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Nine Lessons to Take Away from Your Youth Career

The world of horse showing is unique in a multitude of beautiful ways; you are exposed to all different types of people, you get to travel, and you often practice at 3 am while most of your non-horse show friends are sound asleep.

With such a unique sport, comes lessons unlike any other. You learn to work with different types of people, how to pack a trailer like a game of Tetris, and where to catch a few Z’s, so you’re ready to get up at whatever absurd hour is necessary.

Youth exhibitors learn quickly that horse showing is so different from any other sport. Horse showing is more sweat and tears and exhaustion than what most of their friends are probably enduring at their weekend tournament and that “horse show hangover” is a real killer when you have to get to school at 7:30 am.

With all of that in mind, a lot of youth exhibitors push through as many weekends as they can squeeze in, just to get one more shot. In the midst of all of it, they may not even realize the lessons they are learning (or could be learning). Sometimes, it’s hard to step back and look at what is going on. So, if you are a youth, here are a few lessons to keep in mind as you continue your journey through life.

Not every horse or trainer is a fit for every person

If you’re not enjoying your showing, don’t be afraid to take a step back, assess the situation, and determine what is keeping you from having fun and accomplishing what you are in search of. Remember, that is what this is all about, after all. It’s tempting to keep pushing to try to make your situation work. However, it gets to a point where you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Maybe it’s that your horse isn’t a fit, the team you’re on aren’t people you get along with, or your trainer’s style just isn’t for you. Whatever it is, it’s okay to look for a new route. Additionally, there is so much to be learned from working with more than one trainer. Every trainer will explain differently, and you will discover unique things from each one.

Everyone has different goals, and none of them are “the” goal

When you set out to do something, it is based on what you, as an individual, want to accomplish with your particular horse. There is no “right” goal, and every personal goal you accomplish is such a win. Don’t let someone tell you that your goals aren’t as lofty or worth it as anyone else’s.

The price tag on your clothes does not determine the color of your ribbons

Now, there is something to be said for walking into the ring in that beautiful showmanship jacket, but keep your clothes cleaned and ironed and focused on your pattern… it will be fine. After all, what they’re focusing on is your performance. You should not feel like you don’t belong somewhere because your outfit doesn’t have as much bling as someone else’s. Worry about you and your horse.

Take your two minutes

There was a “meme” that went around on Facebook a while back that said that after you have a terrible ride, you are allowed to take your two minutes, go somewhere private and kick and throw your gloves and swear and blame the wind and your spurs and that lady’s red umbrella. But after your two minutes are up, you need to take a deep breath, gather yourself, walk back in the barn and put it behind you. It’s okay to let your frustrations out but keep a healthy balance.

Try not to take pleasure in another person’s lousy ride/class/day

In turn, root for other people’s wins. Once again, one day it will be your turn, and you want to have an arena full of people you know will cheer you on, knowing you would (and will) do the same thing for them. It is so important to surround yourself with people who will build you up, not tear you down.

A natural smile is beautiful, not cheesy…plus, it looks a whole lot better in pictures

Remember the older people you looked up to when you were a small fry? Those 14-18 girls who walked by in their red lipstick and their perfect horsemanship buns? It’s your turn. That doesn’t mean you have to take home all blues, but be kind and compassionate to younger riders, and it will mean the world to them. They will want to be just like you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Maybe you overslept, your class is being called, and you still don’t have your horse’s tail in. Perhaps you can’t remember which way to turn in horsemanship. Whatever it is, it’s okay to ask. You cannot do everything, and you shouldn’t have to. By asking for help, you also immediately make yourself someone that others may think of when they need help.

Sometimes the ribbon you are most proud of isn’t a blue ribbon

Sometimes you don’t even need a ribbon to call it a win. Maybe it’s that one white ribbon after seven pink ones, or perhaps it’s merely getting through your class. Winning a class on your horse always feels good, but getting over a hump you’ve been frustrated with can feel even better. Be proud of those rides as those are the real wins.

Don’t blink

The years will fly by in a flash, and you should take in every moment of it. From the many, many, many, hours in the truck, to the tears behind the barn, to the hysterical laughing at the stalls, take it all in. It doesn’t last forever.

About the Author: Anna Marie Verhage is a full-time student at Elgin Community College and a seasoned competitor on the APHA circuit. She lives with her father and works at her mother’s boarding barn in Hampshire, Illinois. In 2019, Anna Marie is looking forward to showing on the APHA circuit with her horse All But Zipped and training under the guidance of Scott Hand Performance Horses.