When I was 12, I decided that I wanted to show. More specifically, I wanted to travel up and down the east coast, showing against the best there was. It was at this point that I learned what it took to be a show rider on a budget, and I spent every sequential weekend working at the barn to help offset the costs I incurred following my dream.
I did reach my goal, and competed in Florida, Atlanta, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. However, when I turned 17, I decided my priority should be my approaching college application process, and the dream was put on hold.
Today, I teach horseback riding lessons in North Carolina. It’s a much different environment than the rigorous and competitive one of Connecticut show barns, but all my kids are there because they love the horses and want to learn how to become better riders. For some, they are active learners, always asking questions and wanting to learn more. Others ride for the fun of it, and come every Saturday for their weekly lesson.
Every month or so, a local barn holds a schooling show with fence heights maxing at 2’3”-2’6” and lead-line classes for the littlest of children. Initially, I thought that these shows were mostly a fun experience for the kids, and a good way to introduce young or new horses, to a show ring environment. However, I soon realized that, “fun”, isn’t the only reason we do these schooling shows. Possibly, the greatest reason for hauling nine horses and twelve children to a farm five minutes away, and standing outside from eight o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock at night, is the learning experience for both student and trainer.
When you’re training girls who are on the brink of their teenage years, you find yourself managing emotions, overzealous behavior, distractibility, and a myriad of other things that all impact how much your student is actually taking away from each lesson. It isn’t until they’re in a show ring, alone, without the guidance of your voice, that they realize what they’ve been missing. For me, I was able to see which students understood the concept of leg yielding into the canter, bending to shape their turns, and setting their horse up for the proper lead. I also got to observe how the girls interacted with their parents, and how stress affected their overall cognitive functions. Many times, we forget that stress affect our ability to think so, a lesson that is not fully learned, will not be fully remembered once stress takes hold.
I strongly recommend, even for those who are lessoning for fun, to compete in a nearby schooling show. I believe that it has helped me do my job better as a trainer, and it will help students understand the importance, and relevance, of the lessons they’re learning.