I had the opportunity to go to a local horse show recently and watch the participants in various different classes compete for the ribbons. From the young to the older it was quite the experience. One I had not had since competing myself back when I was a kid. The take away? Mouth gaping, shock and utter disbelief at what I witnessed.
I remember showing as a kid quite well. The memories are vivid, right down to the boring details of grooming, cleaning tack and the last minute number check to make sure I had one pinned on. I remember waking up as early as 5:30 am (which was way too early), going out to the barn to check on my show steed and make sure there weren't any manure stains on him before quietly making my way back into the house to try and get at least another hour's worth of sleep. Of course that was nearly impossible.
Now I was competing in both 4-H shows and local open shows to gain experience. My instructor (who was also my adopted mom) was very tough on me and let's face it, if you want to improve you can't just ride like a sack of potatoes in the show ring. You have to participate just as much if not more than your horse does. Corrections in riding were made between classes and you rested your horse as much as possible in between those classes especially if you are using the same horse. Where I come from, using the same horse for multiple riders is unheard of. If you have 2 riders, you have 2 horses period. Showing is grueling work for the horse and they really need the break in between to rest, get water and even a bite to eat. The only warm up my horse ever got was walking from the trailer to the arena, unless I was running a little late then an easy trot. Beyond that, the horse rested. This is how I was taught. Several of the other kids were taught the same way. You rest in between classes. Even if you're sitting on your horse, it's standing still. You're not riding walk-trot-canter, or going mach 10.
What I saw yesterday.... all I can say is that I was in complete and utter shock. With kids, I can understand the excitement. There's other kids riding around, it's suppose to be a fun thing. I have to say 99% of these kids who were under 15 were taught shortcuts in many things, they have not been taught any type of etiquette, or even how to ride properly. I do realize like I said that it's exciting to be there with other kids riding around. However, they were over "warming" their horses, jerking on reins, being hollered at by their parents or instructors. It wasn't pretty. Even the older kids and adults were doing the very same things, and with at least 10 horses doing double duty it was heartbreaking to watch. This was all going on before, during and after each class. Warming-working horses up into a sweat and then entering the class with a tired horse.
One adult rider was riding so bad that they really needed more lessons so that they were not slapping the saddle with their rear when the horse cantered. I cringed with each stride. At one point during a lead change, the rider lost both stirrups and nearly went off the horse from losing their balance. One adult instructor had a handful of kids who were showing and they were showing themselves. I didn't care for their tactics or that they didn't actually allow the kids to show without constant instruction. One child under this instructor was a beautiful correct rider with fantastic potential. I was thoroughly impressed and so enjoyed watching him. He was 8 or 9 years old, had the perfect seat, perfect hands and bless him, couldn't really reach the sides of the horse. He did his best and in my opinion was the best rider of the day, minus 1 adult. This young man had his horse under control, as well as himself. He made perfect circles at the correct speed, in the correct lead. His flying lead changes were impeccable as were his sliding stops and roll backs during a reining class. His balance was spot on, not once did he ever jerk the reins. In fact the only way you could tell he was cuing his horse was the fact that he had to swing his leg out further in order for the horse not to think it was just part of the saddle lapping against its side. The other adult rider was on a Tennessee Walking horse and was also wonderful to watch. Excellent transitions, seat and hands were quiet.
It certainly was a mix of emotions for me as I sat and watched for several hours. One young adult had her horse in such slow and sloppy gaits it too was painful to see and if the horse went faster (into a more normal gait for the horse) she jerked her reins up tucking the horses' head into its chest. Two people at that show had their horses' heads in near Rollkur positions and you could hear them fighting for wind each time they passed the stands. Horses were blowing hard from being worked all afternoon and obviously exhausted; they were jabbed and spurred throughout the classes. It was most painful for me to watch the adults treating their horses with such disrespect, using pain as a means to get their attention.
Most of the riders were riding with reins too long and their free hands tucked up under their chest in the front or flying out to the side. Stirrups were generally way too short, heels and stirrups were up and slung backwards towards the flank. For several of the classes there wasn't any competition with one horse and rider in the class. Instead of cancelling it, they went ahead and let the person show. They combined some classes to shorten the day, which was really a good thing for the horses.
I'm not saying I'm perfect or that I could stomp them all in competition. After all it's been many years since I have been in the ring. I am saying however that there is tons of room for improvement for both kids and adults alike. When you step into that arena, while it is a competition putting one against another, the ultimate challenge is for the horse and rider to improve against their last score, instead of "beating out the competition". When arrogance reins in the arena, poor horsemanship becomes the norm and removes the fun from it all.
If more folks were taught that horse shows aren't for winning blue ribbons, rather they are for improving one's abilities then maybe we wouldn't have all of these sloppy riders. Instead we would have competitions where everyone cheers on the other, giving support, love and showing compassion for those who have the slowest times in barrel racing, the participant ribbons in pleasure and equitation.
Be kind to each other... you're not competing against them. You're competing against yourself.
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