For one glorious hour, as I stood on a stool, plaiting yarn into my gelding’s mane for the second day of the show, I took a deep breath and reflected on how much I love showing horses. I had already put in a full day. I was utterly exhausted, but listening to the horse sounds, (munching hay, snorts, occasional whinny) floating down the barn aisles I remembered why I even participate in these insane events. It was surreal and calming, and even though it was really the first time I had not felt stressed all day despite rushing to finish the braids, I was immensely happy.
I would be the only person to “waste” their time with full hunter braids (mane and tail) on the second day, and I already knew that my horse’s lack of experience and the type of movement I had been training him for would earn us no higher than middle of the pack at best at this particular show. My OCD would not allow me to show him any other way though, and I get more satisfaction from a good turn out (aka groomed horse, show attire) than I do from the actual competition itself.
Showing horses is not for the faint of heart or the lazy. Non-equestrian spectators rarely glimpse the thousands of hours of preparation that go into a single show. Out of curiosity, I did the math, and from January 1, 2019 through May 5, 2019 I had put in a conservative 340 hours of training time on various animals. That doesn’t include the time spent cleaning tack, feeding/caring for the animals (a minimum hour and half every single day), or the time spent on research/education through that time period. Did I mention I work a full time job/high level job, and have a toddler?
On the weekend of competition, I used vacation time to put in the last bits of preparation. By 7:00 am on a Friday, I was soaking wet, standing ankle deep in mud, bathing two disgruntled horses. It had rained the night before, and I was unsure about my horse’s behavior in the expo center wash stalls. By 9:00 am I was loading several hundred pounds of gear, hay, feed into our truck/trailer before trudging inside for my own shower. I pulled out with the trailer at 10:30 am while Darling Husband made the all important cooler/beer run that would get me through the next three days. At 11:00 am I was leading those two disgruntled, and now freaking out 1200 lb animals, doing my best not to get my feet trampled as my nervous gelding danced beside of my mare. Comanche only managed to stomp my foot once. The horse stalls were outfitted, and all the gear was relocated to the tack stall by 11:45 am. By this point, Darling Husband had arrived, and we went out for what would be my only food of the entire day.
At 3:00 pm I was tacking up Comanche for his first and hopefully uneventful ride in the main expo center arena. Darling Husband stopped by with Offspring at 5:30 pm so I could have a quick hug and give him a good night kiss. It would be at least thirty six hours before I would see Offspring again. I would began Odessa’s warm-up ride at 6:00 pm. 7:30 pm would see me returning to un-tack Odessa, clean up Comanche’s destroyed stall, feed, fill hay nets, and then settle into the grooming process (banding). I finally left the expo center at 9:30 pm to crash into bed for a few hours.
Saturday morning began at 4:30 am. I wasn’t sure how my inmates handled their first night at the expo, better safe than sorry. Comanche had managed to knock over a 25 gallon water tub, and it looked like an elephant had spent all night $hitting in Odessa’s stall. Once the flood and the manure had been dealt with Odessa headed into the wash stall. Thankfully my band job had survived the night. At 8:00 am we were warming up her showmanship maneuvers (I would completely blank on the pattern two hours later negating our work). Once the halter classes were complete, Odessa was back in her stall getting tacked up before I changed into chaps. Riding classes would go on throughout the afternoon, and we would only see one, one hour break between warm-up and classes. Odessa and I were in the arena almost continuously between 8:00 am and 7:00 pm.
Once our final class ended, I un-tacked, un-banded, and settled Odessa in for the night, only to start my next ride on Comanche. His stall had to be entirely re-bedded for the second time in less than twenty four hours. We practiced in the main and warm-up arenas until 9:30 pm when I needed to begin his braids. I fell into bed around 11:30 pm and prepared myself for the next 4:30 am alarm. Thankfully, both my horses managed not to destroy their stalls during the night, and I went straight into the wash stall with Comanche at 5:00 am. I was following his prancing butt around his stall around 7:45 am attempting to finish his tail braid while walking, because Comanche refused to stand still no matter how short his lead.
Comanche and I hit the arenas at 8:00 am doing my best to give him ample time to see everything and hopefully realize there were no scary monsters present to kill and devour him. By 12:30 pm disheartened by his freight train antics in Equitation, and yearning to spend some quality time with Darling Husband and Offspring, Comanche and I trudged back to the stalls to un-tack, pull down his braids, and load everything/everyone back on the trailer for the trip home.
Exhaustion had dampened my mood, and I said the same thing I say after every show. This is my last one. I’m wasting entirely too much time and money on this hobby when our chances of progressing to high level competition are relatively slim considering, (neurotic rescue horses, not the greatest confirmation, me as their sole trainer, limited time due to life). But…..
A few hours after the clothes are packed for the dry cleaner, all my tack is hanging neatly in its place, the trailer is cleaned out, I’ve had a few beers (or margaritas, it was Cinco de Mayo), and I’ve tucked an exhausted Offspring into bed, I’m laying on the couch scrolling through the pictures of the event. I admire my braiding job, my horses, our overall turnout, and start planning for the next event.
There is a post (original author unknown) floating around social media that is one of the most eloquent descriptions of horse competition I’ve read. I’ve pasted it below.
Not everyone is cut out to horse show. It’s long days and short nights.
It’s hurry up and then wait.
It’s hours and hours of the same thing over and over.
It’s extremely hot and humid weather one day and then, freezing cold the next.
It’s tired feet.
It’s eating whatever you can hold onto easily while you are doing 4 other things.
It’s purple fingernails and wrinkled hands.
It’s being covered in dust, fly spray, hoof polish and face glow.
It’s not a glamorous at all!
It is however………………………..
Learning to persevere when you don’t think you can,
Learning to run wide open on no sleep,
Learning to put off your needs first,
Learning what dedication is,
But most of all
IT’S NEVER A DULL MOMENT!
Here’s to everyone that shows a horse!