Horse Show Veteran

With my riding lessons still on hold due to technical reasons and with show season just around the corner, I thought I’d offer the following assessment of horse show parenting.

The article is actually part of a collection that I put together for my book A Horse in the House: Living With the Equine Addicted. Right now the book is available as a Kindle book from Amazon. For those who are interested, here’s the link:  A Horse in the House.

Horse Show Veteran

I am a horse show veteran. My horse-crazed daughters suffer from an addiction to riding in public, so I don’t have much choice. My efforts to break them of this expensive habit routinely fail and I’m left to spend my weekends and their inheritance on this … sport.

We’ve attended over a hundred horse shows. And we’ll probably go to a hundred more before it’s over and they cart me away on a broken down sulky, babbling a litany of judge’s instructions: “Trot your horse, trot please… reverse and walk … canter your horses … run like the wind! … every rider for herself! … line up and face judgment!” I’ll need to be sedated.

When the girls first started competing, I had no idea what was going on. All I could see was a herd of horses with miniature, but well dressed riders going in circles. How the judge picked one rider over another was beyond my comprehension. They weren’t racing, that was for sure. But to help pass the time, I pretended they were.

Now, I’m a veteran. I still don’t understand what the judge is looking for, but at least now I know that nobody else does either. Not parents anyway. Many get angry, and even feel cheated or insulted when their child does not place. Over the years, I’ve learned the louder they protest, the less they know.

New parents – the rookies – are the worst. Rookie parents are shocked and dismayed when they first discover the role politics and popularity play in horse show placings. “What do you mean the judge is a close friend of Suzy Tengrandhorse’s parents? That’s not fair!” Yeah, neither are death and taxes.

Of course one’s view of the role of politics in placings directly corresponds to the color of ribbon one receives. Those taking a blue know the judge is a direct descendant of Solomon – or a least a shirttail cousin of Judge Judy. Those who receive lesser ribbons or no ribbon at all regard the judge as fair and impartial as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

There are other ways to spot rookie parents. They’re the ones whose kids have bloodstains on their back numbers. There is a trick to pinning thin stock cardboard to fabric and it takes a few finger pricks before you learn it. Safety pins are dangerous.

Rookie parents hurry. Then they wait. Then they hurry. Then they wait. They do this because they have yet to comprehend the salient fact of horse shows: Nothing ever happens on time. Most horse shows are behind before they even start. Rushing to meet a deadline that never comes on time always results in hurrying followed by waiting followed by hurrying and so on.

Veterans know better than to get ready too early. Scurrying around to get the proper tack, the right clothes, and correct equipment ready to go forty-five minutes prior to a class is never a good idea. The horse gets tired, the kid will have to pee and sweat makes mascara run. Daughters of rookie parents sometimes look like Alice Cooper groupies.

One of the worst mistakes I see rookie parents make is letting people – especially club leaders and kids – see them sit down. Veterans do not allow this. A veteran knows that the instant his or her rear makes contact with a chair, a club leader or child will descend upon the sitting person with a list of chores and instructions. Sitting areas should be chosen with care and out of public view. I prefer exploring and colonizing small patches in adjoining cornfields whenever possible.

Veteran horse parents do not have fewer questions than rookie horse parents. We’ve just stopped asking them. We have learned that knowing something is the first step to having to do something. It’s best to remain confused and oblivious. Just because the horses go around and around, doesn’t mean we need to.


Is it Worth it?

One of the many incidental benefits of becoming an equestrian in my own right is the opportunity to talk to parents of horse-crazed kids.  I don’t mean the parents who are already well-seasoned horsepeople.  I mostly listen to them.

I’m referring to the parents with the dazed and confused look on their faces. They aren’t horsepeople themselves and they are uncertain where this whole horse thing is going.  They are still trying to figure out how they got into it in the first place – and whether they should be working on getting out of it.

Of course, by the time they talk to me, it’s too late.  They may not know it, but if they’ve allowed their kid to get this far, they’ve already turned the corner.  It’s like getting on the entrance ramp of the wrong major interstate freeway, you just have to merge with traffic and worry about what direction you’re going later.

There are legitimate concerns:  money, time, effort and more money. Do the parents have enough of these to dedicate to such a time consuming, money consuming and effort consuming pursuit?

And is it worth it?

Ah, there’s the rub. Because most parents will sacrifice for their kids, but they are justifiably hesitant to adopt a whole new life style if there isn’t a big payoff. There is nothing more frustrating as a parent then to invest all that time/money/effort into something just to see the kid move on to something else next year.

But if the child is genuinely serious about horses, there is indeed the potential for a big payoff. A huge one.


Obviously, with proper supervision, taking care of such a large, needful animal can teach a lot about responsibility. And it cultivates the nurturing instinct. It teaches the value of dedication. It helps the child become dutiful and conscientious. It helps him or her develop confidence. The child becomes confident and mature.

But there always has been something else going on here. I just can’t quite put my finger on what it is.



I’m sure there’s a word for it.



Hmmm… give me minute here.


It’s right on the tip of my tongue.


I give up. Maybe by next time, I’ll remember what it’s called.