Back in the Competition Ring
You walk up to the mounting block and place your polished boot in your stirrup. As you swing you leg over, you look down at your beautifully groomed horse. He hasn’t been that shiny in a long time. You adjust your helmet and jacket as your coach goes over the course with you. They’re giving you tips and strategies so that your ride as perfect as possible. Before you know it, your name is announced. You take a deep breath, pat your horse and enter the ring.
There’s nothing quite like the world of competition.
I decided to finally jump back into the world of competition. I haven’t competed at a horse show for over 10 years. It’s probably been 12 or 13 years if we want to get specific. Back then, I was a kid. I didn’t feel the stress of the competition and I didn’t work a job to pay for my entry fees. As an adult, competing is completely different.
So, I’m not going to lie, it was scary. It’s intimidating to put yourself in a ring where you have paid people to judge you. To point out your flaws. And to prove to them that you belong in the ring just like everyone else. That you’re just as good of a rider as everyone else.
But I wanted to face this competition monster head on. I didn’t want the “what ifs” to limit me as a rider. And I didn’t want my anxiety to prevent me from doing something that I’ve actually wanted to do for a long time now. So, I signed myself up for at a schooling show.
Driving to the show, I felt nauseous. I kept trying to remind myself that everything would be fine. That I’ll make it through the show and that I’ll wake up in my bed the next day. This competition wasn’t going to kill me. At the same time, I was also wondering why on earth I wanted to put myself under so much stress.
We arrived at the show grounds only to find out that the 2’ hunter class had already started. We were too late. So we entered into the 2’3” hunter class instead. No big deal, I jump higher at home anyway. The only reason why we wanted to enter in the 2’ was so that the jumps were the least intimidating thing at the show. We also entered into a hunter show knowing that the course would be less complicated. Again, to make the whole experience less stressful.
In the hunter divisions at this show, there were 2 over fences classes and 1 under saddle class. Knowing that I was on a jumper that doesn’t exactly carry himself as nicely as a hunter would, I didn’t bother entering the under saddle class and only entered into the 2 over fences classes. What I didn’t realise was that they gave ribbons for each class instead of for the division as a whole (more on that later).
I got the gelding tacked up and headed to the warm-up ring. I was able to spend 3 minutes working over the course that I’d be judged on. Something that would be a great advantage if I was more focused on my riding instead of being overwhelmed by the atmosphere of it all. But I kept refusing the first jump. Not because my horse was being bad, but because I was so tight that I was unconsciously asking the horse to stop. So, the warm-up wasn’t exactly a success.
Then came the first round over fences. Again, I struggled to get over the first jump. I refused twice, but the judges let me continue on. I made it over the first jump on my third try and jumped 3 other fences before I had another refusal. So, I was eliminated. I left the ring feeling so discouraged and so frustrated with myself. Not because I couldn’t get over the jumps, but because I was letting my nerves take over my riding. Something that I’ve been working very hard on overcoming.
Then came the second round. Thankfully, the second course is like the first course only backwards. Meaning that the dreaded first jump will be my last jump this time around. As I approached the first jump on course, I could feel my horse backing off. But this time I was determined that I was going to get over it. And I did. I made it through the whole course. Even the last jump without a refusal. Sure, my trip wasn’t pretty. The lines were more like curves and my rhythm was all over the place. But I made it through and that’s all that mattered in that moment. I was proud of myself for making it through.
We walked away from the ring as the other riders were getting ready for the under saddle part of that division. Because I didn’t enter into that part, I took my gelding for a walk to cool off and enjoy my mini victory. I wasn’t paying attention to the announcers or the people walking by. For a moment, I forgot that I was actually at a horse show.
Then my coach came running over saying that I needed to book it back to the ring. That I had won a ribbon. I didn’t believe her at first, but I headed to the ring anyway. Sure enough, I won a ribbon for my second round. I don’t know how, but I came away with a 5th place ribbon. I was in shock. How did I manage to get 5th place? To be honest, I still don’t know how I did that.
I will say though that it gave an extra boost of confidence. That ribbon just proved that I can ride. That I do belong in the ring. But what I wasn’t expecting was the feeling that came after the unbelief and joy. I started to feel curious. I started to think, “where would I place if my head was in the game?”
So now I’m plannng to enter another schooling show or two to find out. Hopefully, I’ll be more confident and focused this time around.
I'd love to know your first horse show experiences. Did it go as expected? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, happy riding!