An Adult Amateur’s Guide to Horse Show Prep

Hi, my name is Olivia, and I’m addicted to lists.

For real though, lists 5ever for EVERYTHING. Grocery lists, chore lists, to-do lists, wishlists, packing lists, I will make a list for everything ever. When I’m overwhelmed at work? I stop and make a list of what needs to get done. Lists are soothing.

But one of my favorite lists that has evolved over the years has been my horse show prep checklist. This has gone through many iterations as I’ve grown and learned- it had its beginnings back in middle school when I was doing the Short Stirrup division.

Back in those days, my trainer would swing by my house to pick me up in the wee hours of the morning. Having inherited the punctuality gene from my non-Greek parent, I was very determined to be ready for him. So ready, in fact, that my morning checklist had times associated with every item. Including putting on socks. That sucker was detailed. 5am: wake up. 5:02am: go to the bathroom. 5:03am: wash face. All the way up to 5:45am: get in the car. Just ask my parents, they saw it all in action.

But I don’t think you’re all interested in how long it took middle-school-me to put on each article of clothing. Instead, here’s how I prep for shows as an adult!

The day before:

  1. Do a nice relaxing ride on the beast. Keep it simple and fairly short and let her stretch around. Some people like to give their ponies the day off before a show, but Beastly and I definitely need that time to have fun together.
  2. Give the Beast a bath. She’s going to roll in mud and poop overnight anyways, but this just feels like something I should do. If nothing else, I try to get her mane and tail a little whiter. Proceed to cry intermittently about how unfair it is that your friend gets to ride a dark bay with ZERO chrome.
  3. Clean tack. I usually keep my tack wiped down and in good condition, so this isn’t too onerous. I’ll be extra careful to condition well so we get a nice gleam on the leather, and I’ll pay attention to any grime built up around buckles and keepers. Then the saddle goes in the cover and the bridle gets put in the bridle bag. (Side note: for me, this process also includes changing bits to the Pelham)
  4. Pack my grooming tote. My trainer has lots of grooming stuff available in the trailer anyways so I don’t get too fussed about this, but I do throw a few things together:
  • Hoofpick
  • Soft brush
  • Curry comb
  • Small towel
  • Treats
  • Vetwrap
  1. Load the trailer. I’m lucky enough that my trainer has a 4 horse trailer that we almost always use, and it has a nice big dressing room. I always make sure to have all these things in there
  • Saddle
  • Bridle
  • Girth (and maybe a spare if I’m feeling SUPER prepared)
  • Grooming tote
  • Fleece pad if it’s a hunter show, half-pad if it’s a jumper show (if we’re doing the jumpers, we use AP pads that have our barn logo on it under the half-pad so I don’t worry about packing those)
  1. Confirm that Trainer’s collection of 239487 show coats are still there just in case this list doesn’t work and I forget to bring my show coat. Which actually happened one time.
  2. Clean Beastly’s boots. I like to trailer her in her boots, so I’ll brush those down to get rid of any sweat or mud that’s accumulated. Then I hang them on her stall door so I don’t forget them in the morning.
  3. Get out her nice halter and leadline. These are relics from my past show days when my parents funded things, so we have a very fancy leather lead with my name on a brass plate, and a fancy halter that says Starlight Express. Totally not her name. Turns out my studly Holsteiner and my albino elephant have a very similar head size.
  4. Bribe pony with treats and kisses to not kill me the next day.

Then I go home and prep my own gear!

  1. Lay out exactly what clothing I’ll be leaving the house in. That usually means my show pants, boot socks, hiking boots, an undershirt, maybe my show shirt/polo, fleece sweatshirt (depending on weather), and my beloved Pony Farm hat. This way I don’t have to rummage through drawers in the wee hours of the morning.
  2. Lay out other show clothing to bring. For hunter shows this is probably my show shirt and jacket, but for jumper shows I generally just wear my polo all day. I always mean to bring a raincoat. I never remember to bring a raincoat.
  3. Polish my tall boots. Sometimes I’ll do this while I’m cleaning tack since the soap is out anyways, and sometimes I do this at home. Once they’re nice and shiny I put them in their boot bag to protect them.
  4. Pack my show backpack. I’ve heard some polarizing things about show backpacks, but mine has been absolutely invaluable. I’ll put my wallet, checkbook, sunglasses, glasses, and Coggins, along with any other necessary paperwork in one pocket. A change of clothes/jacket goes in the big pouch. My crop, gloves, spurs, and helmet all have their place along with a pocket for my water bottle. No need for a purse!
  5. Knock back some ZZQuil and go to sleep! Judge me if you must, but I like to get more than 6 hours of sleep. If I’m going to be up at 4a-5a, this means I want to be drooling on my pillow by 10p. That’s not that much earlier than I usually go to bed, but early enough that I like to get a little chemical help to zonk out.

Now on to the day of the show!

  1. Don’t bother with makeup, just get dressed, grab all my gear that’s waiting by the front door, and hit the road.
  2. Once at the barn, make sure Beastly and any other horses heading to the show get their breakfast.
  3. While she’s eating, identify the poop/mud spots and attempt to curry them out. Mentally talk yourself into believing that the judge won’t care if your gray looks like a paint.
  4. Braid and wrap Beastly’s tail. I don’t mean fancy shmancy braiding, I mean a basic braid down to the very end. This makes it much easier to wrap up with an Ace bandage. I do this because her butt is up against the wall in the trailer and if I don’t, her tail will be entirely crusted over with manure by the time we arrive at the show. It’s super cute. As is, I have to deal with poopy fetlocks.
  5. Triple check the trailer and my car to make sure I have everything while Unicorn finishes her breakfast.
  6. Get her boots on, her fancy lead rope and halter, and take her to the indoor. Turn her loose for 10 minutes to get the silly beans out of her system.
  7. Load her on the trailer (always on the driver’s side because she’s always the biggest pony on the trailer) and hit the road!

So there you have it! So far this routine has served me well to arrive on time, in style, and feeling prepared. Whether or not I feel prepared as a rider is a whole different ball game and requires prep much sooner than the day before.

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Chapter 2: In Which my Horse is a Fire-Breathing Dragon from Planet Unicorn

Show number two is under our belts!! Those of you who I’ve connected with on Instagram already know how it went, but don’t spoil it for the rest of the gang. Suspense is always fun.

Anywho, I had a really bad feeling about this show. Addy has been stocked up in her left hind for a couple days, and even though she’s been perfectly sound, I’m a paranoid horse mom (or aunt or nanny or whatever). I rode her yesterday briefly and she felt A-OK and both Trainer and Assistant Trainer gave the thumbs up, so when my alarm went off at 5:45am on Sunday, I figured we may as well give it a try.

Well, that lasted until I got to the barn. After eating her breakfast I noticed that her leg was still pretty puffy, but she still didn’t mind me poking and prodding around it. Trainer said we should toss her on the lunge line for a bit and see how she was moving and if the swelling would go down.

OH THANK GOODNESS WE DID THAT. Oh my word. Pretty Girl just ran in circles, threw bucks, snorted, pranced, and was generally full of beans. So glad we got her moving around like that BEFORE anyone got on.

Once she had tired herself out a little we checked and saw the swelling had already started to go down. She hadn’t taken a single ouchie step, so it was time to load onto the trailer! At this point I was feeling SO nervous- the stress of worrying about her leg for the past couple days, wondering if today was the day she became a bucking bronco pony, worrying about the fact that I didn’t have any buddies with me so who was going to hold my horse if I had to pee?! and just general show nerves. But I’ve been a weenie in the past, and I was determined to at least make it to the show and put in an effort.

We made it there, and Beastly over here came off the trailer with nostrils flared and tail pricked. Showoff. I asked Trainer to hop on her first to take her around, which turned out to be unneeded. It was like Addy remembered her job and instantly relaxed once someone was on her back. She went around the warmup ring with absolutely no problems, both with Trainer and with myself.

She went back on the trailer just long enough for me to get my number and sign up for my classes, then it was back on! My first round at 2’9″ was, um, interesting. I’d like to think of it as a warmup round. We chipped, we took fliers, we had one memorable oxer where we stuck a 5 in a bending line where a lot of horses were putting 7. Ah well. Such is life. We needed to box it in a lot harder- I thought that because she was relaxed in the warmup she would be relaxed on course, but that was not the case. She seems to know when it’s showtime and transforms into the racehorse half of her heritage.

Second round was a little bit better- still not one of our best rides, but a definite improvement. Nothing too noticeable here, except for the fact that we did manage the comfortable 6 in the bending line.

We won both classes! I think we were the only person in one class and there was only one other person in the other…but hey. A win is a win. I’ll take it.

Then it was flat class time. Note to self: we do not do well in flat classes. Addy gets very confused why we’re not jumping any of the pretty jumps and wants to run and be freeee and feel the wind in her mane and is having none of my “please trot you beastly little dragon.” She was an absolute fire-breathing dragon. Manfriend was giggling at the video I showed him- and that was the direction that she was behaving decently in. We cantered when they said walk. We cantered when they said trot. We hand-galloped when they said canter. I ran her into a wall when they said walk and line up. It was all very exciting. I think if they could’ve given me lower than second place they would have, but alas there were only two of us in the class. Bright side: my trainer saw me struggling and called out that I should forget about trying to make her hunter-y and just make her listen. So this flat class ended up being a very useful schooling session where she ended up listening, even if she was framed up like a dressage horse instead of on the buckle.

This did end up being enough for me to get champion in my division out of two people, but like I said- a win is a win! And now we have a big pretty champion ribbon hanging on her door!

Our 3′ division was canceled since no one else signed up, but my trainer convinced them to offer a 3′ option in the Child/Adult Hunters (which was listed at 2’6″). Warmup for that was uneventful, but she was definitely charging around with me a bit. We bumped her up to a slow twist recently, but I think she may need something stronger for shows because she was blowing right through my hand.

But we went in for our first 3′ round!!!! And it felt amazing. We got packaged up, got nice distances, she jumped sooo cute, and it flowed smoothly. I walked out of the ring with the absolute biggest grin on my face. I wasn’t surprised when we won that class, and I don’t mean to sound cocky there. But you know that feeling when you just click with your horse and it feels so good and you just know that you rocked it? It was that feeling.

Second round was ehhhhhh not great. We didn’t package up nearly as well, and it was a bit of a hot mess. By this point Addy was a little tired and less inclined to collect when asked. Also for some reason, I did not see a single distance in this round. For the life of me, I could not see anything. It was like my eye had gone out the window. All I could do was close my leg and hope for the best. Addy, of course, is the best pony to exist in the whole wide world and carried my butt through the whole course very good-naturedly. This was enough to get us 3rd!

Second flat class- we went into this one with a schooling mentality so it was less eventful. I literally said the words to her: “Do not be a dragon. You are not a unicorn. You are a horse. Please act like a horse. This is a horse show for horses.” I think some rando got that on the video they were recording of their buddy in the class and I’d love to get a copy of me giving Pretty Girl a pep talk. We were still much too “up” and had some breaking-into-canter moments because oh man trotting is boring IS THAT A JUMP CAN I DO IT PLEASE. But overall it was less fire-breathing. We still got 5th out of 5, but that’s as expected. Seriously. Flat classes are not our friend (though I think we could do well in eq flat classes where there’s a little more to distract her with, she loves dressage-y movements and going in a frame).

For your viewing pleasure, a selection of our trips! I’m trying to figure out how to edit together all the funny parts from our flat class, so hopefully I can share that later in the week.

  • First 2’9″ trip at 0:00 (obviously)
  • Second 2’9″ trip at 1:13 (this is truncated for some reason, and a little fuzzy)
  • First 3′ trip at 1:34- if you’re going to watch anything, just watch this one. It’s the good one.
  • Second 3′ trip at 2:45. You can ignore this one (please).

We did the 3′!!! And we even managed to win one of our classes at that height!! I am so so so unbelievably proud of my girl, who has handled this transition to being a show pony with her usual sweetness and dependability. She gets Monday off to play outside with her friends all day, and then it will be business as usual in our lesson on Wednesday. Can’t wait to keep progressing with her!

PS- regarding Addy’s leg, we think the stocking up is probably due to some crazy weather changes, inconsistent turnout, and a changing riding schedule. By the end of the show, the swelling was almost completely gone and she was still completely sound. We’re tracking it closely and taking some steps to make sure she’s not ouchie in any way, but so far she’s been perfectly fine. I’ll keep you posted!

FOO Blog Hop: A Day in the Life

I’m so excited that Tracy from Fly on Over started this blog hop- all us working ammies share so many things, but we each come at it a little differently. So here’s a typical day:

6:50am – Alarm goes off. Wake up, browse Facebook, check Instagram, see what e-mails have shown up, squeal over a cute video of a baby otter

otter_nonsense

7:09am – Realize that I’ve been squealing over that otter for way too long and am running late. Again. Dash into the shower, get dressed, and throw together some burritos for lunch (because that’s all I eat).

7:35am – Hop in the car and immediately call Dad to share our commute time. Ask other drivers where they got their creative interpretation of traffic rules and receive wisdom from my father.

8:00am – Get to work, turn on EVERY SINGLE LAMP in my office, put lunch in the fridge, get water, check e-mails, slowly start remembering where I left off yesterday.

10:30am – Wonder if 4 bags of M&Ms in two hours is too much. Take a walk around the office to get away from screen glare and bug pregnant coworkers about what they’re naming their kid. Try to convince them that “Leonardo” is a great option, and no it doesn’t matter that they’re not Italian.

12pm – Break for lunch! Bring my book to read but end up leaving it on the table while I chat with coworkers. Soundly abuse the manager who planned a lunch meeting with our buddy. Scavenge cookies off someone.

12:45pm – Go through blog posts and chuckle at everyone’s antics. Go through my own and cringe at the writing style. Attempt to edit some sentences to make them more entertaining. Give up in a fit of pique.

2:30pm – Realize that there’s way more to get done today than I realized and buckle down hard.

5:00pm- Get changed into barn clothes and spend a few minutes explaining to straggling coworkers that yes, I am going to the barn today, and no, I have not washed this coat in weeks, so yes, that odor is coming directly from me.

5:30ishpm- Call my momma on the way to the barn to catch up on the state of things up north and receive mom wisdom. Get to the barn and wonder why I got here so early. Waste gas so I can keep the heat on for just a little while longer.

snowy_outdoor
Stare forlornly at the snow-buried outdoor.

5:45pm – Get Addy on the crossties and start the transfer of hair from her body to mine. Wonder if I’ll ever be warm again and conclude that it’s not likely.

addy_crossties
Snuggle up to this little bugger because she’s so darn sweet. And warm.

6:00pm – Hop on! Either lesson or hack depending on the day, almost always sharing the ring; mostly cool juniors with stupidly nice horses so it inspires me to get Addy moving nicely. Nothing like that competitive spirit to get you going.

7:00pm – Hop right back off and start exclaiming that I can’t feel my toes OR thumbs. Shiver my way through putting Addy and her tack away, then hop in the car with the heat blasting. Call manfriend to inform him that I likely won’t make it through the night, so he should say his goodbyes now. He tells me to drive safely and he’ll see me in a few. I ask him why he doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation.

8:15pm – Stagger in to my apartment after stopping for gas, going to the grocery store, picking up more shampoo, and generally doing every other errand I’ve been putting off. Try to get things put away before it can stink up the house. Fail spectacularly and thank the heavens for an understanding roommate.

8:45pm – Eat another burrito. Because seriously- I don’t eat anything else these days. Manfriend watches me eat since he had dinner at a reasonable hour. I can see the admiration in his eyes as my dirty-fingernailed hands shove the burrito into my mouth- a vision of grace and beauty.

9:00pm – Ponder if today is the day that I give in to the pile of laundry that’s begging to be done. Decide it isn’t and debate with manfriend whether Criminal Minds or Parks and Rec is a better Netflix choice.

10:30pm – Figure that it’s late enough that no one can make fun of me for going to bed, so put my ultra-sultry retainer in and snuggle into my amazingly comfy sheets. Set my alarm for 6:50am the next day, telling myself that tomorrow I’ll squeal over that otter just a little less.

This is just on riding days. On non-riding days it usually goes (1)wake up (2) work (3) get home directly after work and wonder what non-horse people do all day (4) go hang out with manfriend’s mom for funsies (5) go to bed even earlier than usual hoping that the next day is a horsey day. Lather, rinse, repeat.