Did you have a Saturday job when you were younger? I did. I worked in all sorts of crazy places from hair dressers to ice cream parlours. The thing I learnt very quickly was that as much as I wanted to be the best employee they had ever had, I only worked one day a week and I was never going to be as good as those who worked full-time at these places.
I feel like the same can be said for professional showing producers. An amateur who works full time in a 9 to 5 and competes as a hobby is going to find it much harder committing their time to producing their horse or horses. Professional producers are just that, professionals. Their job is to produce horses for the show ring. Not only are they able to school their horses more, they are able to spend hours teaching a horse how to stand up correctly for the conformation judge and can refine all the finer points that go into getting a show horse ready for the ring.
Before I worked with horses full-time, I was regularly disheartened when my horse would place low in its class despite me thinking that it was looking and going amazingly. I would see a professional walk into the ring in front of me and think ‘there goes my chance at a red one’. It has taken me years to accept that the reason they seem to do well is because their horses are produced to absolute perfection and fully deserve to be at the top of the line up. If they weren’t getting these results, they wouldn’t have jobs.
Joanne Shaw posted a quote on her Instagram recently that said ‘work until your idols become your rivals’. I printed it out and stuck it to my tack room door so that every time I went to get tack out to ride one of my horses, I would keep that in mind and it really does help keep me focused on my goals.
I’m not saying it is easy but if you have a good horse and you work hard then you can beat the pros. When I say work hard, I don’t just mean that you need to school your horse for longer or teach him to stand quietly in line. I mean be even more prepared than anyone else. Polish your boots. Scrub your bridle and use a toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies. Bath your horse so that its coat is gleaming and practice getting your quarter marks just right. Eventually, they judges will notice you.
One very memorable placing for me was at the Hickstead Derby Meeting in 2017. I took my small show hunter, Chriskells Otis in the open HOYS (Horse of the Year Show) class (pictured top) and was in some incredible company. Otis looked perfect, his plaits were spot on, he was whiter than snow and he was just in the mood to show off. Otis gave me a great ride on the go-round and was pulled in ninth place. Hickstead is different to a lot of shows because the final judging takes place in the main arena and the top nine from the class get the opportunity to ride in the famous Hickstead main arena in full championship wear. Naturally, I was thrilled to have made it through and rode into the main arena with a huge smile on my face. The go-round was fantastic and I gave it all I had in the gallop. I would have just been happy with a nice photo of me in the main ring.
We were asked to line up in any order and the final results were called out in reverse order. To my surprise and delight, we had moved up from ninth to eighth place, which was incredible. The next shock was that the horse called into eighth place wasn’t Otis either. The results continued to be called out and yet mine and Otis’ name still wasn’t being called. When they got to fifth place and another horse and rider combination were called forward, I burst into tears. Otis and I were in the top four in a line-up of consisting of some of the best horse and rider combinations on the circuit. We were called forward into fourth and I was a wreck. Jordan Cook who was in third turned to ask me if I was ok. I hope that he knew that they were tears of joy and not because I was being a spoilt brat who wanted to be in first place!
That day, I finally realised that if you work hard enough and you give it everything you have, you have just as much of a chance as anyone else. I didn’t win that class, but to be called forward into fourth on a horse that I had brought on from a youngster was possibly the best feeling I’ve ever had. Better than any win or any of the times I have qualified for HOYS or the Royal International Horse Show.
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Showing is not easy. It’s certainly not cheap and often the bad days make you feel like jacking it all in but I can honestly say, if you enjoy it or are thinking of giving showing a go, then go for it. If little old me from the tiny island of Jersey can do it, then you can too. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I will say it again in many more of my blogs, but don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. We all have to start somewhere and I don’t know any of the professionals that wouldn’t be happy to give you a bit of guidance or advice.
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