I rode as a child, but I just started riding again as an adult about a year and a half ago. By last spring, my competitive instinct kicked in, and I felt ready to try my hand at showing.
I signed up for a saddle seat academy show being held at the state fairgrounds and marked it on the calendar. I promptly informed my husband that, yes, he would need to be there for all of it. He would also need to bring along our two young children despite their 5-minute attention spans. I knew I would need all the support I could get.
Next, I needed the outfit. For academy shows, that meant dark-colored jodhpurs, a collared shirt, vest, and tie. Fortunately, my husband has plenty of ties on hand, and I had a collared shirt. I was able to find everything else I needed online. I decided to go with my favorite color, turquoise, for the vest. Perhaps it would bring me luck.
As we approached the show date, I managed to fit in a few extra lessons to get in as much practice as possible. As they say, practice makes perfect. Or at the very least, practice makes better.
Julia and Gemini with instructors Alyssa and Colleen Wick
Finally, the big day arrived; I made it to the barn early to get ready and warm up. One of the best things about this particular show is that I shared my favorite Morgan horse, the adorable-yet-skittish Gemini, with fellow rider, Grace Sveum, who also rides in the lesson program at Hardwood Creek Farm. Taking turns with Gemini (and trading stories about our rides) made the show experience feel like a real team effort.
Speaking of team efforts, riding might appear to be a solely individual sport, but it actually takes a village. I’m fortunate to have had a fantastic team supporting me: my fellow rider, Grace, as well as my coaches and trainers, mother-daughter duo Alyssa and Colleen Wick, and talented rider Olivia Coker, were all helping behind the scenes.
Gemini with Julia and Grace
Having all of those familiar faces nearby made for a festive pre-show atmosphere in the waiting area. My nerves [mostly] abated. As we got the horses and ourselves ready, it began to feel quite fun! Fun is kind of the point, isn’t it?
After suiting up (and a few gallons of hair gel), I warmed up with Gemini in the practice area wherein the butterflies in my stomach promptly made a reappearance. But there was no turning back as Alyssa told me to go ahead and trot into the show ring for my first division, Academy Equitation.
As I took a deep breath and trotted into the arena, I realized there are only so many factors I could control, so I might as well smile and enjoy the experience. Gemini certainly seemed to be enjoying himself (though he did try to end our division early– he really likes the line-up) as he strutted around the judge and took little notice of his competition.
On the first morning, I received second place in my two divisions: 14 and over Equitation and 14 and over English Pleasure. Sure, there were only four riders in each of those classes, but I was still pretty thrilled. I had survived my first day in a horse show!
The next day was even more fun; it didn’t feel so foreign anymore. I just wanted to do my best, and I think I did just that for my last Equitation section. Would you believe I received first place? I was stunned. Maybe the turquoise vest is a lucky charm after all.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
My sprightly steed decided to go rogue in our last Pleasure class and broke into a speedy canter when we were supposed to be trotting. He must have decided to take “you win some, you lose some” literally, as I received third place (out of three) in that one.
Win or lose, showing was a unique sort of fun. I think I grew as a rider from the experience. Riding in a show encouraged me to implement all that I’ve learned over the past year and a half in an unfamiliar, daunting atmosphere.
My children were over the moon that their mother received a blue ribbon, and yes, it’s fun to perform well in something you care about. But what I really hope rubs off on my kids is that that tackling something you’re scared of – and enjoying it in the process – feels better than receiving any ribbon.
Julia Arnold is a writer living in
Minnesota with her husband and two young children. She has always loved
horses and is thrilled to have officially rejoined the horse world as an
adult. She rides whenever she can at Hardwood Creek Farm in Hugo,
Minnesota. You can follow her adventures in riding and parenting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.