It’s taken me a few years to realize the importance of being in a “program” with your horse and what that means as far as my success in the show ring. I think it’s a hard topic to write about, because the “program” is different for everyone.
- Just because you board at a fancy barn with good lessons, doesn’t mean you’re in a program.
- Just because you keep your own horses in your back yard, doesn’t mean you aren’t in a program.
So what is a program? Our friend Mr. Webster says:
a planned series of future events, items, or performances.
Okay, but what does that mean for horses? To me, being in a program means you are falling in line in a few different categories.
You have professional help in the form of lessons, and those lessons are not “when my horse is being so bad I can’t do it on my own anymore.” They may be weekly lessons at your boarding stable with your trainer, or it may be once or twice a month when you can haul out to a qualified professional that you like… but there’s a routine to them. Your trainer gives advice when dealing with your horse, and your trainer has your back with situations that may come up at shows or with the barn owner.
You ride consistently. Maybe it’s three times a week and maybe it’s not, but both you and your horse get a consistent amount of time in the saddle. This is over a long period of time too – not I ride once a week when I feel like it and then every day I ride for several hours galloping because that feels fun to me that day. Consistency is fairness to your horse if you expect him to train and advance at a steady rate. If you can’t get out there consistently, you supplement with training rides or rides from a working student/barn buddy.
You have tangible goals that your trainer helped you set. So you want to go to Rolex, and you’ve broken that down into lots of mini goals to accomplish each year. Maybe you just want to stop being nervous when showing, but a rider in a program will know exactly what they are striving towards and when.
Of course we know that
life shit happens. You lose your job and horse funds go away for a while. The horse is lame. It rains forever. All of things these can derail the program, but the program oriented rider will get back on track as soon as possible.
So that’s my opinion of what a program is, but why do I think it’s a good thing? I’ve ridden willy nilly with sporadic lessons and riding before, and I’ve ridden consistently in a program. I much prefer the program (even though it is harder work and more expensive), and this is why:
- I have more confidence in my riding and my horse.
- If I do bad at shows, I know exactly why.
- I don’t second guess myself at shows, because I follow my trainer’s advice.
- I never over face my horse.
- I’m more relaxed at horse shows, because I know I’m prepared.
- I feel like my riding goals are possible to achieve.
When I didn’t ride in a program, a lot of things happened. I would show up at a horse show and decide to change my riding last minute because I thought other people were doing it better… you can guess how well that went over. I would take lessons from the really good trainer at the barn whenever I felt like it instead of consistently, and then wonder why I wasn’t ready to do the 2’6″ division yet (we both were pretty frustrated in that situation). I would make fence height decisions based on how I felt that day, instead of building a proper foundation and slowly moving up… because of that, my horse could be a very dirty stopper at times.
During all that, I had a lot of excuses about why I didn’t need to ride or didn’t need to lesson. Lessons were expensive. It was too cold. He’s fine with a few days off. Blah blah blah. All of those things are totally fine until you add showing to the equation. If you want to show, you simply have to put in the effort and… wait for it – get with the program.
So what about you – do you ride with a program or without? You’ve heard my opinion on the subject, what are the pros/cons of each way as far as you’re concerned?