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If you've me say it once you've probably heard me say it a thousand times: I hate horse shows. Except I don't really. After going to our local CDI as a spectator this past weekend I realized that I just hate showing. I resent the amount of money I spend on doing something I dread. I hate running back and forth to the port-a-potty because my anxiety is in overdrive. I hate that I can't conquer the overwhelming feeling that I might die if I encounter the water truck on the way to the warmup ring (even though my horse has only spooked hard about 5 times in his entire life). I hate that some people take showing so seriously and get worked up over a mistake or a low score as if they were life-or-death issues. At the end of the day we're not doing brain surgery; it's horse dancing.
So why do I show? Because I suck at it. And my mental state makes my horse suck at it. While he seems to enjoy "camping" with his buddies back at the shedrow and watching all the goings-on at the wash racks, he's not particularly enthusiastic about having to perform in the ring. So we'll keep doing it until we both get comfortable enough that getting through a low level test without a major error or meltdown is possible.
But this weekend he got to stay home with an abscess while I enjoyed all the fun of a show with none of the stress. All my past whining about showing negates the many, many good things about it, so here's a quick list of 3 things I love about shows:
1. Dressage shows are for everyone
Many horse sports have a reputation for being elitist, but getting up at 5am to feed or braid has a way of putting everyone on an equal footing. FEI competitors can be found hand-grazing their six-figure mounts next to little kids and their lesson ponies. Want to meet one of your Olympic idols? Sure there was an autograph booth for that, but you're just as likely to meet and chat with one at the manure pile, by the warm-up ring rail, or in the line-up for coffee. I saw competitors of all ages, all shapes and sizes (so confidence boosting for me to see several plus-sized riders looking awesome and riding fantastic tests) and all skill levels. Likewise I saw horses of every breed, size, shape, colour, description, and price point.
2. Dressage shows are inspiring
Unless you're lucky enough to winter in Wellington, or board somewhere with Grand Prix riders, we lower-level riders don't get the chance to see top-level dressage in person nearly often enough. Being able to watch riders warming up and competing at the highest levels is inspiring and educational in and of itself. But so is watching the pros put their young horses through their paces at the lower levels. So is watching an amateur with her self-trained draft cross hold her own against pros on fancy warmbloods in FEI classes. So is watching a rider struggle through a challenging warmup or difficult test, and live to knock it out of the park the next day.
3. Dressage shows are fun
Hands down, the best part of any show is the camaraderie. The dressage community in Canada is small and closely-knit, despite being highly competitive. Shows are a place to reconnect with people you haven't seen since last season, and to meet in real life some you "know" through social media. Everywhere you go there's a small army of family members, friends, barn-mates, and supporters taking off boots, holding horses, giving pep talks, and offering congratulations or condolences. At the end of the day it's not unusual to find small groups gathered outside of each shedrow, often trading war stories and laughs over an adult beverage or two, as their horses contentedly much hay nearby. Dressage may be an individual sport but these moments are a great reminder of our team spirit.
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.