Most equestrians are very goal orientated and strive to be successful at horse shows. The nature of our sport drives us to be competitive. We train hard at home to hopefully make it around our courses or ace our tests and nab a pretty blue ribbon. We attack the ring all show season long, chase points, and try to reach the top as Fall rolls around. Whether you succeed or not everyone deserves a break after show season where you can just take a breath and have some extra fun! Horse showing isn’t the end all be all when it comes to horses, there are so many other fun activities you can partake in that will give both you and your horse a much-needed break from the show ring and still have a blast.
Image Courtesy of Hannah McColl
I enjoy a good horse show now and then, but there’s a reason I refer to myself as the hot mess express… horse shows bring out the basket case in me and I end up spending most of the weekend trying to keep my lunch down. My nerves just get the best of me. So over the years, I’ve discovered a ton of fun activities to partake in with your horse that don't even involve the show ring.
My top choice to have some fun with my horse is to go on one of our local hunter paces! If you’ve never been on one then you need to grab a couple of friends and look in to see if any are being put on in your area. A hunter pace is a mix between a fox hunt and a trail ride. A course is set (anywhere from 8 to 12 miles) and teams try to match the optimum time (that no one knows ahead of time) while exploring the local countryside. They’re low stress and offer a great option to get out and about while having a blast with your friends.
Normal trail rides are also a great way to give your horse a break from the ring. I try to get Mira out at least once a week where we don’t focus on schooling, but just go trotting about, and channel our inner “Saddle Club”. These days not only give Mira’s brain a nice rest, but they remind me why I started riding in the first place, for the fun shenanigans you get into with your horse.
I’m also a huge supporter of trying new things and disciplines. Not only do they make you a better rider, but mixing it up can be a blast.
I try and take any opportunity I can to try new things- I’ve taken a few western pleasure lessons over the year, tried team penning once, and just went on my first fox hunt ever the other month. And you might find something your horse enjoys that you would never have thought of. Last year I took Mira cross country schooling and I don’t think she ever had more fun in her life while I was just proud I didn’t pee my pants!
Clinics are another awesome way to gain experience for you and your horse in a non-showing setting. And it adds some variety from your normal lessons since you’ll get instruction from someone other than your normal trainer. Find a trainer you look up to and see if they’re offering any clinics and get yourself signed up!
There was one winter when I kid you not, basically all I did with Mira was teach her how to do tricks (we were going through a rough patch in our relationship and needed some time away from riding) and it was honestly such a fun journey. Now Mira isn’t going to be a professional trick pony anytime soon, but she does know how to smile, bow, hug, and more! And now she likes to show off to all her new friends (I’m not kidding… this mare is constantly smiling like an idiot trying to convince everyone to give her cookies). There are tons of tutorials out on the internet to show you how to get started.
If you’re like me in the fact that showing turns you into a gigantic ball of anxiety, my biggest tip to you is to go schooling at your local showgrounds! Make it super low key and just focus on having a fun experience so you can replace negative feelings around the showgrounds with positive ones. And kill two birds with one stone, you’ll also be staying sharp for when show season starts up again!
And these are just a few of many cool things that you can partake in that don’t involve horse showing. Try new things and find something you and your horse enjoy so you can throw some variety into your routine. It is so beneficial for both you and your horse’s wellbeing and you will be that much more in sync and fresh for when you head back in the ring.
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