your number and track someone down to fix it. Fidget constantly, driving both yourself and your horse crazy.

Wait for your class with bated breath and enter with a stomach full of butterflies. Be much more nervous than the size and difficulty of the class merits. Have a good ride, but pick it apart immediately afterwards. (If you have a train wreck, settle for exiting the class still on your horse and with a smile on your face.)

Pat your horse, tell him what a good boy he is and remember to breathe for the first time that day. Walk back to your stall and contemplate why exactly you subject yourself to such chaos, then tuck your horse in for the night and prepare to do it all again the next day.

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.

Photo courtesy of Haley Ruffner.

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