The Rewards & Challenges of Competing as a DIY Exhibitor
There is no rule requiring an exhibitor to work with a trainer to show horses. Still, because of the tremendous level of competition and serious advantages to having a professional on your team, many non-pros have a trainer.
And yet, for reasons from financial limitations to personal preferences, there are non-pros who keep their horses at home, build their show string from scratch, haul, braid, groom, and do everything else on their own.
We caught up with some very successful exhibitors who are long-time do-it-yourselfers to get a sense of the perks and the drawbacks of hacking it out on your own in the competitive horse show world.
Meet the DIY-ers
Sarah Rosciti – Sarah has been riding and showing her entire life. She owns the popular Hunter Under Saddle sire Easy On The Eyez. As a non-pro, Sarah has won the Breeder’s Championship Futurity (HUS), was an NSBA Reserve World Champion (Western Pleasure), and won multiple Congress top 5’s in Hunter Under Saddle and Western Pleasure.
Heather Werkema Smith and Hailey Smith – Heather and Hailey are a mother-daughter duo. Heather is a lifelong AQHA exhibitor who now assists her daughters and Hailey is a sophomore at Caledonia High School who was the 2020 Pinto Youth Highpoint Champion and the PtHA World Show Highpoint winner for the 13 & Under division. In 2021, Hailey competed in her first APHA World Show, where she won 13 & Under Youth Equitation and was named Reserve World Champion in 18 & Under English Disciplined Rail.
Lana Markaway – Lana is a life-long APHA exhibitor with an extensive youth career and was APHA’s #1 Amateur (year-end Top 20 all-around) in 2018. She is currently showing her 2 yr old APHA/AQHA mare (When the Dust Settles/Machromes) in Amateur Showmanship and Hunter Under Saddle events.
Meggen Morrow Baynes – Meggen has been showing for nearly 30 years on the AQHA circuit. In addition to several top 5 year-end national titles, Baynes has earned the Supreme Amateur Performance AQHA Championship Award with her mare, A Sleepy Margarita (her daughter now shows). Meggen currently competes in Amateur Showmanship, Equitation, Horsemanship, and Performance Halter with Iron Hot Maiden. She is also a past-President of the Michigan Quarter Horse Association and has served on several AQHA committees.
Stacey Carleton Miller – Stacey shows APHA and primarily specializes in Hunter Under Saddle futurity events. She was the unanimous Congress Champion in the 2 YO Non-Pro Hunter Under Saddle, and at her first outing at the NSBA World Championship, she was the World Champion in 3YO Non-Pro Hunter Under Saddle. She is currently preparing a longe line prospect who will be her Hunter Under Saddle mount in 2022.
Lindsay McLain – Lindsay has been showing since her youth days and has worked her way through the 4-H ranks to the top levels of APHA competition. She was the #2 APHA Amateur Top 20 All-Around exhibitor in 2020 with her current partner, APHA mare, Al I Wanna Do. She is also an APHA World Champion (Novice Amateur Western Riding) and Reserve World Champion (Amateur Showmanship), in addition to winning many honor roll titles in multiple events. McLain won $7,500 and was named the 2021 Breeder’s Halter Futurity open yearling longe line champion.
Q: Why do you DIY?
Rosciti: We have a breeding farm, so when our horses take their first breath, I am there. I am home on the farm from January through May, so riding that whole time at home is a big plus. It was tough for us to get out to see our horses when they were in training. I like the challenge of bringing new young horses out year-after-year too.
Markaway: I’ve always been lucky to live next door to my horse. I’ve sent a few horses to trainers throughout the years, but unless it was close, it was hard for me to get there to ride and make it back to work.
Hailey Smith: There have been times where we have sent our horses to trainers for a couple of months for some help, but most of the time, they are at my home where we can ride them nearly every day. My mom has the knowledge to put me up to the level I am at today and has been my instructor since day one. Recently, we sent my horse to Mason Lyon at Lyon Performance Horses to learn pleasure driving.
Baynes: I started to DIY nearly 20 years ago. I was hauling for a national high point title and was always on the road. I learned how to be independent. That year, I also got a lot of coaching help from different people around the country, and I found that this was best for me. My horse and I became a team that year because I was the only one who rode him.
McLain: I am a DIY exhibitor mainly for financial reasons. My parents had three girls showing when we were young, and doing it ourselves was the only way to show. Now, paying my way as an adult, the same applies. The costs to go up and down the road with a trainer is out of my budget. Also, I enjoy doing it myself. I enjoy riding daily and knowing everything about my horse. It is a part of my daily life and one that I look forward to each day.
Carleton Miller: I have always been a DIY exhibitor and will probably always be a DIY-er. Mainly because of financial reasons, but now more than the finances. It is because when you do win, it means a lot more to know you have truly done it all or mostly yourself.
Q: What qualities or characteristics are needed to be a successful DIY-er?
Hailey Smith: To be a successful DIY-er, you need patience and a lot of trust in your abilities and your horse. DIY can also be very stressful for yourself. There is no trainer to “fix” your horse when you have a terrible ride, so you have to have some of the knowledge that a trainer would have to fix it yourself. Anybody can DIY, but the successful ones are the ones that know their abilities and knowledge and can see how high they can go with them. They are also people that are always willing to listen and learn from others whenever they have the chance.
McLain: You have to be a dedicated, hard-working, and self-motivated individual. Even on those days when you’re tired or when it’s freezing out, you have to show up because no one else is going to do it for you.
Q: How do you stay sharp, both at home and shows, without a full-time trainer?
Markaway: I watch every video that I have. From the warmup to the show pen, I study it over and over. My mom is a big help and keeps pushing me to stay sharp and with the times.
Carleton Miller: I try to stay sharp by watching live-streamed shows or watching current videos and lectures trainers put out. There are times you do get stuck and unsure what the next step is. That’s when I ask trainers that have helped me, and they always seem willing to give advice.
Baynes: I take lessons, and I get homework. I ask a lot of questions, and I watch a lot of videos. Also, the ability to send videos to those you ask questions of, helps with the “homework” process. There have been times that I wasn’t getting something right at home, and I would send the video to my trainer/coach Adam Winter, and he could tell me what to change based on the video. I also watch training videos.
Q: What are some of the benefits and advantages of being a DIY-er?
Rosciti: I know my horse, and I’m entirely confident when I go into the show pen with them.
McLain: Knowing my horse. I know when she needs to be ridden more or less, etc. Having that connection that is built by doing everything with them, shows off in pattern classes. You can predict how your horse will handle every situation that may arise, and you know how to handle it. I can set a schedule at shows that works for us without being dependent on others.
Markaway: You will know everything about your horse, and you usually know their next move.
Q: What are some of the disadvantages and drawbacks?
Hailey Smith: Sometimes, we do get really busy with school or even just barn chores, and there is just not enough time in the day to ride. My competition’s horse is getting ridden every day by a trainer, while I may be too busy with school or chores to practice.
Carleton Miller: For someone like me, being a DIY-er in all aspects of working the horse, prepping the horse, and braiding or banding the horse, there is not much time at the shows. So, you have to be very good with time management to get it all done. For example, some of my horses rub their mane or do not sleep as well during the night, so their manes have to be done in the morning before you show, which usually makes for a very early morning to be able to have chores done and the horse prepared before showtime.
Q: How do you stay motivated?
Markaway: I stay driven because I love horses and horse shows. I can’t imagine doing anything else. However, I do get burnt out, so sometimes I back off, and the horses need that too from time-to-time. I also set goals. Even if they change throughout the year, I make new ones to keep me going.
Baynes: My daughter motivates me. My current horse is going to be a stepping stone for my daughter. I have been stepping back into more of a horse show mom role, but I continue to ride and show my current horse as my daughter will likely take her over in the next year or two.
Q: How do you make time for it all since you have to do it all (stall cleaning, riding, showing, etc.)?
Heather Werkema Smith: Being at a show without a trainer is usually pretty exhausting for a mom! I am so thankful that Hailey is pretty self-sufficient and can prep herself and her horse with very little help from me. Having a younger kid with a younger horse means I’ve got to prep the horse AND make sure the kid is dressed, with her hair and make-up done.
McLain: It’s all I do outside of work, and I schedule my life around it. I choose not to do other things to ensure I can ride and be prepared for shows. I work all day, and then I am in the barn all evening and on weekends.
Baynes: I am a highly driven, organized person. I have a pretty good internal clock and a sense of how long specific tasks will take. I rarely ever sit down during the day. I am constantly cleaning a stall, filling water, getting my daughter to the show pen, getting myself to the show pen, etc. You have to be organized, and you figure it out.
Carleton Miller: We are usually in the barn by 5:00 am to do chores and typically do not leave the barn until dark. As an aside, I love seeing my horses every morning before you start your day, and honestly, I do not know how people don’t see them but once a day or even less than that!
Do you DIY? Full-time or all the time? If you are or know a hard-working do-it-yourselfer, let us know in the comments.