Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Horse Show Numbers are (gasp!) Declining

There are a couple articles swirling around "the socials" right now about the decline in participation at USEF horse shows.

The mind, she is boggled!

Or like.

Not.
#baller
One of the posts I saw was written by a thoughtful local pro who I have a lot of respect for, so I wrote the following:

"It’s been years since I’ve taken a horse in the show ring and if I get back to it, I don’t see myself joining organizations and showing rated. The cost is so high and the competitor experience is not great. Why would I spend hundreds of dollars to wear white spandex for a couple minutes and sweat my ass off only to be told that my safe, appropriate horse isn’t as fancy as a much fancier horse?

I find my competitive outlets other places and while I enjoy my horse, I have no interest in getting back to showing."

There was a lot of discussion, but another person came back with two things:

  1. Amateurs are too fixated on winning
  2. Amateurs who aren't winning blame their non-fancy horse instead of their own poor riding
I'd like to discuss these responses just a little. 



1. Winning fixation-as the other poster illustrated, people run 5ks with no expectation of ever winning. Why should they expect to win at dressage? 

Let's talk about this a little. 

Running is a sport with a very low barrier of entry financially. You can do it with things you already have around the house. You can spend a lot or you can spend a little. For the sake of discussion, let's focus on the full-time worker who runs nights and weekends for fun and does 5-10 5ks a year. 

They pay $30-100 to run a race. At that race, they can wear anything they feel like running in (barefoot in shorts and a sports bra? fine. designer shoes, olympic branded gear, heart rate monitor? equally fine.) They get a tech fabric shirt, a finisher medal, post-race snacks, and frequently a meal or beverage. There's a start time and every participant can set objective time goals and work towards them. 

If their friends or family want to come watch, there is a start time and a published route. Cheering and participation is encouraged. If they have plans after, the whole day is typically ahead of them. If the family wants to participate, hey, they can.
  • This person will literally never win a 5k unless they are over 70 years old. 
  • This person will never appear on the "national running scene".
  • This person will have the full running experience, probably including a couple of irritating injuries that will result in a few days away from work over their career
they may get a wild hair and run a half marathon too
And how does horse showing stack up? 

Riding is a sport with a very high barrier of entry. Whether you own or lease, you need a horse. The horse needs to live somewhere. You need appropriate tack and gear for the horse, a way to get the horse to and from competitions, and a bevy of memberships to be allowed at the competitions.

And this is for the nights and weekends rider who wants to do 5-10 shows a year. 

We're going to talk about recognized/rated horse shows since these are the ones squealing about diminished participation. Participants pay $150-500/day in show fees just to the show (not including coaching/stabling/hauling/grooming/schooling/etc). The participant (and the horse) have to wear approved outfits and the person in charge can literally wave around a color wheel and kick a rider out out for being a shade off. If the person wins the horse show, they get a $2-$5 ribbon with no cash value. Maybe a wine glass. If they don't win, hopefully there was a peppermint in the competitor pack that they can suck on. They can try to set individual score goals, but since judging is ultimately subjective and influenced by trends and the class around them, they may or may not meet the goals. (You ride Backyard Betty after Hopfenschnerflgard the Import? -5 for looking worse in comparison. Whoops. Too bad your ride had to be scheduled around multiple trips in the ring for the ammy with 3 imports who's competing in multiple divisions and worth way more money to the show organization than you ever will be!)  

If your friends or family want to come watch, they will have to show up to a multi-hour event that is nearly always behind schedule. They will be subjected to a complicated set of expectations for the horse show spectator and ignored at best, or (likely) mocked, hushed, and glared at for not following the intricate social mores of a rarefied upper class club. If they have plans after, too bad. The event will go all day. If they still want to participate after all that, the barrier of entry is just as high as it was for the first person.
  • This person might win a class here and there because hey, participation is declining and sometimes your competition gets the flu!
  • This person will never appear on the "national riding scene".
  • This person will always know that they aren't a "true equestrian" because their middle class life requires they have a real job and health insurance, which precludes long hours at the barn. 
  • This person runs the chance of a catastrophic injury from being around horses which could result in weeks or months away from that all-important job. 
oh hai decently fancy ribbon
TL:DR USEF shows come with very high costs and little to no reward. Running 5ks is much more competitor and spectator friendly. 

2. Non-winning amateurs on affordable horses who ride on nights and weekends and take a weekly lesson should blame their own riding instead of the fact that they got beat by a purpose-bred sport horse that cost more than their house ridden by an-equally motivated amateur who trains 5-7 days a week with the best trainer money can pay for in a sport that literally takes a lifetime to understand.

If you say there isn't a divide here, I don't know what to tell you. It's a money sport. The people who can afford top of the line horses, get more show ring experience, and ride with better pros are not less motivated than you are and yup, they're going to beat you every out. 

And they should. They literally paid for the privilege.

They're better than you (at this sport). A lot of them are great humans and they work hard at it and that's nothing to be ashamed of. 
i'm being a dik dik again
There's not a whoooooole lot of point in paying money to go get your subjectively-judged ass handed to you to the tune of your mortgage payment per weekend when you literally don't have a chance. (Unless you're short on wine glasses? Even then I feel like amazon prime might be a better shot if you want a matched set.) 

So yeah. If you want to be blamed for not having enough money to compete in a moneysport that's literally populated by the Eve Jobs, Jennifer Gates, and Georgina Bloombergs of the world, I mean, there's always USEF shows! 
Sound off, internet. Why am I wrong?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Changes

 Once upon a time, I was a super good equestrian with goals and metrics and measurables and I took all the lessons and went all the places and lived and breathed horses. 
can you even with how cute she is
I am not that right now.

Last year, I really struggled with horses and riding because I cannot sink that kind of time and energy into so I cannot ride at the level that I am accustom. Which means. Riding isn't competitive. It's supposed to be fun. Fun is great I guess but there are a lot of cheaper ways to have fun.

Plus like.

If you've ever been pretty good at something and then you're not so good at it and when you're doing it, you know the problem is you and you can't fix it?

It's hard to want to keep doing it. 
even at her shaggy moose-i-est
But see.

I've had a lot of horses and been around a lot more.

And I know that she's the sort of horse you only meet once or maaaaaybe twice in a lifetime, if you're very lucky.
trot 2 circles. jump like whoa. toodle bareback.
Sinking the time and money into shows and clinics right now sounds completely asinine to me. 

Developing a well-mannered, confident and happy all-around horse is always in good taste though. 

And do you know how I develop an all around horse? 

I do all the things.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

This Was Unexpected

You guys. The weirdest thing happened. 

I wanted to ride my horse. 

Not in like the sort of abstract "I miss the way it used to feel when I was competent" that is pretty normal, but in like a concentrated "I'm going to put my pants on and go mess with my horse in the cold tonight" sort of way. 
baseline. zero fitness, 100% yak hair.
With everything going on in life, I have not felt that way in a while. One of the biggest life skills I've been focusing on is just letting things be and not constantly trying to fix everything. Since I haven't felt like riding, I haven't ridden. 

We did take really cute Christmas pictures. I've been out to toodle around bareback and pet her nose and drop off checks. She's been good, don't get me wrong, but I was definitely starting to see the little things that meant she needed more. A little rude on the ground, a little sluggish on her back. Plus, every time I saw her, I was kind of rushed and going through the motions.

Gee, correlation much? 
I'm getting that familiar itch to ride and train and (haha) shop for pony things again. We're starting slow with some much needed ground work and team building time.

I'm excited to see where we go. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Decade in Review

So uh I've been blogging a really long time and even though I wrote less posts this year than I used to write in a month, blogging still brought some of the greatest people into my life. Because of those people, I present: the decade in review, sprinklerbandits edition.

Here goes:
2010 this looks... way more pleasant than it was
In 2010, I was newly back into riding as an adult amateur. I was fresh out of college and took on a (black 6 year old) spoiled warmblood mare as a project. The goal was eventing, so we did a little of everything.

2011 yeaaaaaah i was completely terrified in this picture
2011 brought lessons and a major wreck and broken bones and moving in with a trainer and learning that my horse was all wrong for me and then meeting the horse that was so, so right for me.

2012 with this stud
In 2012, everything came together for a few glorious moments. I was in love with a giant red horse and we showed and lessoned and trail rode and played and I'll always remember that time as one of the best ever. <3
2013 this photo always makes me laugh
2013 brought an opportunity to work on the racetrack and meet new (bay) faces. Of course one of those faces came home with me.
2014 this one time we looked competent haha
It's weird to me that 2014 was five years ago. I quit my job at the barn (s), started being an adult with a career, lost my beloved Cunafish, and had some high highs and low lows with Courage.
2015 because Alyssa is the actual best
In 2015, I was determined to make showing happen. We went to every. single. show. at the lowest level available and I won this giant ribbon that I'm still proud of, haha. Good friends and fun adventures and yeaaaaah apparently you can get eliminated by refusals in a ground poles class. Now you know.
2016 football and dressage 
By 2016, I finally figured out that I should quit jumping C. Then I quit a lot more things. This picture is probably his best dressage moment ever and he looks so damn sexy and he so wasn't happy and I wasn't happy and things were about to fall apart real hard.
2017 a steampunk princess
Basically the only thing that went right in 2017 was getting a baby percheron mare that wasn't even started under saddle. Courage found an incredible new home, I made career changes, and Alyssa took some of my favorite photos of all time.

2018 when one photo is your whole year
2018 accelerated the changes that had been rumbling. My personal life fell apart while my professional life took off and my constant was my curvy baby mare. I took about 4 lessons and never went to a horse show.

2019 a whole new perspective
I spent most of 2019 getting on my feet and my beloved ZB had to take a back seat while I sorted things out.

I'm rolling in to 2020 with a black 6 year old mare and a whole new perspective on life, the universe, and everything, haha. I still have a someday goal of a bronze medal, a shorter-term goal of organizing a horse-soccer team at my barn, and an every-day goal of becoming a better human and horseman in whatever direction we go.

I wouldn't hold your breath for horse show domination this year, but maybe we'll take some lessons and get back on the bus.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Courage: The Aftermath

I saw Courage the other day.
creeper status
Teresa was here and we drove past his owner's place. He was out in the field with a buddy. He was as stunning as ever.

The thing that struck me the most was his topline.
on-track thoroughbred
3 years post-track thoroughbred
Courage was short coupled and upright and always SO TIGHT through his neck and back. I became the subject matter expect on suppling the anxious horse who held tension right in front of his withers. We did dressage exercises and trail exercises. I learned to use poles and terrain and lateral work and all kinds of things to help him. 

I did everything I knew how to do. I used all my resources to find new ways to help him. 

He built a fantastic neck for a thoroughbred and had a lot of cool buttons, but he was always .05 seconds away from an up-periscope and hard spin/bolt.
you've all seen enough photos of that so let's look at this adorable smoosh instead
So the other day, I saw Courage for the first time in two years. He's a trail horse now--he'll never have to go in a frame and be under pressure again. He spends most of his days out in a big, grassy pasture.

And after two years, that tension is gone.

He looked like a horse.

Loose.

Comfortable.
yup we're back to zb pictures
It was a strangely harmonious moment for me--not just because a horse I cared about for so long is absolutely thriving, but because of what it meant.

I'm a classic overachiever and so much of the past couple years for me has been learning to let go and accept what happens, even if it's messy.
definitely messy

Letting go of Courage felt like giving up in so many ways.

Both of us are in a better place now because of it.

We were never going to get there and pushing and struggling and training and drilling and trying.


I let him go.

A horse that suited me better came my way.

A series of dominos cascaded that I never could have planned.

Sometimes I ask myself if I fought too hard and tried for too long. If asking that was fair to him. If I should have let go sooner. If I shouldn't have posted those fail photos. If there was something else that would have just made it work. If someone else could have done it better.

If I did him a disservice.


I'll never know.

I know that some people try that hard and go that far and they succeed. I know some horses come back from the brink. They grow into lovely performance horses and their people are applauded for what they accomplished.

But I also know that sometimes they don't. Sometimes the struggle isn't worth it. Sometimes the mountain wasn't meant to be overcome. Sometimes the pasture in the valley really is the destination.

Sometimes, failing is the best thing you can do for both of you.

I failed.

Because of that failure, Courage looks better than he ever has. He's living his best life now and he's free to be the horse I always believed he could be.

Because I failed, I spend my time with the smooshiest baby horse who I absolutely adore. We jump and we trail ride and we toodle and we dressage and we play barbies and we laugh.

I'll never be the person I was before Courage. 

I'll never be able to thank him enough for what he taught me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Achievement Unlocked

There's no question that my smooshy baby horse is a very special horse. The whole point of that "ruthlessly exclude" ethos and enlisting particular people to help me find her was to find the creature who fits my life right now.

And like. 
the only reason she didn't buck me off is cookies

I thought I knew what I was doing, but life is never quite what I expect. The little lady went from twice a week training backed up by 2-3 days a week with me to not anything. I dropped her out of training (because money is a thing) and quit showing up to the barn (because jobs are a thing) and since early this spring, she's been on a 1-2 toodles a month schedule. 
can you even with the cuteness level here?

But then September came around and I a little bit got my shit together. 

For the past 3ish weeks, I've been riding 3-4 days a week. Which, if you know how math works, you know is not very many rides. And also--those rides were things like "toodle bareback", "meet Teresa", "practice trotting on a loose rein in the field", and "JOMPING TIME". 
ZB R TEACHES MONKEY LESSONS

Which, whatever. Reality is a thing I live in and hey, drafties are supposed to grow until they're 8 and she's 6 so no rush here. 

I guess to me, that makes it even more cool to watch what a ZB can do on this schedule. 

Once this spring, I got a wild hair and popped Zoe over some crossrails. And she was adorable. 

Then a few weeks ago, I was like "what fun, let's do that again".
remember summer?
And she was adorable again. 

And then last week, I was like "yeah let's have this be a thing" because y'know. Variety. Fun. 
<3
So yeah, that's Zoe jumping like... her 15th jump ever. Seriously. When we jump, I just put up a crossrail, pop over it, tell her she's wonderful, and move on. And by move on, I mean the first time we jumped, it was over the same crossrail like 3 times. The second time it was a different crossrail maybe 4 times, and the latest time was TWO crossrails, a total of about 7 jumping efforts.

It's fun. It's easy. It's simple. And then we leave it alone.

Remember dressage? 

I sort of do. After we'd had a couple rides this fall, I tried picking up the reins and doing that whole "riding" thing. 
in a jump saddle because reasons

She was rusty. I was rusty. Canter is definitely a work in progress because oh yeah, fitness is a thing.
maybe next year i'll learn to sit the canter
Then we left it alone, again. Next ride was a bareback toodle with no goals or agenda. Primary skills worked on were "eating cookies" and "smooshing".

We're back on our winter schedule of late night rides with my best barn buddy and the other night, before she got on, I chucked my phone at her to grab some video and hopefully get a screenshot with our fancy boots on. 

I put my leg on.

Zoe went forward.

I picked up the reins. 

Zoe moved softly into the contact. 
We stepped up into the trot. 
there actually is video buuuut guess who hasn't done anything with it
I finished that ride grinning like an idiot. 

It is so cool to be on this journey with her. To focus on the relationship and having fun and being realistic about our trajectory. To give her time to grow up and me space to live life and then start to understand that the panicked flailing and pressure and struggles of past horses really just don't matter.

Not to her and not to me. 

She's the nicest horse I've ever had. 

We're doing better than we've ever done. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Here We Are

It's been a weird year. I used to be such a compulsive, 5-7 days a week, all-horses-all-the-time sort of person. 
<3
I'm not anymore.

I'm ok with that about myself.
she's not exactly suffering
except from a lack of cwd boots
we fixed that problem
I've come to realize, that for me, filling my time with horses was distracting me from things I needed to address. Accomplishments with horses were making up for serious failings in my personal life. Relationships swirling around horses filled a void of loneliness that I couldn't acknowledge existed.
approach

jump!
land
I've had to address all those things head on.

0/10 recommend on the process, but 10/10 on the outcome.

I have never ridden less.

I have never understood more.
this view
Zoe is amazing for so many reasons, and I have never needed her more. Instead of the horse that caters to my neurosis, she's the one that meets me in the middle. She whinnies at me when I show up and she's game for anything, whether I'm out every day or once a month.

We tried a couple lease situations and found out that while for me, Zoe is the Best Horse Ever (tm), she's not into sharing. I dropped her out of training and found out that while training is nice (and fitness is not a thing she holds on her own), life is a thing we can do together without professional help.
also sunset shots ftw
I'm committed to my career right now, so horses take a back burner. I don't have all the latest and greatest toys (uhhhhh I mean more on that later). I travel a lot, I work a lot, I ride very little.

My focus has changed--instead of my emotional health every day hinging on whether a caged flight animal performs to my subjective expectations, I take a step back. I can love my horse and be ok if we have bad days.
or if our day is "play king of the mountain" on new footing
If we don't show.

If we don't lesson.

If things aren't perfect.
pats for the best mare
To me, a good day is showing up to see my adorable baby horse. Laughing at the goofy faces she makes when I curry her. Brushing her long mane. Sitting on her broad back and knowing we're both going to be ok.

She's the nicest horse I've ever owned.

I do less with her than any horse I've ever had.
awww baby mare <3
I'm more at peace than I've ever been.
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