The First Competition

A couple of weeks ago I joined a group of inspiring women for the first dressage competition of the season. We had beautiful spring days at Otter Creek Farm in Wisconsin, graciously void of rain and bugs. I went as honorary horse show mom, driver, reader, cheerleader, and treat giver. (Diego and I will make our debut in a month.) While I had wished I was riding, it was fulfilling to assist friends and get a feel for a new year of competition as a spectator.

Highs and Lows

There is so much to learn during competition. It is where we test all of our training and knowledge, our patience, and the ability to adjust. There are high highs and low lows, often within the space of a few minutes. It is thrilling and exhausting at the same time. There is always a takeaway from every ride, and in the process itself.

Each test in dressage can contain brilliant and embarrassing moments. The stellar halt that receives a high score and the forgotten back up come together in an emotional rollercoaster lasting five to seven minutes.  We can be ecstatic about how (amazingly) compliant our horse is, and still get a comment from the judge asking for more. Someone has to breathe through nerves with a brand new gelding, and another laughs through the snarky bucks their pony throws in for fun. Everyone is experiencing each moment vividly in the ring, which is one of the reasons we do it.

As spectators, we find ourselves clucking in encouragement, moving our hands on invisible reins, and stepping into a foot as we literally ride with our friends in the arena. There are exciting moments when we whisper, “yes!” And there are the collective “ooohhhs” when the horse runs away with our friend as they go off course and get the dreaded whistle from the judge.  We wipe boots, feed sugar to create foamy muzzles, straighten numbers, remember to take off Cee Coaches and wraps, provide water, encourage and smile, and congratulate no matter what the outcome with a “Good riding!” It takes guts to go out there and give it all with an equine partner, regardless of the level and experience.

Competition Community

The entire group improved throughout the weekend. That first day out during the first competition is always like turning a rusty crank, but by the end of the event, everyone was in a rhythm. Scores went up, the ribbons gathered on the stalls, and the stories were recounted.

Not only did the performances take on a shine as the days passed, we also all developed a deeper bond with our horses and a strong sense of community flourishes. Taking care of your horse full time during a show really strengthens your bond with them. The feedings, grooming, braiding, grazing, polishing, mucking out, and night checks are a joy when you see that your mare is looking for you, or when the seasoned gelding nickers for treats as you walk by. We all pitch in and help, building relationships, accumulating lessons from everyone’s knowledge.

There is also time to find out what your horse friends actually do for a living, what their other interests are outside of horses, (blasphemous I know!), and what their reflections of their rides are, picking up tips and tricks as you listen. Since the Wi-Fi doesn’t work at the show grounds, we all get a break from our outside lives and nerd out on horses all weekend. I really don’t know what could be better.

Cleanliness and Chaos

I love how everyone comes to a horse show extremely organized. All of the tack, grooming tools, feed, and clothing are crisp, clean, and in their place.  There is energy as everyone unloads and sets up their tack stalls, chatting away with people they have not seen all winter. The anticipation is palpable.

As each day passes, the disarray and grunge sneaks in. The sparkling clean horses, neat braids, and spotless breeches gather green spots, flyaway hairs, and grime. Energy ebbs and flows until hauling muck buckets and water to and from our equine partners becomes remarkably heavier than that first day. Saddle cleaner, show sheen, and fly spray wafting through the air give way to manure, sweat, and the musty scent of slightly damp, dirty clothes and blankets. The buzzing conversations as you briskly go about your chores become stolen naps in the car. Observing it all as it unfolds made me smile. This is what we live for.

Itching to Ride

By the end of it all, I just wanted to ride. We all go out there and get it done. The big takeaways are never the scores and the ribbons, but what we learn, the experiences we have as a community and simply being with these amazing animals. My nerves for coming out at grand prix in June have been quelled (for now) with the knowledge that no matter what happens in the ring, I am doing what I love and living in the moment. Next stop, X halt salute.

Keep riding with Equine Diaries!

Note: Everything on this site is based on personal experience and research. We do not profess it to be an absolute truth, as everything can change based on someone’s experience, situation, horse, and background knowledge. If you see something that you feel needs another perspective, or if you would like to add any factual knowledge, please reach out to us with your thoughts and resources. We are open-minded and welcome constructive input.


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