I just returned from a fantastic week of showing at the Spring Dressage and show at Tryon International Equestrian Center. While the four horses that the Stables brought showed in the national show, TIEC was also hosting their WEG test events with a CDI and CPEDI show as well. In short, we were very excited to show at the fabulous grounds, eat sushi every day, and of course enjoy the great shopping in the Tryon area.
And yet, as exciting as attending such a fun show is, I was reminded again and again about the hard work that goes into attending one of these shows, especially in the manner I have constructed. I have a bit of a hybrid experience that I create for clients at shows that is pulled from the do-it-yourself world of dressage and eventing as well as the my-horse-is-tacked-for-me world of hunters and jumpers. Many people look down at the way so many hunter barns allow their students to show up and find their horse perfectly ready to walk into the show ring. While I agree that is excessive, there is a bit of logic I find in that mentality.
I teach mostly kids. And kids, newsflash, are not the best at time management, or their emotions for that matter. As a kid I showed and cleaned my stall and fed my horse and was there at 6am no matter what time I showed. I was also tired, stressed out, and constantly rushed because at 12 years old I wasn't the best at keeping up with how long it takes for me to clean a stall, hand walk, and the other million things I would need to do. I'd hear my name called over the loudspeaker that the class was waiting on me, rush to get my horse ready, and then put in a dismal performance and walk out in tears. I certainly improved my time management, and hardened my resolve to persist despite a lack of ribbons. I learned how to do many things, and over the years many things well, but in hindsight I certainly think that there could have been a better way.
At horse shows that the Stables attends staff (re: me, and sometimes a second trainer if we have enough students) sets up the tack stalls, cleans stalls in the mornings, feed and hay, and other basics of care. These are all things that our students know how to do, as they are covered in camps, rainy day lessons, etc. Students are in charge of grooming and tacking up their own horses, as well as cleaning tack before and after showing. They monitor their show rings (with oversight from trainers as kids are not usually very good at this), but I find that when we take care of some of these behind-the-scenes services our students are able to concentrate on preparation for the show ring that can only happen on show days (ie dealing with the last minute cases of butterflies, learning their courses well, remembering which tack goes in which class).
Now that I have spent a good five years with the same students I am starting to find something very interesting: once they spend a few years learning to cope with show nerves and get into the groove of showing the kids WANT to start helping with the backside chores. They want to ride to the show in the morning with me and help feed, scrub buckets, clean stalls, and prep for the day. And on top of that they are still just as able to monitor their rings, be on time, and be in a correct mindset. Giving them a few years to focus on actually competing without bombarding them with the sheer amount of work that goes into showing has allowed them to become more able to embrace the full experience a few years later. There will always be those few students that become spoiled and don't want to take part in the basic work, happy to be there just for themselves. I am finding that they are the students that decide that riding and showing is not for them, as they do not develop the camaraderie with other students and generally have less of a love of horses to make it through the teenage years of attrition. The girls that stick through it are developing such a sense of pride that they can work long days with competing in between and be successful at all of it.
As for me, I love the background work. As my business grows and I am bringing help to the shows I am having the hardest time letting go; if I didn't clean a stall or pack something myself I worry that it hasn't been done, as I have been the sole worker for years now. If anyone thinks that we attend a show like Tryon and all we do is ride and shop and eat, they would be sorely mistaken. We DO ride and shot and eat (a lot), but we are also cleaning stalls at 7am, braiding until 10:30pm, moving and stacking hay bales, climbing up and down from the tops of trailers, wrapping and wrapping and wrapping legs, and a thousand other not-so-glamorous jobs. And all the while trying to keep our whites clean. Whoever decided that show pants had to be white, anyways?!