Horse Showing

No Training Needed

December 16, 2009

An Internet connection should provide all the instruction anyone needs, right?

Pam and Bippy Crop

Pam and "Bippy."

By Pamela Britton-Baer in The American Quarter Horse Journal

Everything I know about Quarter Horse shows I learn on YouTube.

Seriously.

If you’ve ever posted a horse showing video on YouTube, chances are I’ve studied it. There’s a wealth of information to be found on the Internet, and I like to surf with the best of them.

But I know enough about showing to realize YouTube can’t give you polish. A trainer needs to teach you those tiny little details that can mean the difference between winning a class and leaving the arena with your tail tucked between your legs. More importantly, a trainer knows the answer to questions like: should my boots match the color of my showmanship pants? Should I go with the sand-colored chaps or the buff? Aren’t sand and buff the same color?

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Trouble was, nobody wanted me.

My friends, I’ve decided that I stand a better chance of being abducted by an alien spacecraft, piloted by Captain Kirk, than I do of finding a good Quarter Horse trainer. Seriously. I write books for a living. Anyone who knows anything about the publishing industry will tell you that finding a literary agent is hard. Hah. New York’s finest have nothing on Quarter Horse trainers. Of the three inquiries I made, I never received a single call back. Not a one. Not even an e-mail.

But writing books has taught me a lot about life. Lesson No. 1: If you want someone to represent you (or train you as the case may be) don’t call them, stalk ‘em.

Yes, stalk.

This has stood a number of my fellow writers in good stead when trying to secure the attention of that coveted literary agent. And I just happened to know where I might find a trainer to stalk, er, meet up with: at a horse show. And there just happened to be one coming up in my neck of the woods, Red Bluff, California.

The show would serve two purposes. One, I could walk up and introduce myself to a potential trainer. Two, I could spy on my competition. (C’mon. Admit it. You’d do it, too.)

But as it turns out, I didn’t have much time to spy. Through some small miracle, I ended up having the time and resources to actually show. And even through a part of me – all right, a big part of me – was worried I’d make a fool of myself in front of a prospective trainer, I figured that falling flat on my face (again!) might actually be good. I didn’t want a trainer who might look down his nose at me. You know the type. The kind who scoffs at your riding ability. Who screams at you across an arena full of people. Who might order you to jump a flat-bed truck. And you know what? You’d do it.

Been there. Done that.

I wanted someone nice. Someone who might not mind cracking open a beer at the end of a long day. Someone who would laugh at my husband’s jokes.

So while I was at this horse show, I kept my ear to the ground, discreetly looking around, watching trainers interact with clients, and observing trainers giving lessons. But most of all, I studied the faces of those trainers’ clients. Were they happy? Were they being given encouragement? Did they look like they were having fun? Or did they look as if they were on their way to a colonoscopy? It dawned on me then that picking a trainer is a bit like dating. Only when you sit across from someone do you realize he has bad breath.

But something happened on my way to the show ring: I almost won a class.

You weren’t expecting that, were you? Neither was I, let me tell you. The event was novice amateur showmanship, an event, I must admit, I only entered because I love, love, LOVE the sparkly clothes. Seriously. If it involves polyester and rhinestones, I’m there. And so, wasting no time, I bought myself the blingiest and gaudiest shirt I could find. In hindsight, I probably should have erred on the side of caution, but I digress…

There I was, proud of our performance – and my super-sparkly shirt – in awe of some of my fellow competitors (one World Show qualifier! Whew whoo!) and thinking that I didn’t stand a chance. There were seven people in that class, and it was deep competition, “deep” being my Quarter Horse Word of the Month. For those of you as ignorant as I, it means there were some darn good people in that ring.

Imagine my surprise when they called my name for third place. Third? Had four other people blown it that badly?’

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Nope.

I watched the tape. Everyone was really good. And yet I’d somehow managed to beat them. How had that happened? Could YouTube have taught me so much?

And then the hunter under saddle class rolled around. I was second out of seven.

My first half point! I was on Cloud 9. Training? Who needed training? All I needed was an Internet connection.

Visions of circuit championships dancing in my head, I anxiously awaited Day 2. The first class – novice amateur showmanship – rolled around. I’d practiced my pattern to the point that my horse was doing it in his sleep. My hard work paid off, too, because I was fifth that Saturday. Not as good as the day before, but I wasn’t disappointed. During the class, I’d made a critical mistake. I’d moved to the off side of my horse before the judge walked past his shoulder. That’s sort of like being offsides in the NFL. I think the judge must have heard my “Doop!” because he glanced back at me with a twinkle in his eyes. Still, I was happy. If not for that one gaffe, we might have done even better.

Just wait until hunter under saddle.

I got last place.

Last, frickin’ place. I fell flat on my face. Again.

Thppppppttt. That was the sound my ego made as it left my body. Or maybe that was the sound of the air leaking out of my head. (My husband would say air.) Talk about letdown. What had I done wrong? Why couldn’t YouTube tell me? Doesn’t YouTube have a help line?

This, my friends, is why you need a trainer. When I reviewed the tapes of my two rides, I realized that my horse looked as strung out as a Chinese dragon. Our transitions were horrible. I swear Bippy thought he was the Black Stallion the way he kept tossing his head. Worse, at the canter, he was a four-beatin’ machine. The Rockettes could have used him to keep the rhythm of their kick line. It was that bad.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: YouTube is great, but it can’t hiss at you from the rail to speed up. It can’t tell you to gather your reins and get your horse’s rear beneath your own rear (a big target, I might add). Nor can it tell you to sit back. Yes, I’m still hovering over the saddle. (Note to West Coast exhibitors: If you see something silver and shiny on my rear, it’s just the duct tape. Ignore it.)

So resigned to my fate, I picked a trainer. (Drum roll please…)

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lise von Uhlit. Lise is the poor soul who’ll be teaching me the finer points of Quarter Horse showing. She has my pity. She should have your pity.

But you know what? I can’t wait to take a lesson from her. Something tells me it’ll be an eye-opening experience. I just hope her eyes don’t roll back in her head when she sees us coming.