Schooling shows and unrated events are a real spectrum of experience. On one end of the spectrum is the trainer and her gaggle of horses and students in matching white team polos, looking fresh as the affluent daisies ought to look. They’re here to get a few kinks out before the rated show next week, and they’ve got the casual weekend vibe down pat.
In the middle of the spectrum is the worn out trainer who takes the casual dress code as literally as possible, haphazardly shoving her jeans into her boots as she tries to zip them up before rushing to the ring before the window closes for the three client horses she has going in the 1.0m. How these pros manage to do it all, I’ll never know.
But on the far end of the spectrum is my favorite schooling show participant. The one who arrives with their one horse and mom in tow. She leads the horse out of the trailer, second-hand shipping wraps pristinely applied for the 15-minute trip down the road, blanketed and slinkied.
Beneath that slinky, tiny button bobs suggest this dedicated student woke up at 4am to painstakingly put in the smallest, most perfect hunter braids she could manage on her own. Her horse – a plain but lovely older gentleman – stands quietly at the trailer for all the hustle and bustle: Hoof oil, show sheen, braid-touch-ups. He dozes as his person climbs in the back of the trailer to change, emerging in her full showing regalia, including her black wool show coat that she’ll wear even though it’s 91 degrees that day.
This pair will probably come in somewhere in the middle of the pack in all their classes, and covet the green and purple ribbons for years to come.
For plenty of riders, a schooling show is a blip in the universe – a glorified lesson in a new place. But there’s something about those riders who look at a schooling show like it’s their own personal Olympic Games that frankly just gets me choked up. Those braided horses at schooling shows are the very heart and soul of what we’re all doing here.
A schooling show is the great leveler. While a less affluent rider might not have the imported dutch warmblood or the Rolodex of trainers at their disposal, on a given day at a schooling show, a hard-working partnership can have their day and rumble with the best of them. And you can’t underestimate the pair for whom this show means everything.
Buried in each of those button braids is reverence for the sport, the thrill of making goals, and bravely daring to achieve them – in spite of whatever else life has handed you.
US Equestrian President Murray Kessler recently announced that the increase in USEF membership dues would be applied in part to expanding more affordable shows, and bridging the gap somewhat between the haves and have-nots.
As a media outlet vastly supported by hardworking, everyday riders who scrape funds together for every part of their passion – whether they’re jumping for fun at home or eeking out a few rated shows each year – we certainly hope that Pres. Kessler sticks to his word on this.
Every rider deserves that Olympic feeling, and the more available that opportunity is to riders at every level and in every pay grade, the better off the soul of the sport will be. In the meantime, keep braiding, friends. Your love of the sport is what makes it truly great.