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Funny Business: Learning to Laugh at Yourself May be the Best Horse Show Medicine

Need a good laugh? Horse showing can be serious business, but learning not to take yourself too seriously can be the best way to reduce anxiety and enjoy the ride.

Let’s be real: horses can elevate us to the pinnacle of achievement…and then drag us back to reality. These humbling moments can either become discouraging nightmares or be fodder for a great laugh and lighten the mood of competition.

Neuropsych Magazine highlighted that researchers have discovered that people who appreciate humor in life experiences tend to have better self-esteem, a more positive affect, greater self-competency, more control over anxiety, and better performance in competition.”

According to psychologist and humor researcher Dr. Arnie Cann, laughter releases dopamine, increases blood flow, and strengthens the heart. Overall, having a good sense of humor leads to increased optimism, which boosts our resiliency and enables us to thrive when faced with adversity.

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We spoke with multiple champion trainer Anthony Leier and amateurs Meg DePalma Pye, Marissa Campbell, and Frankie Hart Sunderland to get their funny, humbling stories. Their stories made us smile, lightened the mood, and reminded us that showing is much more fun when we laugh at ourselves.

“‘Tails From the Yearling Pen with Anthony Leier
Anthony Leier reminds us that we all get our piece of humble pie when dealing with horses – even the professionals. And few horses serve it better than yearlings.

He recalls one particular story that was mortifying at the moment, but it still gives him a good laugh.

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“Back when they had the Reichert Celebration, I had a super-nice longe liner that I was excited to show. Our first direction was fantastic. But, as he was going around the second direction, his tail extension fell out. When he came back around and saw it lying on the ground, he started snorting like a bull and leaped over it about five feet in the air – pulling the longe line right out of my hands. We were disqualified. Good times.”

While the image of your well-prepared yearling catapulting through the air may cause serious anxiety for some, Anthony laughs and acknowledges that they are young and every horse has their day…this one just wasn’t his.

Humble Pye’” with Meg DePalma Pye
“Oh, I’ve had multiple horse stories where a horse served me some humble pie,” Meg chuckles.

“I stumbled at the 2023 Congress in the Amateur Showmanship prelims. I was 20 weeks pregnant, so I was more top-heavy than usual, and my balance was off.”

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“I remember hearing the crowd gasp, and I’m pretty sure my trainer and sister lost years of their lives. Thankfully, we were able to laugh it off, and I was able to pull it together for the finals.”

“Then, at my first show back after having my son Noah, I had a bit of a trail debacle.

We were jogging into the shoot to back the ‘L,’ and my horse caught a glimpse of my husband and son standing against the fence. She found them horrifying and spooked, completely whirling out of the obstacle. The judges laughed, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that my own family was the reason we fell apart,” she sighed. “It happens to the best of us!”

“Just Roll With It with Marissa Campbell
Marissa’s recent show snafu went viral on social media.

I was showing IStyles Investment, aka Lenny at the Mason Dixon Color Classic in both the Open and Amateur 2YO Longe Line. This was my second time showing the class, so I was a little nervous.

She continues, The trail and ranch classes had gone way longer than expected that morning, and we didn’t begin showing our Longe Liners until after 5 pm. My poor guy had about enough horse showing by the time our classes rolled around.

“Our Open go was first, and as I walked some circles while we were ‘on deck,’ Lenny kept pulling his head down to the ground with purpose. I instantly knew what was going through his mind – he wanted to roll!”

I started doing panicked sign language to my pit crew in the stands that he wanted to roll, and all I heard back was, Oh no…’ – super-helpful.”

“About halfway through our jog, his head dropped into the dirt, and his legs started shaking like he was going down. Somehow, I managed to keep him up, save the go, and we finished Reserve overall. I was so relieved that we averted a crisis and was proud we got through it.

“Our next class was the Amateur Longe Line, and we unfortunately drew the last go. Once our time started, I barely got him to make it around one circle when he intentionally tripped, threw his head into the dirt, and laid down to rollLenny’s signature move.

I couldn’t help but laugh in disbelief that he pulled it off in the show pen. He proceeded to roll through the entire time of our longe line go, while the announcer continued to call out our time calls, and he finally got up just as the announcer said time.’”

“The other competitors, the judges, my friends, and almost everyone in the arena laughed hysterically. It’s certainly a moment I’ll never forget, but it’s also humbling. At least I can still laugh at the pictures and videos of it happening.”

Horse Showing Is A Real Trip with Frankie Hart Sunderland
“I remember my humbling moment like yesterday,” Frankie laughs.

“It happened at my very first NSBA World Show in 2021. After winning the Harris L1 Amateur All-around saddle for the Show Your Colors portion, I was on a high, but the horse show gods were ready to humble me!

“During our Showmanship pattern, my horse’s foot barely clipped my heel at the trot, and I crashed into the dirt. The funniest part was that my mind went completely blank. I had practiced that pattern so many times that my body went on autopilot, and I just stood up and finished.

During our inspection, I was trying to smile with the ring steward who was inspecting me, but she was stonefaced serious, and I thought, hmm, maybe I didn’t fall, and it wasn’t so bad?’”

After the class, my best friend Allie and I watched the video, laughing so hard we had tears rolling down our faces. I had fallen and crashed pretty hard into the dirt – there was no disguising that one.”

I believe we have two choices when things like this happen: we can be angry and frustrated or see the humor in it and move on. I immediately saw its humor, and I hope I never take myself or this sport too seriously.

“Later in the week, we were named Reserve NSBA World Champions in the L1 Equitation, so I never let it get me down. It was just one class. However, I was nervous the next time I showed showmanship. I had never worried about falling in showmanship until that day!

***

According to Mark Twain, Humor is the great thing, the saving thing after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, irritations and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

So, remember, when you have to dust your boots off (and jacket and pants) and get back on the horse, we’ve all been there – even the professionals. Mistakes allow us to learn, and they may also reduce our anxiety by helping us lighten up a bit and enjoy the ride…especially after a few stiff drinks and belly laughs.


About the Author:  Megan Rechberg is a World Champion pleasure horse enthusiast who works as a full-time mom, part-time litigation attorney, and owner/operator of Bred N Butter Equine Management – a company that focuses on social media management for stallions, consulting, and sales and breeding contracts. She currently shows her APHA filly SmoreThanAPrettyFace under the guidance of Double A Performance Horses.
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