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Sacrifices Successful Exhibitors Make to Get to the Top…and Stay There: Part 1 – Amateurs


Successful exhibitors in the show pen are hard to miss. But, what is it that these riders do differently to continue to succeed over time and with different mounts? It has been said, “If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice.” 

We examine what some top amateur exhibitors like Kristen Glover Galyean (Multiple AQHA Congress and World Champion), Lana Markway (APHA Res. World Champion and APHA Honor Roll Exhibitor), Julie Hoggan Nelson (APHA Novice Amateur Champion and current APHA Zone Two Masters Amateur Hi-Point Champion), and Erin Bradshaw Weiss (Multiple APHA and PtHA World Champion) sacrifice for their success.

We discovered some common themes that we’ve broken into seven categories: Ego, Doubt, Attitude, Emphasis, Time, Immediate Results, and Unrealistic Goals.

Ego

As soon as someone begins to experience some success, it is easy to develop an ego. However, having an ego can become a significant barrier to ongoing success. Even the professionals continue learning and applying new riding and training methods.

A common amateur mistake is assuming they know what they are doing and then doing things incorrectly which is why it is essential to ask questions. If you’re unsure how to execute a maneuver, respond to a particular training situation, or even do something as basic as wrapping legs or fitting a bridle, make sure to ask for assistance. 

According to Galyean, “It doesn’t matter what discipline you do. When you stop learning is the moment you start regressing. The industry is always evolving, and the horses continue to get better, so you need to continue improving simply to keep up.” She gives the example that she struggles with the log in western riding and continuously works with trail gurus to learn how to improve her work on that maneuver better.

Beyond asking for advice, make sure to apply the direction you are given. People will not want to help someone who asks for advice and then never takes it. Ask for advice. Listen to the suggestion. And apply the relevant advice. “In the war of egos, the loser always wins.” 

Doubt

While it is important to remain humble and open to taking advice to continue improving, it is also vital to have a healthy dose of confidence in your abilities. Horses are sensitive creatures that tend to feed off their rider’s emotions. A nervous rider that doubts their cues or riding ability will translate to a horse that challenges their rider. Humble confidence is necessary to communicate with your horse effectively and perform better under pressure. 

According to Bradshaw, the more you practice, the more confident you will be and the less doubt you will bring to a class at a show. However, she acknowledges you can never eliminate the nerves before a class. She believes that when you stop being nervous, you stop being competitive. She encourages riders to find humble confidence without becoming overconfident and arrogant. Not only will this improve your ride, but it will make other people want to see you succeed.

The next time you go to a lesson or a show, come with humble, quiet confidence that will drive both you and your mount to success. Remember, “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

Attitude

“For success, attitude is equally important as ability.” Sacrificing a poor attitude overlaps with the “ego” and “doubt” categories discussed above. Remember that there is probably a child  or another exhibitor somewhere around the arena who wants to be like you, and you owe it to them to set a good example.

Successful amateurs celebrate their wins and learn from their losses. Attitude goes a long way in setting an intention for success, regardless of the outcome of your placings on a judge’s scorecard. Nobody likes a sore loser (trainers included). 

Bradshaw says her parents would remind her that it’s okay to be frustrated but, to have it privately at the stalls and then move on. She adds that being gracious to fellow competitors and being mature about losses helps you keep a good perspective. It also allows you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and continue to improve. Even the professionals have bad rides.

Your attitude goes beyond how you react to results and how you treat other people. Many of the top competitors are seen clapping for their competition, cheering on barn mates, and chatting with interested fans – your reputation impacts what people say about you and often how you are received in the arena. A well-liked competitor will feel the support of their friends, barn, and the crowds, which helps them stay confident in their rides. 

Emphasis

Knowing what is vital in the show pen and what can be sacrificed is crucial to success. While keeping up with the latest trends is one way to get an edge or stay relevant, a good ride will never go out of style. Bradshaw is adamant that no “look” can compensate for a quality ride. Indeed, she admits she’s had the same show saddle for over a decade. She reminds us that, “Nobody will remember the outfit someone wore years ago, but they will remember a great ride.”

Nelson agrees. She reports that she feels more confident when she invests in one nice outfit to make her feel like she is polished for the class but, emphasizes the quality of her practice and her goes more than her look. The riders who have the most success know that a great pattern or a strong ride earns points, not the flashiest outfit or saddle. 

Looking the part is a small piece of the horse show equation, which translates to success. 

Time

The best competitors all seem to have one thing in common – an investment of their time. This inevitably means they must sacrifice time spent on other activities. However, putting the work into practicing with your mount results in confidence and improvement as a team.

While a trainer can help your horse learn what is required of them, only you can ride your horse like, well… you. Riders with the most success in the show ring tend to be the riders who know their horse well and have worked diligently on their riding skills. 

Galyean reports that she invests as much time practicing as she reasonably can, even if that means skipping the occasional meal to get in an extra ride or waking up very early in the morning to make sure her skills are sharp on show days.

Bradshaw agrees with Galyean in that her most significant sacrifice seems to be time. Indeed, Bradshaw believes you need to “live your love” – i.e., to stay competitive at the top levels, there is no substitute for time investment. Bradshaw tries to ride 5-6 times per week and, with work and filming for her family’s TV show, that often means she needs to ride early in the morning or into the late hours of the night.

There are even ways to practice while away from the barn. Some amateurs report sitting in a saddle while watching television to practice posture. Others work on their showmanship cross-over while doing the dishes. 

According to top baseball player Derek Jeter, “There may be people that have more talent than you, but there is no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” 

Immediate Results

Successful amateurs also acknowledge that the road to success is a work in progress with few circumstances in which the desired result comes immediately. Indeed, do-it-yourself amateurs like Markway know this all too well. Thus, while she echoes the others in that her greatest sacrifice is time, she believes this is also linked to patience.

Markway often has to sacrifice a desire for immediate results because the horses are animals and require a proper investment of time and training to see improvement.

As a result, she sometimes finds herself discouraged when her horses do not come along as fast as she envisioned and therefor has to constantly remind herself that every horse and every partnership is different.

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.” Most people think patience is passive waiting, but it’s not. Patience is an active acceptance of the process needed to reach your goals and dreams. Markway reminds fellow amateurs to go for the stars, as long as they recognize they likely won’t arrive at their goal immediately.

Unrealistic Goals

Successful amateurs often have to sacrifice unrealistic goals in favor of little victories with each ride. Galyean admits that she has “never been successful when her goal was purely to win and that [she] sets goals that [she] can have full control over.”

Instead of saying, “My goal is to win this class,” say something like, “My goal is to have a smooth lope transition” or to “keep a consistent pace around the arena.” These goals are less subjective and thereby, out of your hands, and they make it easier to have the right mindset, both in and out of the ring.

This way, you can celebrate a victory of attaining a goal regardless of the ultimate class placing. And often, the people who focus on personal goals within their control tend to find more success than those who focus on the general purpose of simply “winning.” 

Nelson recommends beginning each new year or show season by making a list of goals for the year and discussing them with your trainer. This will help you make sure you are on the same page while making it more likely to ultimately achieve those goals.

According to legendary basketball coach Pat Riley, “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” So, set a new, more challenging goal with each ride regardless of worrying about the class result, and you will likely find you improve in your own eyes and, in turn, the eyes of the judges. 

Every horse and rider team is different, but with the right balance of practice, confidence, positive attitude, patience, and appropriate goals, you will find your success.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our 3 part series on making sacrifices. Next up is trainers.


About the Author:  Megan Rechberg has been riding horses on-and-off since she was in sixth grade. Megan is currently taking a break from practicing law to raise her kids (Jackson and Sterling), and she spends her free time riding her APHA all-around mare HOOs From Heaven under the guidance of Katie Wagner Show Horses.

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