Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ten Things I Learned at my First IEA Horse Show

A few weeks ago Kahley and I attended her first IEA Horse Show. For those very experienced horse folks - kudos to're gonna think I'm an idiot. I've never been to anything other than a schooling show at our home barn, and it's evident that I could use a crash course on the sport. Among many tidbits, I learned that IEA does not stand for Illinois Equestrian Association. It stands for Interscholastic Equestrian Association. As in, the nationwide association modeled after the IHSA - not the Illinois High School Association - but the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. As in, the organization she dreams of riding for in college.

Gulp. And holy acronyms.

Here are ten other things I learned that day, in no particular order.

1. This is a real competition.
Not a check-your-opponent-into-the-boards sport or a head-to-head-beat-the-other-guys game, but a rack-them-points-up kind of competition. And it's growing in popularity. There are twenty new teams in our zone alone this year. At a show, each team present has an opportunity to score points to advance their barn to regionals, and every rider has a chance to score points to qualify for regionals at the individual level. So the scoring of the points is very important. At one point I looked at the scoreboard in the barn and thought, "Ouch! Camelot Equestrian Team (CET) scored only three points so far today." But as it turns out, those three points were huge. We walked away from the weekend with seven points for the high school team and 8 points for the middle school team. A team needs 20 points to qualify for regionals, it's only the beginning of the season with lots of shows remaining, and we are nearly halfway there with both teams. GO CAMELOT!

2. The Warmup makes me want to barf.
The host barn provides the majority of the horses for the show. Other barns may bring in horses in as well. All of the horses are warmed up prior to the start of the show by a "handler." Most of the warmup progresses without incident while the competitors all line up against the fence to study the gait of the horses, their tendencies, and I don't know what else because I don't ride. They ask their trainers for advice on how to manage each horse, should they draw the one they are watching.
One beautiful mahogany colored horse (is there a specific name for that type? I'm clueless) named Captain raced around the arena while sheer panic creased the handler's face as she attempted to rein him in. His warmup lasted 0.025 seconds. Our coach's advice? "Kahley, if you get that horse, all's I can tell you is...Pray."

The bile started boiling in my gut. I kid you not. My mantra for the day? "Mind over matter. Mind over matter. Mind over matter." Try it sometime when you're about to hurl. I promise it works like a charm.

Another horse, McKenna, was having none of it. She trotted sideways. She bucked. She walked backward. Her handler seemed fairly competent, yet she could not control that animal whatsoever. I think someone slipped the horse a little meth or something back in the barn. My heart started racing, thinking about my little precious atop of that beast. What would I do? Gratefully, I heard some other, more experienced show moms on our team pipe up. "If my kid draws that horse, I'm pulling her."

Whew. I wasn't the only mother distressed. I had backup.

3. If the Warmup roils my innards, the Blind Draw will kill me.  
After the warmup up the trainers attend a brief meeting, followed by the Draw. An action so significant, it deserves a capital D. Each trainer Draws a name of a horse out of a hat for each of their riders. They then report back to their teams who will be riding what horse. If you ever want to shut up umpteen equestrian riders, tell them who they'll be riding. They even raise hands to ask questions.
Kahley got Remington, a horse from Camelot who she'd ridden before. So yay! My heart rate dropped significantly. But in a matter of mere seconds, it changed to Ed, based on a redraw for some unknown reason. Another horse from Camelot, who she's never ridden. So not as great, but not horrible because she could discuss with her teammates how the horse behaves, how to manage him, etc.

She lucked out because Ed was in a class before hers, so she'd get another chance to see him and figure out what to do with him. And I had a chance to calm my nerves and watch too, although it's like me watching somebody scuba dive because I really have no idea what makes a horse a decent Draw. In the 2'6" jumping class Ed sailed over the first two jumps. But come the third jump...the dude stopped dead in his tracks. And the only thing scarier than a horse going from canter to stopping dead in his tracks directly in front of a jump is this:

When the rider falls off the goll darned horse. Ed's rider fell off. The horse. THE SAME HORSE MY DAUGHTER WOULD BE RIDING IN THE NEXT CLASS!!!

Terrifying, I tell you. Rob Zombie could make a horror movie of riders falling off horses and I'd have nightmares for decades. Forget about upchuck. A slow, horrifying death began to have it's way with me.

4. Safety somehow exists at an IEA horse show. It really does. And I'm one grateful mother. 
After Mr. Ed so callously dumped his rider, people around me started whispering. "Maybe he'll get disqualified." I piped up. "What's that? What did you say? You mean the horse can be disqualified?" One of the moms turned around and explained to me that yes, horses may be disqualified if the steward (never knew there was such a thing! I love the steward!) deems it was the horse who refused the jump and not rider error.

Now I've heard all along that the rider controls the horse, and I've cried bullshit under my breath for years. How can a little girl, barely 100 pounds, control a 1000 pound animal? Ed's obstinance proved my point. Horses can have minds of their own. However, I've seen less experienced riders replaced by more experienced ones on the same horse, and it's like Mr. Hyde turns into Dr. Jekyll. The rider really can make a difference.

Regardless, I breathed easier for seven seconds because Ed was disqualified and Kahley would not be on the horse who dumped his rider. But...that meant that there would be another Draw for her.

And I started to die again.

5. Paints are beautiful but can be bratty. 
At least once a week my girl will send me 500 pictures of horses she wants me to buy her. She learned disappointment from a very early age, along with excellent coping skills. Her favorite horses are paints. So when she finally came out on one for her ride, it was clear that this was a good omen.
Meet Nibbles.
I sighed with relief it wasn't McKenna. With such a cute name and beautiful markings, this was destined for the best ride of the day. But as you can see, by both the look on my girl's face and the bratty demeanor of this horse with it's head jerked to the side...
...he refused the first jump. Notice that the horse is still moving? Look at his legs. And that my girl is still on? YES! She didn't fall off, or ride into that red fence thingy, but I. Do. Not. Like. Jump. Refusals. AT ALL!

I suddenly became that mom. At a Horse Show. It was a good thing I was at the end of the arena by myself under the guise of taking photos, because I started shuffling side to side and talking in tongues to brainwash the horse into jumping. "Come on, you Nag. JUMP!"

Interjection - I am ambivalent toward horses. I don't automatically love them all, but I certainly don't hate them. Some are sweet, and I'm warming up to the fact that they have personalities. But I've also been sandwiched between two attack horses so I'm perfectly happy keeping my distance until I'm convinced I won't be kicked in the teeth or a hunk of my shoulder doesn't become dinner. The nag reference is automatic, pulled from my subconscious. Remember in the Sopranos, when Ralph Cifaretto bought Pie-O-My, and he shouted at the track: "Run, you fu*#ing nag!" Whelp, that scene burned itself into my brain, for better or worse (worse). Now any time during a show, when Kahley's on the horse, I find myself whispering. "Come on, you nag! JUMP!

But at least I leave out the F-bomb. I promise.

Back to Nibbles, the Bratty Paint. Apparently riders have three tries to get the horse over the first jump. On the second try, Nibbles refused again. Third try? You guessed it. That brat refused to jump over the X. My telepathic nag powers need some work.

Kahley left the arena, so I assumed she was disqualified. My heart broke in disappointment for my girl.

6. Time is the enemy and weather is not your friend. 
If you ever go to a horse show, prepare for an all day affair. Waiting around is part of the deal, so make friends, bring a book or learn to meditate. You'll have all the time in the world for any of those invigorating activities. And pack for all weather types, regardless of the forecast. You will freeze your buns off and 33 degree water will drip from the ceiling onto your head like a Chinese water torture. Sweat will eventually run down your back into your nether regions as the day warms up. You'll curse yourself for wearing jeans. Later in the day thunder will crack and lightning will streak across the sky...while your kid is on the SLOWEST horse in the show for her flat class...taking a painful eternity to motivate the beast back to the safety of the barn. You may even be threatened with a tornado less than twenty miles away. I can count on one hand how many horse shows I've attended, and I've braved all of the above weather scenarios. The weather multiplies my severe neurosis exponentially.

7. I am a psychotic mess the entire time and will surely sip vodka out of a flask at all future shows. Couldn't one of my kids have chosen band? Or Art? Anything that doesn't potentially lead to a brain injury? Sigh.

8. Horse Show people are nice. Truly.
All of the moms and dads introduced themselves and made me feel welcome. They let me hover under their tent during the rainstorm. They explained some of the whacky rules. The other riders were all super nice to Kahley and helped her figure out the goofy hair net thing.
Everyone cheers for everyone else. Since this isn't really head-to-head competition, there's no negative juju. Nobody wants a person to have a "bad" ride, so everyone claps after every spin around the arena. Yet the riders watch one another and aim to improve their abilities. The spectators talk to each other. The host barn people are all very pleasant. I dig 'em all.

9. When a horse is disqualified, the rider gets another shot and the mother pees herself.
After too many minutes, Kahley didn't return to our group. I started to worry that the incident with Nibbles really ticked her off, and she huffed off somewhere to get her emotions under control. I searched everywhere, but could not find her. I returned to our group, and told the other parents about my concern. One of those sweet mommas sent her own girl into the warmup area to find Kahley.

Just a few minutes later, I spied her at the end of the arena. On another horse. Bratty Nibbles was disqualified - the steward deemed it was not rider error that caused him to refuse the jumps. Rather, it was a martingale added to his tack just before Kahley mounted him.


Don't ask. I don't know.

I gulped and belched the air right back out. Here we go again. I snatched up my camera and retreated to the end of the arena so I could mutter all sorts of encouragement under my breath, away from the group, so nobody would hear.

Meet Captain. Yes - the Captain from the warmup with the trainer's advice of: "PRAY." As soon as I saw the horse's name, I began to whimper and whine.
See how high he jumped over that first X? He thought they were 3 foot jumps. The pee started dribbling down my leg.
He's the fastest horse in all of Northern Illinois. Look at her face! And how she's sitting in the back of the saddle. And the tight reins! SLOW DOWN, YOU NAG! SLOW DOWN!
They sailed around the course with three strides between each jump. And for those equine-ingnorant folk like me...the jumps are spaced so the horses carry five to six strides between jumps.
I think he galloped this course. No canter for Captain. He ran so fast he nearly blew his name off his backside!
I modified my mantra. "Hang on, hang on, HANG ON!"

She did.

As she exited the show arena I laid down in the fetal position and started sucking my thumb.

Just kidding. But I considered it.

10. She gets the highest rush from riding.
When I finally caught up to her several minutes later, Kahley was still visibly shaking. "That was the fastest horse I've ever been on in my entire life. Did you see...him go...over those jumps?" she gasped. "It riding...a roller coaster!" gulp air gulp air gulp air. "That was SO much FUN!"

I sincerely congratulated her...for hanging on. Even though she was jacked up, she knew it wasn't the best ride. At times, I have to agree with Mr. Musky's very untechnical view on riding. "Any day she doesn't fall off is a good day." I have yet to see my girl fall off a horse. It's happened, just not when I've been around.

I don't even know what I'll do. It won't be pretty. And I'll probably scar her with embarrassment for the rest of her life.

Her emotions run high on show day. She's anxious leading up to the ride, and nervous. She's happy and exhilarated after the jumping class. At times she's frustrated and angry with herself for not doing a better job. We went through every single one of these on the IEA show day. At one point, she questioned, "Why do I do this? Everyone is so much better than me."

She didn't score points on an individual level that day. I had to remind her that she got a bum deal on the Draw, couldn't mentally prepare before mounting either horse, didn't have a chance to review her notes, had to stop in the middle of her flat class and retreat to the barn thanks to an autumnal midwest lightning storm, shall I continue? The odds were not in her favor. That did nothing to soothe her frustration that day, but she eventually regrouped and we decided that she's going to ride twice per week in an effort to improve her skills.

I like and appreciate the fact that she's driven, and that this is her passion. I just pray that she gets good Draws and the horses cooperate for the next four shows this season.

Four. That means I'm 20% done. Leaving me with 80% of a slow, terrifying death to suffer through over the next four months.

Please pray for us both.



  1. Thanks so much for writing this! You're hilarious, and this was a great learning opportunity for my mom and I, since I'm competing in our first IEA show tomorrow!

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