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It’s Not a Comeback, It’s a Return: Five Tips for Returning to Showing After Years Away

Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about showing horses is that it is the type of activity where it is possible to return to the pen after many years away. Most sports have a short lifespan where the chances of a successful career are limited to a finite timeframe. However, many top horsemen have taken a showing hiatus and returned to find success later in life.

We spoke to returning amateur Christy Lenhart, who just made headlines for her purchase of the successful show mare VS Whole Lotta Lucy, aka Candy, for tips for returning to the show pen after many years away.

Do Your Homework

Like any activity in which the participant has spent time away, it is important to do your research on the current state of the industry in order to be in a position to return.

“For me, it was very helpful to remain in touch with my old contacts from my prior show days. I was blessed in that my daughter continued showing, so staying in touch was fairly easy,” Lenhart admits. “But for those who haven’t stayed in contact, most people are happy to reunite with an old friend and chat horses. It’s important to ask people you trust or have a rapport with for their recommendations on trainers and showing and who to buy horses from.”

Christy believes that social media has been both a blessing and a curse for the horse industry, but it can be very helpful when looking into trainers or sellers. “People, for better or worse, seem way more willing to share bad experiences online. Now, if a seller or trainer gives a long-distance client a bad experience, the internet knows, whereas before, that may not have been known. This makes it easier to ‘learn up’ on people before doing business with them.”

Lastly, Lenhart reminds readers, “Doing your research doesn’t mean letting somebody tell you what you want or need, whether that be in a horse, or tack, or a trainer. Instead, consider their recommendations and do your research, try it out, and make sure it actually is a good fit for you as an individual.

Find the Right Barn

Another step in making a successful return to the show pen is finding the right trainer and barn family to both set you up for success, and make it an enjoyable experience.

Lenhart believes that finding the right fit in a barn requires you consider the following: (1) Do I like their training style? (2) Do I like the way the horses are treated? (3) Are they finding consistent success in the areas I wish to compete? (4) Can I fit in well with the people already in their show string?

I lucked out when I showed in my previous life because I was married to a horse trainer, so I didn’t have to put a lot of thought into it,” Lenhart laughs. “However, now, I’m in a position of finding the right place for my horse and me, which I think is one of the biggest decisions you can make.

Lenhart says that one key factor in helping her make her decision to keep VS Whole Lotta Lucy with Jay and Kristy Starnes was that their peers spoke so highly of them. Indeed, one thing that hasn’t changed since Lenhart left the pen is the fact that your reputation matters.

“I decided on the Starnes because many of the people I trusted in the industry spoke well of them and their program. Candy was already having success with them and they know her well. So, after doing my research, it felt like the best decision to keep Candy there and I’m very excited about our future together under the guidance of Jay and Kristy.”

Watch the Classes

Another important tip for returning to the pen after years away is to actually watch the major shows to get a sense of what the industry looks like now and how it has changed.

“It is so important to have an idea of what is consistently winning in your chosen discipline. I like to watch the pleasure classes to get a sense of who the ‘big players’ are and decide what I like about them and want to emulate,” Lenhart says.

“I think it is so important to find inspiration in which horses and exhibitors catch your eye in the pen so that you can make that your goal and develop a plan for achieving it,” Lenhart explains.

“Years ago, I fell in love with Vital Signs Are Good because I always thought she made it look so easy and was truly a pleasure to watch. I’ve followed her progeny and liked that they had that same effortless way about them. This is why, when I decided to return to showing, I had my eye on something from that line.”

Be Aware of the Trends

One of the most obvious changes to the industry over time are the trends: from tack, to bloodlines, to show clothes, even to the crease and height of the hat – it changes from year to year, but these incremental changes are dramatic after many years away.

Lenhart cautions, “You don’t want to date yourself by returning to the pen with everything that was popular when you were showing. Sometimes I look at old pictures of myself and laugh because the ‘look’ has changed so much.”

To prepare yourself for a return, Lenhart recommends that you, “Study your magazines, like GoHorseShow, and see what the people who are winning are wearing. See what their tack style is like. See what colors they are using for horses similarly colored to your own.”

This doesn’t mean you need to go out and spend a fortune on all-new apparel and tack, but finding items that don’t make you stand out for the wrong reasons is helpful. There are many second-hand tack shops that allow returning exhibitors to find discounts on items that are still in style.

Know Thyself

Finally, Christy advises that it is very important to know yourself and how your interests and your body have changed since you last showed. Lenhart used to show the all-around. However, after much consideration, she decided that wasn’t her goal upon her return.

I kicked around doing the all-around, but when I thought about it more seriously, I realized I honestly don’t want to be showing all day anymore. I don’t want to be exhausted at the end of the day and I also don’t want to have to catch up on the trends across multiple disciplines. I decided I wanted to find one or two things that I could really put effort into being good at and go with that.”

Lenhart admits, “The harsh reality is that I’m older and my leg isn’t what it used to be. Riding seems to have become so much more physical, so, for me, the better decision was to be more realistic about what I could accomplish and then go all out toward that more limited goal.”


Loving horses and the desire to compete with them is often not easily disregarded for true horsemen. Thankfully, our industry is one that allows life to happen while still being welcoming to those wanting to return.

About the Author:  Megan Rechberg has been riding horses on-and-off since she was in sixth grade. She works as a full-time mom to son Jackson and daughter Sterling, part-time litigation attorney, and social media manager for up-and-coming APHA stallions. She will be showing her yearling APHA SmoreThanA PrettyFace under the guidance of Double A Performance Horses in 2023.