As this show season comes to an end I reflect on my first season of showing. Someone told me at the start of the year to write down my goals for the year. Apparently, research suggests that you are more likely to achieve your goals when they are written down. My goals were simple:
As the season was close to beginning, I eagerly scoured the internet for shows in my area that seemed to fit my interests. My calendar filled up quick. Along with packing my calendar full, I needed to make sure my horses were ready. This was a little more difficult than adding events to my calendar. I had just started Broker and Lakota working from the ground up, through the Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship curriculum online via his members only site. Broker was on a refresher course for me to gain his respect and get rid of a buck he had developed due to my previously inconsistent handling. Lakota was desperately in need of everything we were working on. I am not sure how much training she had had prior to my purchasing her, but from our first interactions, and our first attempt at riding, it was clear we needed to start from the beginning as I worked to earn her trust and respect. I was trying to squeeze all of this in to about a 4 month time window.
Show #1: My friend had told me about a local university who was holding an open show to kick start the season. I looked over the show bill and planned to enter Broker in a couple different Western Pleasure classes. There was even a couple lead line classes for me to enter my oldest in with Missy. From what my friend had told me, and what I’d seen on the internet, Western Pleasure seemed to be a safe route for me and Broker. Plain and simple, I felt like all he needed to do was walk, trot, lope around the arena. The timing felt right too. Broker and I had spent extensive time working on walk, trot, lope on a loose rein in the training curriculum we were working through. As the show day approached I spent all of my free time working with him trying to get walk, trot, lope on a loose rein perfected. While practicing at home in the arena I could sometimes keep him at a trot on a loose rein, but more often than not I was having to correct him for breaking into a lope without my asking him to. Meanwhile, my friend was filling me in on the details in regards to show attire and grooming and clipping my horses. With her help, I showed up with neatly groomed and clipped horses and coordinating show shirts for my daughter and I, and a coordinating shirt for me to wear matching Broker’s headstall. I felt like I was ready for my first show.
After bribing and convincing my daughter to ride in her first class, she was happy to have earned some rubber bracelets given to all the kids in her class. She did not win any ribbons, but she did not care, she loved her bracelets. She got on her horse for her second class with a bit more ease as she thought she would get some bracelets again. Too bad for her, she placed 4th and got her first ribbon instead. Now it was my turn. I rushed to get my daughter back to my family, get her horse untacked, and get myself and my horse ready to go. We warmed up for a bit in the warm-up arena, but it was awfully crowded so we didn’t do much. Then our class got called. My first class was Novice Western Pleasure Walk/Trot. From the moment we entered the arena I rode with 2 hands. I realized I wasn’t going to win anything and felt like I had more control over Broker this way. He was very quick and rushy throughout our time in the arena. And what’s worse, I felt like I was holding him back, with tight reins, the entire time we were showing. After a quick break our second class was called, Novice Western Pleasure Walk/Trot/Lope. It was pretty much a repeat of our first class. I didn’t even attempt to lope as I was holding him back too much at the trot.
Despite my friend’s encouragement, it was not a successful day for me, and I dropped from a third class Broker and I had signed up to ride in. I let myself and more importantly my horse down. I never expected or even wanted to win anything, I just wanted to show. And that destination addiction sent a very confusing message to my horse. At home we worked on a loose rein and he was allowed to make mistakes so that he could be correct and learn from them. Here at the show, I was keeping him on a tight rein trying to keep him from making mistakes. I was disappointed in myself and felt like I had just ruined any of the progress we had made in working on a loose rein.
Show #2: My friend found this show for me too. It was another university holding an open state saddle club show. At the time this meant nothing to me and I had no idea how this differed from a fun show. I just saw it as another opportunity to get Broker out to a show. Only this time I wasn’t going to screw up our progress. So that I could focus on Broker, and so as not to burn her out, my daughter did not attend this show. In truly attempting to focus on Broker and what he needed, I actually did not even attempt any classes. My friend had urged me to sign up for a couple, and assured me that my horse would do fine, so I did sign up for a couple. But it didn’t take long for me to go and pull my name out of those classes. Broker and I spent the entire day working on walk/trot/lope on a loose rein in the practice arena. It was good for him, he was getting exposure to the show setting and we had a day to spend on just what he needed. Although we didn’t show in any classes, this was my first successful show.
Show #3: This show was a fun show with a local saddle club. By this time I had seen enough shows, and researched enough online that I was starting to figure out what the different classes were. My daughter came and showed Missy in two lead line classes, where she earned two more 4th place ribbons. I signed Broker up for Western Pleasure Walk/Trot and Horsemanship. Although our walk/trot/lope on a loose rein was much improved, and he could stay at all 3 gaits when asked to do so while on a loose rein, he was just so much quicker than other horses in Western Pleasure so I did not feel comfortable entering him in the loping class. Although our Horsemanship class called for a lope, I opted to walk and trot through the whole thing. As our classes finished, even though we did not win anything, again I felt successful. In our training process, Broker was only working in a bitless sidepull halter. I did not give in to the pressure of using his bit just because that was a rule for this show. I again felt like I was focusing on what he needed rather than what the show called for.
Those three shows were the only three shows I took Broker to during that season. Throughout the time that passed and mine and Broker’s progression with his training I never felt like we really found our niche in the horse show world. I started researching what else was out there, I wanted something more functional and something where I didn’t feel like my horse would lose points for moving how he was naturally meant to move. I found the American Ranch Horse Association. (Details will come in a later blog. J )
Show #4: As the season was coming to an end, my friend informed me that the university where we attended our first show as holding another open fun show to end the season. After my mistake of rushing Broker into showing, I made sure not to do that with Lakota. It was now the end of the season and I felt like she was ready to travel to and attend a show. Notice I said, “ready to travel to and attend a show.” I did not say, “She was ready to show.” I entered my daughter and Missy in two lead line classes again. She earned 2nd and 1st place ribbons. By this point she had caught on to the idea that these ribbons were a big deal and she was very proud of herself. All I planned to do with Lakota was get her out to a show around other horses in a novel environment. My husband, and family had come along to this show to watch my daughter so that did allow me a little bit of time to work with Lakota. And she definitely needed it. She was not used to being tied to the trailer for an extended amount of time, and she got worse when I led Missy away from the trailer for her classes with my daughter. In the little bit of time I had to work with her, Lakota and I focused on the basics, groundwork. In this new environment with all of these distractions, I just worked on keeping her focused on me. That was our goal for the day, and that was accomplished. I felt good about our experience.
Show #5: This was the last show put on by our local saddle club that I was able to attend in the season. My daughter did not attend. I only brought Lakota. This gave her the chance to come out by herself for the first time. I didn’t plan on showing her, I just wanted to give her another chance to get some show environment experience. We arrived at the show about 10 minutes before the show was to start. The announcer came on asking everyone who had not yet to sign up for their classes. I was sure she was talking to us. I approached the stand and explained that we were just out “sight-seeing” for the day and were not going to be showing. As I paid my fee for the day, a well-seasoned rider and volunteer announcer, expressed her disappointment that I wouldn’t be showing. Despite having seen my horse, or asking me any questions about my horse’s experience she offered to let her daughter ride my horse for me. I politely declined. I then went back to my trailer and began working on getting Lakota to focus on me amidst all of the distractions. Once that was successful I allowed her rest time at the trailer before doing some very small, very basic ridden work. After a little over 2 hours of “sight-seeing” I called the day a success and headed home.
Although I did not accomplish the very broad goals I had set out for myself during my first show season, I felt like I did accomplish something more. I gained the confidence to put my horses’ needs over my own desires. I overcame my own destination addiction.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who has taken my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis, and the methodology of expert horse trainers, to create an Equine training program that is anything but average. Working with my own horses has led me to discover my passion for not just training horses, but practicing quality horsemanship. For the best interest of the horses, I hope to spread this interest in quality horsemanship.