Yesterday, Chance and I finally made it to a show! He has managed to injure himself before every show so far this year. Not yesterday though, so maybe that streak is over! We went to simply school and hang out. If you have been following this blog for a while, you know that we have had some serious horse show problems. After some time off of horse showing (or attempting to horse show in our case), my trainer and I have decided to take a different approach. Instead of lunging him, and focusing on getting him quiet, the plan is to focus on getting him to relax by hand-walking him and really allowing him to settle in. Once he seems relaxed, I will hop on. Yesterday, that is what we did.
I walked him all over the property, let him eat grass for a while, and he seemed relatively quiet. It was a small schooling show, so the jumper ring was to finish soon and I was planning to ride there once they were done. When they had a few trips, left I got on and we hung out by the ring watching the final jumpers go. Chance was a little fidgety, but not too bad. Of course then someone fell off and a horse got loose – which spooked the horses tied to trailers – which then spooked Chance (no one involved was hurt). I hopped off of him, but he became pretty worked up with all of the excitement. Since I was concerned that he was about to be a second loose horse, I hand walked him back over to hunter land (and to his favorite grazing spot). It took a little bit for him to quiet down, but once he did I got back on and we went to work. The jumpers had finished at that point, so we went right in the ring. I hacked him around, then we started trotting a couple of flower boxes – which my trainer gradually turned into actual jumps. He was a little frisky when it became an actual line, but he cooperated! The last few times we did it, the second jump was a little oxer and he was a little proud of himself after. Although he stayed calm and steady in the line, he just had to roll his back on the backside. It was all in good fun though. I honestly was not sure we would be able to jump anything yesterday, but he was really good and definitely made progress. Sometimes with horses, we have to celebrate steps in the right direction however small they may be.
If yesterday showed me anything, it is that his problem is not that he wants to be a bad horse. He is not trying to get out of work, and he is not crazy. He is nervous. All the horses, new sights, new sounds, and general excitement cause him to feel anxious. With anxiety and nerves comes poor performance and low confidence. In people as well as horses. I know that when I am super nervous, I tend to choke; whether it is riding, or something else.
When I was in high school, I sang in the choir. We had all-state auditions every year. They were individual auditions, in a room with judges behind a curtain. There were district, regional, then state auditions. It wasn’t until my senior year that I made it past the district round, not because I wasn’t prepared but because I would get so nervous! I would practically be shaking when I walked into the audition room, and totally choke. I also was never a good test taker in school. I could know the material inside and out, but my tests would rarely reflect it because I would get nervous. I have had that problem at horse shows as well. However, years ago when I competed constantly I got over it. It took just going and going and going; then horse shows were no big deal, and I became very competitive and successful. It just took time, and a lot of experience.
Because of all my experiences with nerves, I am so much more understanding of Chance now that I realize that is the root of his problem. I am hoping that continually going to shows – even if it is just to school – will help him to overcome his horse show anxiety. If, however, he absolutely cannot seem to overcome it he will simply not be my show horse. I think that horses should be able to have a say in their careers, and if he says “no” to horse shows I will respect that. The show horse life can be a stressful one. Sometimes we, as riders, get so caught up in our own stresses that we forget about the stress our horses are under. They are in new places, with new horses and far more horses than they are used to being around; and let’s not forget all of the stuff that can be at shows like vendors, spectators, dogs, golf carts, children running around, people on loud speakers. Horses are creatures that love routine, and shows can definitely break their routines. To many horses, shows become their routine, but that is only accomplished when they continually go to horse show after horse show after horse show. Equestrian is definitely a sport that takes time.
I am hopeful that Chance simply needs time and experience to figure out show horse life. Yesterday was definitely a step in the right direction. Also, focusing on calming Chance’s nerves actually helped to calm my own nerves. Even though I wasn’t showing, I was still nervous about how he would behave; and all the extra horses, sights, sounds, and everything gets me a little spooky too! Focusing on helping him to relax helped me to forget about my own worries. Chance has become so much more confident in himself at the farm; he really seems to be figuring things out. I think that with some time, and low-pressure horse show adventures, he will eventually feel sure of himself in the show ring!