Showing is great, but what did you learn?
It was awesome this past weekend to get back out on the road and hit a horse show with the Midcoast Maine Equestrian IEA team that I coach! Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we are only allowed to show within our region, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a fun day of friends, great horses, and some really great rides.
For those of you who don’t know what IEA (Interscholastic Equestrian Association) is, it is an interscholastic program that was established to provide competitive and educational opportunities to 4th-12th graders through equestrian athletics. The association requires riders to attend a minimum of three and a maximum of five horse shows per season. At each show, riders are assigned horses through a drawing that they must ride in their assigned classes. All of the horses are Steward approved, so we coaches know they are safe for our students to ride. The kids think it is super fun; sometimes nerve racking, but mostly fun!
I started coaching the IEA Team eleven years ago. I have seen my team through Zone Finals almost every season and attended three National Finals. The atmosphere of the shows is extremely inviting and allows riders to qualify for Final events individually, as well as with the team.
My experience teaching IEA has greatly enriched my overall coaching ability. I say that because when I bring my IEA team to a show, we are walking into a completely unknown entity. At a typical horse show, you bring your own horse; you ins and outs, quicks, and triggers and you are normally set to handle them. (Aside from the spook because the farm has a mini donkey or something out of the ordinary!) At an IEA show, I watch all the horses warm up and try to pick the one I hope each of my riders draw. I can tell you with 90% accuracy, I know exactly when a ride will go well and when one won’t, based on what I know about my student and what I watch the horses do in warm up. Usually, if something goes awry, it can be put on the rider. Some horses are harder than others, but for the most part it is a level playing field.
Now, imagine being that kid on the back of an unknown horse cantering through a course in the show ring. For many of us, just putting our foot in the stirrup to mount on a daily basis is stressful enough! Often times, at the in-gate I look at their faces and I have a sense of their mental state. As a riding instructor, this is when you can learn a lot. What makes your student tick? What gives them confidence? Can they handle swift reprimand or some major critiquing? Or do they need to have their hand held through all of it? Mostly, I think they need to believe you think they can do it. They are trusting that you believe they can achieve the goal. When we are standing at the in-gate, we are their biggest cheerleaders.
After every show, I evaluate my next teaching plan. I think of every student and make a plan of how I can better prepare each one for the next show. I don’t think about the ribbons won or lost; I think about what I learned and how I can impact my riders to become the best they can be.
Always keep learning.