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Dealing with Doubt in the Midst of a Pandemic with Charlie Cole and Carla Wennberg

The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled a lot of plans — vacations, school, and, unfortunately, some horse shows. But, as the virus gets somewhat under control, there is a certain sense of normalcy returning with some horse show circuits starting back up again. Deciding what’s best for you and your horse can be tricky, though. AQHA Professional Horsemen Charlie Cole and Carla Wennberg offer their advice on making tough decisions and dealing with doubt.

Keep Your Head Up

Everyone is dealing with feelings of isolation and uncertainty as a result of the pandemic. Life has stopped as we know it. But looking to the future is essential to staying positive.

“One of the main things, and I have to do this myself, is to remind myself that there will be shows again and where we are today is not where we’re going to be in two months or six months or a year,” Cole said. “There is a time when we’ll go back to horse shows and other things. For me, that’s how I have to look at it. I have to look to the future and make plans but know that they might change. Eventually, we will get back to normal horse shows.”

Listen to Your Gut

There’s a lot of information flying around about the pandemic and restrictions. When it comes down to it, you have to listen to your gut and do what’s best for you and your horse.

“If you are nervous about getting out and showing, wait until next year or just compete at small venues,” Wennberg said. “You have to take care of yourself.”

There is no right or wrong answer. Each situation is unique, and some might have more restrictions than others.  “They have to do what they are comfortable with,” Cole said. “If they feel that going to a show is not right for them, then they shouldn’t go.”

Since the stay-at-home orders canceled much of the beginning of show season, Cole, among others, started a virtual horse show. Seeking out online shows like this could be a good option if you’re not sure about going to an in-person show.

“The Virtual Horse Show that I started has been a great place for people to get great patterns to ride, be judged, and get great feedback on what they can improve on,” Cole said. “I think that has been a huge help to people all over the world who can’t show, to have a place to go show their horses and learn and get a judge’s opinion without leaving home.”

Observe Other Shows Before Going

If you’re uncertain about showing, go check out the atmosphere at shows going on in your area. Observing how different associations are enforcing rules, or not, can be influential in your decision.

“I’ve been very impressed with how show management has been handling the offices,” Wennberg said. “I think social distancing and just being smart about yourself can make a difference. Everybody I’ve been around so far at the few shows I’ve gone to have been very sensitive and respectful.”

If you’re wary of being around too many people, seeking out smaller, outdoor shows is a good option.

“We have several farms within 30 or 40 minutes. Many are having schooling shows, so we are testing what we have been training on,” Wennberg said. “It’s been a great way to see others in an outdoor setting and easy to social distance, practice with some others, and test what we have done.”

Be Willing to Adjust Your Mindset

It’s easy to feel like you’re missing out if you’re not showing. But, staying home can be just as productive and fun as traveling to a show. Using this extra time to focus on improvement with your horse will allow you to shine once the time comes to get back in the show ring.

“Practice patterns and learn them,” Wennberg said. “Knowing your horse and them trusting you comes with time together. Practice…the consistency will be seen because the horse understands your aids and cues. I think this time together practicing, is a gift. Let this downtime build your relationship with your horse.”

Building not only your relationship, but your strength as a rider is another productive way to spend your time at home.

“If I were an equitation or horsemanship rider, each day that I ride, I would give myself a goal,” Cole said. “Say, if I’m an equitation rider, I’m going to post one lap more until I get to 20 laps each day I ride. The first day you might do four laps with no stirrups, posting. If you’re a western rider, you might stand in your stirrups for three laps the first day you ride, and then try to make it to four the next. Building up your strength and building your core and challenging yourself is important.”

The world is a scary place right now, and no one has all the answers to what is exactly right or wrong. When it comes down to it, make decisions based on information from reliable sources, like the Centers for Disease Control, and on what’s best for you. Hopefully, we’ll get back to normal soon, but until then, stay safe and be grateful for your horse.

“We are lucky that we have our horses and that we can still ride,” Cole said. “I don’t get to go to many horse shows, and I don’t get to do a lot of things I used to do, but I still get to do what I love, which is ride horses.”

About the Author – Olivia Bradish has been an equestrian for 13 years. She attends the University of Michigan, studying political science, as well as working for The Michigan Daily. Olivia shows the all-around events with her horse, CSR Roan Bar Penny, who is known around the barn as London. They enjoy showmanship, horsemanship, equitation, and trail.