Jumping Into the Ring

Photo by Tara Jalenic entry in the 2016 USDF Arts Contest.

This article won the 2021 GMO Newsletter Award for a general interest article for GMOs with fewer than 75 members. It originally appeared in the NEW Dressage Association newsletter, Forward, Spring 2021.

By Cecelia Conway

If we’re strictly dressage riders, we probably shouldn’t try jumping into the ring. For safety’s sake, and to avoid elimination.

Let’s say you’re new to showing or restarting after a long break. The leap back into showing can be intimidating. From being unfamiliar with standard practices, to newly implemented rules and not knowing how your horse will perform away from home, there are plenty of things that can intimidate us.

What are some things you can do to get ready and help lessen your nerves?

Well, first is testing your horse away from home. Are you able to find a nearby facility where you might be able to go ride for an hour or two? This will give you a chance to see how your horse does in the trailer for loading, travel, and unloading as well as learning how they react to a new environment. A practice trip away from home could show you gaps in your packing plan as well. You’ll find out if you don’t have everything you need stowed in your trailer, and be able to add it in, before you pile on the stress of a show.

Another way to test your preparedness for the season is by entering a virtual show. Virtual shows offer us a chance to get feedback about our riding while staying at home. Unsure of how a new movement will look for a judge? Testing out a new level? Virtual shows help us save money and gain confidence. Most virtual shows can be filmed on an average smartphone and easily submitted by posting to Youtube. There are some great tutorials on the internet about tips for filming and entering for virtual shows. Often times you’ll get the same detailed feedback and ribbons you’d receive at an in-person show. You might even want to try filming at your practice location to get a more accurate idea of how you’ll do.

Locally, schooling shows start running in mid-April and rated outdoor shows are usually scheduled for early May. Make sure you double-check entry deadlines so that you don’t miss an opportunity you’d planned on. Also, read the showbills carefully for a full understanding of all of the rules and expectations that the barn has. Each farm might have slightly different expectations about their facilities and how they set up the show. Depending on the county and state you are choosing to compete in there may also be different levels of COVID restrictions. Make sure to reach out to the secretary or manager if you have any questions about their policies and procedures. This is also a good time to triple-check that any required memberships are up to date so you don’t miss out on eligibility for awards or qualifying scores. Some organizations, like NEWDA, might also require you to preregister for awards before your first show so be sure to enter for those as well.

Thinking of trying a new facility? A tip that has helped me gain confidence and comfort at a new showground is taking a test drive, without my horse, to scope things out. I’ll start at my barn and time the trip so that I have an idea of how long it will take. It’s even better if I can try it out at the time of day I might normally be traveling with my horse and trailer. Once you get to the facility see what their driveway, stabling, and parking accommodations are like. Will you be able to comfortably maneuver your truck and trailer or will you need to plan a new route? This is also a great opportunity to check and see if you’ll need things like an extension cord, portable hose, and other items to keep you and your horse comfortable at the show. Contact the barn and see if you can take a short tour or look at the arenas where the show will be held. You might see something that could be spooky for your horse and this will give you time to work on desensitizing before the big day.

Feeling confident and ready?

Make sure you send in all of the paperwork and get confirmation from the secretary that you sent in all the required information and fees. You’ll save time and stress when checking in when you arrive. Then, contact your vet for any relevant information you may need, like travel certificates and updated Coggins paperwork. If you need to make copies, a folder or binder will likely help keep everything organized. Some other helpful things to include might be copies of the route you’ll take, copies of your tests, and contact information or stall cards that are prefilled out and can be put on your stall.

Ready to pack?

Make yourself a detailed packing list, the more specific the list the better. This way you can check things off as you go and you’ll be sure that you haven’t forgotten anything when you leave for the show. From extra laces for boots to all your big tack and equipment, write it down. It will take one less worry off of your mind. Give yourself time too. If you can start putting things together a few days or a week before the show you can be sure everything is in working order and that all your show clothes and equipment are clean and well- fitting.

As you get to the day before you leave, put together all of the essentials like food, hay, and supplements that your horse might need. If you are bringing your own water make sure that you have enough for the length of time that you’ll be away. While most shows will have food available, bring some of your own food, snacks, and beverages so that you’ll have things ready to go when you need them. If you can, doing an initial bath and grooming session, or maybe even put the braids in beforehand, you’ll save time at the show. Last but not least, do a final run-through of your detailed packing list and make sure that your truck and trailer are fully gassed and tuned up.

If you’ve made it this far congratulations! You’re going to do a fantastic job at the show. You might even decide that you want to do more shows this year. While you’re planning, make sure you check on locations, dates, and judges and compare them with other activities you have planned. In some cases, such as if you have ridden in a clinic with a judge, they might not be eligible to judge you. Avoid any possible conflicts and if you have questions reach out to the organizer, manager, or secretary to confirm their rules.

Finally, have fun! We’re able to spend some quality time with our horses away from home and enjoy new experiences together.

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