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Five Rules to Live by When Showing Horses

Need some horse show inspiration? Some of the industry's leading exhibitors helped compile the horse show version of rules to live by when showing horses.

Showing horses can be a way of life. But, behind the glitz and glamour, there are obstacles that every equestrian faces.

During these challenges, losing sight of what is important can be easy. We talked to some of the industry’s leading professionals and amateurs who shared their opinions on “five rules to live by while showing horses.”

These rules can serve as a guideline for how to handle those challenges and keep moving forward.

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#1 NEVER BLAME YOUR HORSE
Amateur, Jenna Tolson
Quite honestly, there will be times when your horse will give you the middle finger in a class. We’re humans. They’re the animals. To expect them to be machines is ridiculous. Horses, like humans, have off days and can be affected by numerous factors, like their environment, health, and even our own emotions. So, right off the jump, we need to manage our expectations about the consistent performance of an animal.  

Blaming the horse offers no benefit. It represents a closed mindset because you give up the ability to control the future. Instead, ask yourself, “What could I do differently or better so this doesn’t happen next time?” Reflect on what you can improve in your training, communication, or preparation. By adopting a mindset of accountability and growth, I believe you stay in the driver’s seat and have a clearer path to success.

You (or your team) must figure out the horse. Not the other way around.

#2 SEEK OUT CHALLENGES
Professional, Chad Evans
There are so many variables and challenges in showing horses – factors that can’t be controlled: weather, your horse’s mood, and the environment of the show facilities. All the things that make showing horses fun and challenging! My goal is to seek out improvements. Can I prepare my horse better? Would an extra ride help me get to a better place? Or, should I leave it where I am now and show what I have?

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Am I doing my homework? Getting my horse physically fit to do the maneuvers correctly?

The team that supports you and your horse – your trainer, your partner, your family, your friends – can all play a great role in your success, and developing that team is a HUGE piece of the puzzle. But, own up to the personal accountability: have you done your best, prepared your best, and developed rituals that make you your best competitor? Take the time and effort to get your head space right to do your best.

The challenge I seek is continued improvement. Can I improve this maneuver while maintaining the quality of the others? Most importantly, enjoy the horse and the sport. What we get to do is a blessing; be mindful of your progress.

#3 FOCUS ON THE SMALL WINS
Professional, Nancy Cahill
That doesn’t mean you have to be the class winner. It could be as small as finally perfecting a maneuver that has given you problems. That is a win if it was 51% better than the last time you tried it. From there, you build on the skills you have been working on until you assemble a run with all the components of your goal.

Everyone must start somewhere, and you learn from not only doing, but also watching how others make things look easy and trying to emulate those skills. You also must be your own critic. You are the only one who knows what you are trying to improve on, and you also know when all the things you have worked on finally come together. It takes a lot of practice and teamwork with your horse to get to the place you are proud of.

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#4 DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS
Amateur, Emma Edwards
When competing, it’s easy to compare yourself to others, but it’s important to remember that every horse and rider team has their journey! I like to focus on my progress with my horse and celebrate the little victories and improvements.

When you stop comparing and appreciating your progress in and out of the show pen, you find a better sense of accomplishment and confidence in what you’re doing. At the end of the day, your biggest competition is yourself.

#5 BE HUMBLE
Professional, Whitney Vicars
If you’ve shown horses, odds are you’ve found it to be a humbling experience. Our sport is unique because we have a living, breathing animal as our teammate or partner. The horse has a mind and sometimes has ideas very different from ours.

I’ve found that they will throw something new at you when you think you’ve figured a horse out. It takes years to know your horse inside and out, and even then, they can still surprise you. There are so many variables in showing horses, and it’s always evolving and improving, so I don’t think anyone can truly say they’ve fully “arrived” and mastered everything there is to riding. This is also why we all keep coming back for more!

Our industry has become so elite that the smallest details separate the top few. If you underestimate your competitors, you foolishly set yourself up for failure. Many people work very hard and have been blessed with extremely talented equine athletes; therefore, giving due respect to others helps us stay humble.

Keep things in perspective and remember how blessed we are to be able to do what we do; not everyone has this opportunity. Remembering that we never know what tomorrow holds, being present today, and enjoying the moment should help us stay humble and grateful!

“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” -John Wooden

By remembering these rules, equestrians can navigate horse-showing with grace and resilience.


About the Author: Kendall Lance is a third year at the University of California, Davis, studying Communications and Professional Writing. Along with her studies, she serves as the Horsemanship captain of UC Davis’ Division One Equestrian team and Communications Director of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Before entering college, she showed the all-around at AQHA and APHA competitions.
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