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Here’s to a Better 2021: Pros Share Tips for Overcoming a Challenging Year

It’s fair to say that 2020 did not turn out how anybody planned initially – both in and out of the horse showing world. Starting in early March, schools were shut down, restaurants were closed, and horse shows all over the country were canceled due to the global pandemic.

As a result, the 2020 show season was a crazy one, and a shortened show schedule left many exhibitors feeling disappointed and without a sense of direction as the year came to a close. So, how do exhibitors overcome a disappointing end to a challenging year and stay ready to approach the next show season with gusto?

Here are a few tips from top trainers Missy Thyfault and Seth and Amber Clark to best approach the 2021 show season. 

Think of the Positives

When coming out of a difficult situation, it’s easy to focus on all the things that went wrong or were just more challenging than expected. But, spending too much time mourning what we’ve lost will not change the past, and eventually, those bitter feelings of regret are only going to prevent us from moving forward.

“We decided to show in Michigan in the fall because of this, and the fall colors were amazing. Because of the Congress, I hadn’t experienced fall like that since I was in college,” Trainer Missy Thyfault states, who lives in Shelby, Ohio. “I couldn’t get over the colors of the trees. The fairgrounds don’t have trees like Michigan does, and much of our October’s are spent there. Silver linings!”

Reflect on the positives that came out of a negative situation; maybe the money that would’ve been spent on the canceled shows last spring can now be put towards adding that “new” show you’ve always wanted to try to your show calendar this year.

“Personally, one of the positives that came out of 2020 was that we were able to focus on regular life,” Amber says, who along with her husband Seth, lives in Jefferson, Ohio. “We were able to work on new projects and learned to appreciate the time given.” 

In the end, the strength we gained from dealing with the challenges of 2020 can now be used to address any future obstacles that may be thrown our way.

Appreciate the Extra Practice

Missy agrees that extra practice time is one of the best ways to approach the new year. “As they say, you’re either winning, or you’re learning,” Thyfault adds.

2020 may have been a challenging year, but it did give us one gift – the time for extra practice. The months of March, April, and May were lacking in the show department. Still, these months offered exhibitors an opportunity to put some extra time in for practice and preparation.

“I chose to look at the spring show cancellations as a chance to get ahead on my colts and at-home projects,” Amber told us. “But after a month, I was more than anxious to get back to a horse show and was very relieved and grateful when we were able to show.”

Seth adds, “As horse trainers, the shutdown was frustrating, but it was a blessing to have extra time with the horses – we were able to embrace the extra time given to work and prepare for shows when they would inevitably come.”

Overcome the feelings of bitterness by appreciating the time you had to work on perfecting those square turns, set-ups, or lead changes; the extra time spent to finesse these maneuvers will boost your scores when you return to the show pen in 2021.

Cherish Every Ride

In early summer 2020, when shows resumed following the quarantine, many trainers and exhibitors faced the challenge of scrambling to find alternate options after their favorite shows were canceled. As the stall reservations poured into shows all across the country at a rapid pace, exhibitors found themselves facing another challenge – sold-out shows and unavailable stalls.

“I think it’s important when you’re feeling a little beat up by the year that you take time to remember what’s important,” Thyfault says. “When you’re having a bad day, and everyone has them, take time to reflect on why you started doing this in the first place. For me, it is the love of horses that is behind it all. If I ride a young one or spend some quiet time in the barn just training, I get back to enjoying the basics. That said, I love horse showing and the people and places, but sometimes the slowing down helps you get the fire back to go again.”

As you prepare to begin your 2021 show season, remember the feeling of “horse show withdrawal” from last spring, and appreciate every opportunity you get to show this year. Even if the show doesn’t go quite as planned, or the placings aren’t quite what you expected, remember that every moment spent showing is never a wasted one – and you’ll be a winner in more ways than one. 

Make 2021 Your Year!

When things don’t go as planned, think about what you can use as a different approach to have better results,” Thyfault states. “And once you’ve looked at how to improve, let it go and don’t look back.”

One of the most difficult aspects of overcoming a challenging year is to regain momentum. With the All American Quarter Horse Congress’s cancellation in October, a staple to the fall show schedule for many, exhibitors were forced to end their show season without the typical excitement that comes from such a popular and well-attended event.

As a result, many may feel “flat” heading into the 2021 show season and find it difficult to regain the momentum they had before the pandemic. To gain a renewed sense of excitement and passion heading into 2021, determine what goals you would like to accomplish by the year-end, and set a plan to make it happen.

If you’ve always wanted to develop better horsemanship skills, or become a better equitation rider, or perfect those moves for showmanship, don’t wait and tell yourself, “Well, I’ll do it someday.” Do it NOW. Always wanted to learn trail? Make 2021 the year to make it happen.

‘New Year’ Does not Mean ‘No Problems’

After a year like 2020, many were desperate to commit the year to memory as the new year began. However, it is essential to remember that 2021 is not a magic key that will guarantee a pathway to ease and success. It will, just like any other, come with its difficulties and challenges, which will need to be overcome.

“It is important to remember that though 2020 is over, this doesn’t automatically mean that 2021 will be perfect,” Amber shared. “There’s always the possibility of another shutdown. Exhibitors need to make plans to go forward, but if things worsen before they get better, make a plan to stay fresh. Keep practicing – you can’t expect a better year than 2020 if you don’t put in the work. For trainers, make sure to have back-up plans if shows don’t resume when expected. Have boot camps and other ways for your clients to stay on their toes until the first show of 2021.”

As nice as it would be to have a show season that runs smoothly with no cancellations, relocation, or rescheduling, the truth of the matter is that problems will inevitably arise.

So what can we do?

Stay home and wait for another year to pass? No! Take comfort in knowing that dealing with adversity makes us stronger, wiser, and in the end, a better showman. It is knowing that we can head into 2021 with confidence, passion, and a renewed determination to compete our best. 

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to say, “forget 2020.” However, attempting to forget the past will not erase what happened and instead will cause feelings of bitterness and regret. We need to embrace the past year, and all it taught us.

“I feel we are so lucky that our industry remained strong as ever through 2020. Most people were thriving and didn’t miss a beat,” Thyfault states. “I believe horse show people are a very resilient group. We will continue our love for horse showing in 2021, and hopefully we can see a return to normalcy in the near future.”

Too many people never get a chance to go beyond the “childhood dream” stage of horse ownership, and no matter how challenging the year 2020 was, we are blessed to have an opportunity to do what we love, and we should never take that for granted.

Thyfault concludes, My number one tip is to focus on the highlights and accomplishments you can pull from 2020. The year was so full of challenges of all kinds that we should take a minute to enjoy the wins. Whether it was a young horse you had been progressing, a new class that was added, or a goal you had been trying to reach…nothing is too small to celebrate.”

About the Author – A native of Northwest Pennsylvania, Kelli Hardy has been a lover of horses and all things AQHA for as long as she can remember. She graduated from Edinboro University with a BA in English literature and a minor in writing and is currently a high school English teacher at Erie First Christian Academy in Erie, PA. She shows with the American Quarter Horse Association in her spare time in amateur all-around events with her mare, The Pretty Committee.