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Marriage

Today I’m getting married. God, that just sounds… weird? strange? crazy? Sam and I have been together for almost six years. He’s my best friend and the love of my life. We’ve certainly been through a lot together, but I’m really looking forward to the memories we’re going to make as a married couple. Hopefully, there will be a lot more of this:

Myrtle Beach, 2008

 

Myrtle Beach, 2009

 

College Graduation, 2010

 

Ft. Myers, Florida, Christmas 2011

 

Showtime at Delaware, 2012

 

Engagement, 2013

 

Showtime at Delaware, 2014

Equestrian Miss Manners II: Talking to Show Management

We’ve all been to a show or two that was just simply poorly run. The schedule changed at the last minute; rings are held for forever; ride times are way off… the list of mistakes can go on and on. When you’re a competitor in this situation, it’s hard not to get pissed off, and let show management hear your displeasure. Trust me, I’m right there with you! It’s not only incredibly frustrating when you and your horse are ready to show, but management isn’t… and worst of all, it can really impact your performance, that you’ve worked so hard to perfect.

But I also spent time on the other side of the fence, so to speak, as part of show management. And I promise you, they’re not doing it on purpose. Management doesn’t want the show to be poorly run, and the office staff isn’t happy to hear your bitching. So here are a few tips to let your opinion be known, but to stay calm, cool and collected so that you can still put in your best performance.

#1 Wait for the Right Moment

If you are riding your horse and shit hits the fan, don’t lose your temper at that exact moment. Not only are you going to look like a crazed maniac in front of everyone else standing at the ring, but your horse is going to notice your change in attitude.
Instead, walk away, take a few deep breaths and finish your ride first. After all, that’s what you came to do!

#2 Be Honest and Clear About the Problem

When I’m pissed, I’m not always logical. Sometimes I blame things on others that they really had nothing to do with. So before you make a complaint, take the time to think it through in your head… or better yet, discuss it logically with a barnmate or friend. Spouting profanities at show management isn’t going to get you anywhere; I promise they’ll just tune you out.
But if you present a clear, concise and reasonable complaint, show management will not only hear you, they’ll respect you.

#3 Walk A Mile in Their Shoes

Adding a little empathy to your complaint always softens the blow. Take a moment to think about what show management is dealing with, and try to be relatively sympathetic. Yes, you’re the customer, but if you can see them working hard, or you notice that they’re really overwhelmed, just mentioning those simple facts will help ensure that you’re heard. After all, you’re both here to show, aren’t you?

#4 Go Through The Proper Channels

It’s never appropriate to complain directly to a judge. Always speak with show management, the show steward or the ring master; don’t approach the judge directly. And if you go to a show with a trainer, express your displeasure with them first. Chances are they feel the same, but a complaint from a well-known and respected trainer is always going to carry more weight than the same thing said by Jane Smith.

#5 Let it Go or Get Going

Finally, after the problem has been addressed, you have two options, and only two options. You either let it go and move on, or you leave and don’t come back. It’s really, really hard for me to drop an issue sometimes, but you’re only hurting yourself if you continue to stew about it for hours or days on end. And if it really, really ticked you off, don’t go back! Refusing to patron a specific show or management company speaks for itself. Plus, in the end, you’ll be happier if sh*t is really that messed up.
What tips do you have for handling a tough situation with show management? 

Exhausted

After our awesome rides on Saturday, Trainer and I decided to keep the plan the same for Sunday. I woke up early and lunged my pony. Luckily, our lunge session was much shorter and only lasted about 15 minutes; Miles was tired and so was I. The show moved a bit more speedily on Sunday, so I ended up showing late morning. For our warm-up trip, I wanted to try to keep our pace from yesterday and do the strides correctly.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account just how tired Miles and I were during our second warm-up round. My eye just wasn’t great, and I struggled to find distances. This led to chipping into the first jump and RUNNING to get out of the line in five strides. I came out of the warm-up disappointed, but determined to add leg and raise my eye for our third hunter trip.

But… I didn’t. Well, I tried to but my strength and energy just weren’t there. So my third hunter trip looked a lot like my warm-up: scattered and uneven. I was so mad at myself after that round, I took a second to walk by myself and cool off. I was riding like shit, and not helping my horse, who was being a saint. That for me is the worst feeling.

So my trainer and I regrouped, and decided to go back to the add stride for our fourth and final hunter round. And it was definitely the correct decision; I was able to see my distances and help Miles when I needed to. We were both much more relaxed and consistent and overall a much prettier picture.

Our final class was the under saddle. After walking around the ring for probably 10 minutes waiting, during which Miles got progressively more and more antsy, we pulled our shit together for a great flat ride. Miles really framed up and moved out at the trot, and was nice and even at the canter. He didn’t even get grumpy when we got boxed in! We ended up 6th out of 10, which I wasn’t super pleased with, but that’s hunters. Either way Miles was excellent and couldn’t have gone any better, so I was quite pleased!

In the end, we placed in every single class we entered, with a 7th and 8th over fences on Sunday. After such a trying schooling, we bounced back better than I could have hoped! I am so proud of both myself and Miles for recovering, and I learned a heck of a lot for next time.

Speaking of next time… we decided to add a show in late June to the schedule! It will be at the same venue, and will be my very first time showing at the “A” rated level. I’m pretty excited, and mildly hoping that I get to braid, because I know Miles would look like a STUD in hunter braids.

Redemption

Saturday morning I arrived at the showgrounds extra early to lunge the wild beast, aka Miles. I decided to put him in a bridle to lunge… just in case. And it turned out to be an excellent idea because the second we got started, the acrobatics began: leaping, bucking and galloping for the first five minutes, before we settled into a nice canter for the rest of the time. After 45 minutes, we went back to the stalls for a nice shower, during which Miles went to sleep. Perfect.

We showed around noon on Saturday, and my mom even made the trip down to watch! We had a warm-up round, two hunter rounds and an equitation over fences round. We decided to start the warm-up doing the add stride pace, meaning the lines were set for five strides, but we did six. Our warm-up round was very nice: a few longer spots into the lines and a few shorter distances coming out of the lines, but overall I was happy. At this particular show, warm-up rounds are judged red/blue: scores between 75 and 79 earn a red ribbon, scores at 80 or above earn a blue ribbon. Our warm-up on Saturday was good enough for a red ribbon! Woohoo!!

Because every Limit Rider needs an entourage

Our first hunter round was also fairly good. We stayed on the same add pace as the warm-up, to make sure Miles and I both stayed calm, cool and collected. I made some mistakes and got some fairly bad chips to two fences, but Miles was a saint and handled it all perfectly! Our second hunter round was better overall, but we got marked down heavily for our initial transition to the canter, where Miles was an ass and kicked out. It was partially my fault, because I could feel him being grumpy, so I should have waited and asked for the transition a few strides later, but I got impatient. Oh well, live and learn! For this trip, we decided to up the ante and do the correct number of strides, which went really well! We still had some iffy spots, but overall I rode well and continued to make decisions and stick with them.

Our best round of the day however, was our last: Limit Equitation Over Fences. For those that have been reading for a while, you know I never show in equitation. I don’t have an equitation body, and my focus hasn’t been on the finer points of riding for a long, long time. I struggle with just staying out of the way and being effective. But since I was showing at 2′, and things were going well, I figured why the heck not? And I am so, so glad I did. I’m going to let this round speak for itself:

And that, ladies and gentleman, was a good enough round to win us our very first blue ribbon! I was so, so proud of Miles and I for riding the rollback so well… especially since we don’t ever practice them at home. We were both just so in sync during this round, I could watch it all day long! I opted not to show in the Equitation on the Flat, because it’s not something I practice. But I found out later that our win in the Over Fences class was enough to earn us Reserve Champion in the Limit Equitation division!! OUR VERY FIRST TRICOLOR!

Totally redeemed!

Not As Planned

It’s official: our first show of the season is in the books! Overall, it was an awesome weekend. I had so much fun with my barnmates and everyone rode really, really well. Sometimes the first show of the year is a crap shoot — horses haven’t been off the property in six months, nerves are a little high and we’re not quite in the horse show groove yet.

The Plan

Going into the show, my plan with Miles was to school in both show rings on Friday, in preparation for showing in the 2′ Limit Hunter division in Ring 2, and the special 2’3″ Pam Graham Memorial Hunter Team Classic Saturday night in Ring 1. Miles arrived at the show happily and settled in well.

Nichole and Miles

Going Downhill

Friday afternoon, my best friend N and I got on to school. As we were walking to the warm-up ring, Miles started jigging. His head was straight up in the air, and he was huffing and puffing. Looking back, I think he had no idea up until this point that he was at a horse show. When he turned that corner and saw all the horses and all the rings, I think he was honestly shocked.

When he got to the warm-up ring, a horse in front of Miles had a small freak-out, which sent my horse over the edge. He tried to rear, but settled for jumping straight up in the air with all four feet off the ground. He did a few more crow-hops, before I got him settled enough to walk on. Accomplishment #1: Staying Mounted

N saw the entire fiasco, and asked if I wanted to get off. In true weenie adult amateur fashion, I said yes. But I didn’t — I stayed on and we walked around the ring together, which helped Miles relax. I was able to get a little but of trot and canter in without dying, so I guess that’s Accomplishment #2: Not giving up.

Miles and Tracy

Where the Wheels Fall Off

Trainer came down to check on us, and determined that I should go flat in Ring 2, while N jumped around Ring 1. Miles did not enjoy this, and spent the entire 20 minutes crying for his new favorite mare friend. He relaxed when she returned, and I was finally able to do some w/t/c, and jumping. The jumps were small, and totally unintimidating, which I guess is Accomplishment #3: 2′ is finally not cause for anxiety. Despite my new-found confidence, our jump school did not start out well. Miles was brave to the jumps, but afterwards was a nightmare. He dropped his head and bucked and played after every. single. fence. We spent probably the better part of 45 minutes stopping after fences, circling and breathing. It was hard, really hard work, but we got through it. Accomplishment #4: Schooling my own horse. 

Total Train Wreck

After getting our minds right in Ring 2, we stuck to the plan and headed for Ring I. The fences were set low, 18″-2′ tops. I walked around the ring once, and then set my sights on a small diagonal single. Miles jumped it well… and then turned into a bucking bronco. It was all I could do to stay on, and stop him by dragging his face into the fence. We regrouped, and tried another small diagonal single… which went even worse. He bucked so hard afterwards I was sure I was going to eat dirt. Somehow I stayed on… but I did almost crash into three other horses and another fence. We called it quits just as I felt tears brimming in my eyes.

I am an emotional person… so sometimes I just can’t help it. I was so embarrassed that I almost ran into other people. I looked like a total jackass, but more importantly, I made my trainer look bad by riding poorly.

But Miles was so amped up that after the fences, he would buck, buck, buck. So went slow, kept the fences down and worked through it — which we did. Then we went to Ring 1 to see how things would ride in there. Unfortunately, Miles lost his mind… again. He was a rodeo horse after every fence, bucking so hard I couldn’t even steer. After two fences where I nearly fell off and ran into every other horse in the arena, we called it quits. Accomplishment #4: Trying new things… even though it didn’t work out.

My trainer calmed me down, assuring me that she wasn’t upset. Miles just wasn’t playing nice today, but I was riding as well as I could. We went back to Ring 2, where things were immediately better. Miles and I were just much more comfortable in that ring, and after a few jumps where we didn’t die on the landing, I hopped off.

Miles warm-up trot

The New Plan

So after schooling, Trainer and I decided to scratch the Saturday evening Classic. I was really disappointed; but safety is always the number one priority. Plus, my goal for the weekend was to have fun, and looking like a jackass in Ring 1 didn’t sound fun at all. All Friday evening, I was pretty upset… upset that I didn’t ride better, upset that Miles’ reaction took me by surprise and upset that things were not going according to plan.

So it took me a while to remember that this is only my second show ever with Miles. He’d never been to this particular venue before, and he hasn’t been off the farm in six months. He’s still young — only seven or eight, and we’re still figuring him out. In the end, I decided to make having fun my priority, ensuring that Miles and I have a positive showing experience. Accomplishment #5: Not staying angry and changing my plan.