I recently participated in my first schooling hunter and equitation show, and boy was it eye opening! I am not a competitive person and never have been. However, I love the sport of riding and have been striving to immerse myself in the horse world however I can. This meant that experiencing the world of showing was a must.
I had participated in a dressage schooling show a couple years ago and enjoyed it, so naturally I had to get myself into the show ring in hunters now that I have been lessoning in that discipline for over a year. I in no way felt prepared, but was pleasantly surprised at the results! Here are a few things that I learned in my first hunter show experience:
Go into it with zero expectations
If you are planning to enter your first show, whether schooling or recognized, don’t dive in expecting grand champion, but also don’t expect to fail. Your first show should be looked at as a learning experience and nothing more. If you enter the show ring purely expecting to learn from it, you will find you come out of the show ring with content either way. Did poorly? You learned how to do better next time. Won a ribbon? Congrats! You know what you did well!
Respect warm-up time, but tune-out the attitudes
Sometimes the warm-up period can get a little hectic. All the riders are trying to get a few jumps in the ring in a limited amount of time, and with a limited amount of space. Notify the other riders of your position (i.e. calling out “Inside!” or “Outside!” when passing), and listen for theirs. Also notify the other riders of where you plan to go, and listen to their directions (i.e. calling out a short description of which jump you plan to go over with a “heads up”). Some of the riders in the ring may shout out their frustration, but just remember, they aren’t mad at you, they’re mad at their situation and possibly nervous about their class. Respect the rules of the ring and move on.
Make it an experience!
By this, I mean that you should sign up for a variety of classes. Hunter over fences may be what you love to do most, but why not throw in an equitation and pleasure class too? This will gain you more wide-ranged experience and help you discover what you and your horse need to work on. You may do excellent at navigating the course in hunter over fences, but not so hot in equitation. In this case, you would learn that you should perhaps work on your position more. I, for example, was pleasantly surprised by my Reserve Grand Champion ribbon in Novice Equitation, but realized I had a lot of work to do in myself and the horse in riding pleasure.
Enjoy the time with your horse
You can’t forget about your partner in this. Your horse is as much a part of this experience as you are! The most enjoyable part of the show experience for me was having a wonderful equine partner. The mare I was riding is very used to showing and thoroughly enjoys the show environment. Even though she gets a little too excited because of this, I couldn’t help but smile at her drive and pride in the show ring. Sure, this made for a not-so-hot pleasure class and a few too-quick approaches to the fences, but it’s just something her and I need to work on as a team. I guess it’s kind of like the whole “smiling is contagious” thing. My equine partner was happy, so I was happy.
In the end I discovered that showing really opened my eyes to the discipline. It is hard to explain how exactly, but I now feel on the same page as my fellow riders who have shown many times before me. It’s like a right of passage I suppose. I respect the difficulty of the sport and know how hard you must work to achieve greatness. My final message to those planning to participate in their first show is this: As a rider you will never fail, you will only grow.