What I Learned as a Horse Show Mom
By Kathy Storin
A personal love of horses led me toward exposing my daughter to ponies and horses when she was very young. A pony ride here and there for a 3 year old, the pony birthday party at 5, combined with a neighbor who was an accomplished equestrian lead us toward a severe addiction to the horse world by the time she was 10. Our neighbor, Beth, encouraged me to wait until Kait was old enough to actually control a horse rather than just be adorable sitting on one before we started serious lessons. I am forever grateful for that advice and believe that allowed for Kait to try other endeavors such as soccer, softball, ballet, tap and jazz classes. This was important to assure that Kait was allowed to develop the skills in which SHE was interested, not MY interests!
By the age of 12 it became apparent that horses were it. The other lessons fell by the wayside when it became impossible to get Kait to leave the barn long enough to go to them. The unfortunate side to this situation is that your child loses the connection to extracurricular school activities that I feel are very important for all students to possess. It assists them toward being part of a group at school. These days many middle and high schools do have equestrian teams but this was not an option in the years my daughter was in school.
It has now been 14 years since we began our journey into equestrian sports. In addition I have spent the past 8 years announcing at many horse shows. Knowing what I know now I am amazed at how well our early years in the sport went! However there are several pointers that I wish I’d known early in the game.
1. As adorable as tiny children are on ponies, unless you have unlimited funds for an extended period of time you would be wise to save your money and start riding lessons at age 8.
2. Consider leasing before buying. There are many wonderful horses for lease at any given time. This allows you to insure the rider/horse combination to be a good one without having made that huge investment right off the bat. Look for a free lease if possible. This would hold you responsible for the horses upkeep without an upfront fee. If you’re riding with a trainer who has older students there may be a high schooler going off to college who would love you to pay the expenses on his or her horse.
3. Tack. If you are going to horse shows you need your own. There is no doubt about this, sharing is not a good option. However, check the local consignment stores for used tack, or ask other riders at your barn if they are selling any of their tack. Used saddles are very desirable and available in most areas. If you live in a larger city you may even be able to purchase show clothing. When you have a 10 year old you will be buying many sets of clothing if they remain equestrians! Don’t be drawn into buying the best at this age. They do not need custom anything!
4. Trainers. Don’t be afraid to question what you don’t understand. Some trainers appear rather unapproachable. Approach them and ask! You are the customer. If this does not work well for you make a change. Not every trainer is right for every child and vice versa. Is difficult to leave a barn when you become so invested in the program and make many friends, however you are the adult and must make the right decision for your child.
5. Choosing a trainer. Go to shows and watch how other trainers work with their students. Observe their responses to the successes as well as frustrations.
6. And even more about training…. Allow the trainer to do his or her job. Do not coach your child. Do not offer advice on what you think they should be doing. Be their cheerleader but stay out of the arena in every other way. If you have a concern, speak with the trainer out of your child’s earshot and preferably not at a show.
7. Sportsmanship. There will be times you win when you shouldn’t and times you don’t win when you should. Don’t dwell on loses or wins! Get over it and don’t feed into that cycle with your child of bad mouthing the judging.
8. Falls. Your child will fall. Stay out of it unless you are called into the ring. Allow the medic and trainer to handle the situation. Most of the time the child will bounce up and want to hop right back on the horse.
9. Ringside behavior. The horse or pony is not a couch! When there are breaks between the over fences classes and the flat, have the child get off the horses back. Be sure to roll up your stirrups after dismounting. Bring a water bucket to ringside in hot weather or take the horse back to the barns for a break.
10. The horse or pony. Finally, and most importantly, teach your child to treat their mount with love and care. They should be the ones tacking, bathing, blanketing, and feeding. If they are too young to complete these tasks then learn yourself and work with them until they are competent to do the chores themselves. Help them to be cognizant at shows of their horses’ needs by keeping the stall clean and the water buckets full. Remind them to blanket properly at the end of the day especially if the horse has been body clipped.
I wouldn’t trade my years as a horse show mom for the world. They offered many wonderful opportunities for my daughter and I to bond over a common interest. Horses provided comfort to my child when the pain of adolescence became unbearable. Horses taught her responsibility, compassion, patience, how to cope with loss, and that life isn’t always fair, but is always good.
I wish you well in your journey!