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What To Do At Your First Show

You’ve chosen your discipline, you’ve thought about the level you want to enter, you’ve chosen a venue, bathed and plaited your horse, packed up the car and hitched up the trailer… what do you do next?!

Here comes the exciting part - the day of the show! You wake up with nervous jitters, run down to your horses stable to load up… and find she has a giant poo stain on one side. The golden rule of competing a horse in any discipline is PLANNING. In the previous blog, How To Plan For Your First Show, we talked about all aspects of planning except one thing - the day of the show. I like to make a schedule of the day worked backwards, so that I can plan for any and all complications. You wouldn’t want to pay all those entry fees and end up being late, or not being able to compete because you forgot your girth (I actually did this once, painful memories and a waste of £70 on entries) - so make the schedule!

Start by considering the time you need to actually be in the ring. What time does your class start? Then work backwards to how much time you’d need to warm up, and prior to that how long it will take you to tack up and get ready - allow for extra time if you need to do things like turnout for a show (Sprite wears black face makeup and chalk when showing for example but I wouldn’t do this for dressage so it doesn’t take as long to get her ready). Backwards from that, what’s the journey time? Is it mostly motorways, or are there country lanes - how will taking a horse affect your speed, have you accounted for any traffic? Before you leave, how much time do you need to get ready - is your horse good at loading or will you need to allocate extra time? An obvious way to save time is to pack the night before, I will usually hitch up the trailer the night before if I can as well. Do you need to plait up if it’s dressage/showing - I usually allocate an hour for this because I like to thread my plaits and it takes a bit longer, but have a practice if this is your first time plaiting and see how long it takes you. And the all important one for me… do you need to bath your pony in the morning, and if so, how long will it take to bath and dry? The obvious answer for me is always YES because Sprite is disgusting, and even if it’s xc I can’t face turning up with a giant poo stain down one side. However, it might be that your horse is fairly clean, and if it’s winter it could wear a rug overnight the night before to keep clean, so emergency washing the day of the show will be minimal (lucky you).

It’s really easy on show days (particularly if it’s your first) to let the nerves take over and be all-consuming. I find that having my plan and my schedule of the day really helps me to feel prepared, and therefore more relaxed - generally a much nicer human being for my friends/family/grooms to be around! Of course there will always be performance-related nerves, but you’ve got there, you’re done the best that you can and so has your horse, so you can’t ask for more than that. The best thing a show will give you is an experience of areas you need to improve on - I always come away thinking about how I can improve for the next time, not in a hyper-critical ‘I wish I did this’ way, but from a genuine educational perspective - if my horse wasn’t confident at xyz, do we need to go to more schooling of xyz thing to help combat it? Do I need help from an instructor on abc topic? In Sprite’s case, I discovered early on that she has separation anxiety, so going to shows can be a big ask for her, and I now find ways to try and make her as comfortable as possible so that she can actually enjoy it and then we both have fun.

The biggest advice I can give you for your first show is to try and enjoy it as much as possible. Don’t take it too seriously, laugh at yourself if you accidentally forget your dressage test halfway round or your horse runs out at the first fence, and chalk it all up to experience if you get eliminated. If you end up winning the show, then wow congratulations! Always try and take something positive away from the experience, and well done for putting yourself out there in the first place! Go get it!

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