Last Saturday I took Gracie to our first horse show of the year. I am not a horse shower by any stretch of the imagination. I despise the anxious flurry of preparation the week before a show, I dislike having to wear stuffy “nice” clothes while riding, and the stress of performing in front of a slew of people disagrees with my tummy.
But, after Gracie had been working really hard at riding and asked if she could go to a show with Hot Rod, I reconsidered my feelings about the whole business of showing horses. I want to do everything I can (within reason) to foster her love of riding and help it continue to grow. I wouldn’t say I instantly jumped on Facebook and perused the show groups, but I did casually browse through them. I stumbled across a schooling show just 45 minutes away that looked kid friendly. I inquired more about the show bill, and the classes seemed to jive with what Gracie needed in her first real attempt to dip her toes in the show water.
The two weeks leading up to the show were packed with riding and preparation. However, since this was a schooling show, our preparation lacked that urgent feel I hate so much. Within that time, I did my best to give her a crash course in halter classes and showmanship patterns.
Do you know how hard it is to explain the quartering system for the judges inspection to a six year old?!
We made lists of what she needed to do to prepare, including cleaning her tack, filling Hot Rod’s hay bag, and putting all her clothes and grooming supplies in the trailer. The afternoon before our show, we outfitted him in a nice show halter to practice showmanship. The chain was a new concept to her, and she needed to practice using it to set him up. We were in the outdoor arena, and Gracie was asking him to square-up when all-of-a-sudden, Hot Rod leapt straight into the air. This was no small rear, but a true Black Beauty rear complete with pawing front legs. I grabbed the lead rope as Gracie flew out of the way. More than anything, I was panicked about my baby girl sitting in the dirt just a few feet away. She had been watching us at what was normally a very safe distance, but with Hot Rod’s rearing and backing up, she was in dangerous territory. I yelled at Gracie to run and get her sister. Hot Rod reared one more time with wild eyes, and then I finally was able to move him away from the girls. He immediately calmed down and went back to his normal sleepy state. Gracie’s confidence was seriously shaken, and my heart went out to her knowing what that can feel like the night before a big day.
We realized just moments later that Hot Rod had been stung by a wasp. This comforted me a little, knowing that he did not mean to be aggressive or dominant. It simply hurt and he was shocked by it’s sting. Still, this was a jolting reminder that you just never know what can happen around horses.
Gracie composed herself and I insisted that she had to finish her pattern. She did well, and moved on resiliently from the situation. I showed her how to shampoo the white on his legs, and she conditioned the leather on her saddle before calling it a night.
The next morning, we woke very early to load up. I was disappointment to see that the temperature had dropped in the low 50s and it was sprinkling. That’s not how you want to start your horse show day with a child… Alas, we made it there and proceeded to groom Hot Rod and get him ready for his first halter class. He was fidgety, and whinnied to everything within a five mile radius. Gracie pressed on despite his naughtiness, and got a first in her halter gelding/stallion class, and by default she won the stock horse halter champion class. He was pretty wiggly for her, so we decided to scratch her showmanship class. Instead, I showed him in two showmanship classes and got a first in both of those!
We had to race back to the trailer for a tack change, and even though I went as fast as I could we missed her greener-than-grass western walk class. I was pretty disappointed about that, because it would have been a perfect introduction for her to ride in the arena. Nonetheless, the steward let us enter the leadline class and since she was the only one, she won by default. It was still a great opportunity for her to ride with me close by. The judge took the time to ask her questions and talk to her. I appreciated that.
After that, we raced back to the trailer again and I quickly changed into my tack while Gracie warmed up in the truck with a snack. The weather stayed gray and cold all morning. 🙁 I had not intended to ride in any classes myself, since the focus was on Gracie, but I felt like Hot Rod needed to be ridden by an adult in the arena and get his wiggles out. I needed him to know that when he goes in the arena, there’s no funny business. No calling to his friends, no speeding-up around the “scary spots.” I walked into the arena just in time for the second warm-up group to go in. I tried to use my short amount of time wisely by collecting his body, asking for lots of transitions, and working my way through all the gaits. I was actually really proud of him. His ears only perked in the scary places, he loped off beautifully, and he acted like the gentleman I know him to be.
Since he was behaving, I asked the steward if I could just stay in the ring for the next class. It was a walk/trot jackpot class, with about 8-10 riders. I honestly didn’t expect to win, I just wanted him to practice moving around lots of other horses while keeping his cadence. But guess what? WE WON. Whoo hoo! Gracie was beaming as I walked out of the arena, and we decided to quit while we were ahead and load up to go home.
Overall, the schooling show was an absolute success. Gracie’s confidence with Hot Rod skyrocketed, and she was able to see the fruit of her labors. Her hard work had paid off! And so had mine-quite literally! Maybe horse shows aren’t so bad, after all? My only regret was not getting any photos of Gracie in her classes. Hence, the selfie. Being the Show Mom and Show-ING Mom didn’t allow for any extra time. I might need to enlist the help of her Show Dad next time!