Why do we show?

Cardoon is ready

Cardoon says he’s ready for whatever today brings…as long as I remember to ride.

Cardoon, Kevin, Murphy and I are all happily ensconced in the campground at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Virginia for this year’s Region 1 GAIG Championship show.  I feel pretty awesome that we qualified at Third Level, although with 27 people in our class today, some of them with lots more experience and frankly, far fancier horses, I’m not going into this expecting a ribbon.

Which made me think on my drive down here – why do we show?

So much of horse sport, especially for the amateur, doesn’t involve prize money or other exciting prizes.  In dressage, you’re lucky if you get a ribbon that’s worth $1.25.  This summer, when I was reserve champion in the Sport Horse Amateur Challenge, I won a big fancy neck ribbon and a saddle pad.  It was pretty cool…but in reality, what does it mean? I do decorate my home office with my championship and end-of-year ribbons, but they’re still just ribbons and not something useful – like money.

Purpose – For myself, showing gives me a goal, a purpose for each and every ride.  Each level is a benchmark for progress and the next level to be attained.  When I know I have a show coming up, I’m just that little bit more motivated to really make Cardoon sharp to my aids, or jump into each flying change just a little bit more.  I think without a show goal, I get a little complacent.

Camaraderie – Then too, there’s the social aspect of it, especially now that I’ve left boarding and keep my horses at home.  Time at a show is a fun, friend-filled weekend doing something we all love, together.  As crazy as horse people can be, they can also be quite a lot of fun. When you’re really lucky, the weather cooperates and this weekend in particular can be one of the magic fall weekends where the air is crisp, the leaves are changing, and you’re able to enjoy golden fall sunshine in the mountains of Virginia.

Human Nature – As much as I often think I’m not really that competitive, I really am.  I like to test myself against other, and see where I compare.  Not being at the top is OK with me.  But getting a sense of what I do well versus what others do well or better is helpful in addressing my training goals.

Experience – All that said, none of those reasons quite answered for me why I’m showing at this show, this year.  Money is tight, and even though we bring the Airstream and camp, it’s not as though that makes a huge financial difference.  And like I said, I’m far from a sure bet for a ribbon in my Finals class.

What I realized in my musings on this subject during the drive is that what I’m really seeking this year is experience.  Cardoon and I have been together for three full years now and I know how to ride him at shows.  Unfortunately, for some reason I usually fail to dig really deep and give him the ride he needs to display the talents he has.  I also occasionally completely forget to ride at some point after my initial salute, adopting the Jesus-take-the-reins approach to certain movements.

My riding and ability to really dig in at home and fight for the collection and precision that is needed for third level and above has improved dramatically in the past two months.  Add to that the fact that Cardoon has made huge strides in strength and his ability to carry, and one would think that we could be in contention.  You never know…we could be, but I need to remember to ride once I go down centerline.

So, we’re entered in three classes this weekend – all aimed at being a better show rider. My goal is to fight for every movement and make sure that I’ve ridden to the absolute best of my ability.  I’m not going to give in to the gorilla arms, hunching forward, or climbing up Cardoon’s neck in the changes that haunt me when I get insecure or forgetful.

All in the hopes that we’ll come home with another pretty ribbon that I’m not too proud to admit still makes me smile like a little kid, even at the age of 40.


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