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Getting help at shows

From: Sue

Hi Jessica! I hope this isn't too stupid of a question, but anyway here it is. I'm really in need of help when I go to shows, because I get so nervous and tense and there's so much to do. My husband used to help me but he said he can't anymore because we just fight all weekend, and it's true. My daughter helped me at one show but then she got mad at me for the same reason. I know I get nervous and tense and that makes me sound angry at people but I'm just trying to stay totally focused on my riding and I don't want to have to explain things, so if I ask someone to do something and they don't do it right or they ask questions about how to do it, I just repeat what I said or say "Oh, forget it." I never mean to sound unkind or sharp, but I guess that must be how I sound. One of my friends said that she will come to shows with me, but I'm really worried that I'll get mean and make her angry too. I don't think I can show without someone to help out, but how do I get that person to understand what to do and why I don't want to hear a lot of questions?

Thank you, I hope you'll answer this.


Hi Sue! I always say "The only stupid question is the one you don't ask," and I'll hold by that. ;-)

It would be easy to say "Relax and have fun, it's just a show", but I don't think that would help you much. So here are my suggestions:

1) PREPARE. Prepare yourself for the show, so that you feel more organized and more competent to cope. Feeling more competent will make you feel more confident.

2) PREPARE. Prepare your helper for the show: "walk" and "talk" them through everything you'll need help with, SHOW them the equipment you'll be using, and be sure that they are familiar with anything they will need to handle (braiding equipment, rub rags, fly spray, and anything else).

Tell your helper exactly what your plans are, pretty much minute by minute. Otherwise, she may stay with you when you don't need her, then take the wrong moment to visit the concession stand or the bathroom. ;-) If you are scheduled to ride at 10:00 a.m. and you plan to groom and braid, then tack up and warm up and ride for half an hour before your test, figure it all out on paper and SHOW it to your helper.

SAY what you WANT. Explain that you'll need her to help with the grooming and braiding, that you'd like help with tacking up, that she'll need to stay with the horse while you change your clothes and visit the bathroom, that you'd like her to watch you in warm-up (or not), that you'd like her to meet you at the end of your warm-up with a rub rag in hand, to give your boots a last once-over before you enter the arena.

Don't assume that a helper knows anything at all, even if she shows in the same discipline, even if she shows at a higher level than you do.

If she competes, she may have her own routine based on her personality, her horse, and their needs, and it may not correspond to what YOU and YOUR HORSE need.

If your helper doesn't compete, she may have no idea what you need, or what kind of time will be involved in helping you. If you're going to need her undivided attention from the time you load the trailer to go to the show, to the time you arrive at home after the show, TELL HER. Otherwise, she may assume that she'll help a little here and there, watch the show, meet you at the stabling area when the show is over, and go home with you.

The more complete and detailed the discussion, the fewer misunderstandings you will have, the fewer occasions there will be for you to become nervous and tense, the more useful your helper will feel, and the better the results will be.

Both of you should wear watches, and both of you should not only synchronize them, but set them by the SHOW clock.

No matter what, your helper should be prepared for rain (raincoat, waterproof boots, extra rub rags, a towel) and for intense sun (sun hat, sunglasses, sunblock, bottles of frozen water), and for bugs (whatever works for her, and for you, and for the horse). She should wear clothing that is comfortable and allows her to move quickly if she needs to -- good shoes are important. And she should have copies of the tests in her pocket, in case you want to be reminded at some point. In fact, you should keep copies in your towing vehicle, so that you may ask your helper to "quiz" you on the tests while you drive. Alternatively, if your idea of preparation on the way is to THINK each test through in detail, warn your helper that you don't want to chat while driving to the event. It's a useful way to get the day off to a good start, without hurting anyone's feelings.

Now I'm going to depart from my usual HORSE-SENSE procedure, and offer you some material written by someone else. My friend Lin Braddick has a wonderful list, written specifically for a friend who was planning to help her at a show. It's personal -- about Lin, her horse Penny, and her preferred arrangements for a dressage show -- but it's something that all of you will be able to modify for your own use.

Grateful thanks to Lin for sharing the following:


My friend was looking for the approximate amount of time she would be needed. My answer is as follows:

A lot depends on the riding time that is assigned to me by the show secretary. A dressage show is kind of like a figure skating competition where each skater goes in the ring, one at a time, and does their little routine (called a "test" in dressage) at a specified time. On Friday the 19th, I will call the show secretary and she will tell me that my first test is, for example, at 2:10 and my second test is at 3:15. Or she could say that my first test is at 7:30 am and my second test is at 8:20 am.

Using 2:10 as my example, I will calculate backwards: I need an hour warm-up, so I have to arrive at the show at 1:10. That means I have to leave the barn at 11:45 That means I have to tack and load Penny at 10:15. That means that you would want to arrive at my barn around 10:00. That means I have to start braiding Penny's mane at 8:15 (I'm quite slow at this!).

Using 7:30 am as a second example - well, this gets harder. I need an hour warm-up, so I have to arrive at the show at 6:30 am. That means I have to leave the barn at 5:15 am. That means I have to tack and load Penny at 4:45 am. That means that you would want to arrive at my barn around 4:00 am (ugh). That means I'd braid Penny the night before and hope she left the braids in overnight.

Don't get scared, though. My tests are Training Level 3 and 4. That means that all the Training Level 1s and 2s usually go before me. Chances are that I'll get a time between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. We'll hope for the best.

The rest of this post is a list of instructions for her to follow:

Bring the following things:

1. A hat (if it is sunny).

2. A raincoat (not a billowy poncho) if it is rainy.

3. Comfortable shoes.

4. Wear a watch.

OK. What will you do once you arrive at the barn?

1. Synchronize your watch with mine.

2. Take Inventory - make sure I have remembered all the things I packed the day before

the things I might not have packed the day before: fly spray braiding supplies (in case Penny's braids come loose) my clothes a folding chair for you tanning lotion and bug spray and a hat for you (you can borrow one of mine or bring your own - bring you own sunglasses) the driving directions

3. While you are taking inventory, I will put Penny's saddle on and load her in the trailer.

4. Jump in the truck (bring your purse)

5. Be my navigator during the trip - you hold onto those driving directions!

6. Quiz me on the test - I will have a copy of the test in the car and will repeat the movements out loud and you will check what I say against the printed test.

7. Go to the secretary's stand while I go to the bathroom (I'm nervous, OK? I have to tinkle!). At the secretary's stand, they will give you a show schedule and a bridle number. Ask the secretary if there have been any "scratches" and note them in the schedule - a "scratch" is when another competitor has notified the secretary that they are withdrawing. Ask the secretary for the official show time and compare it to your watch. Also ask the secretary to point out the warm-up areas and which ring is ring 1 and which ring is ring 2.

8. Verify my times - check the show schedule to make sure that the times listed in the show schedule match the times given to me by the secretary on Friday night (sometimes, horror of all horrors, you think you're riding at 10:10 and find out you have been moved to 9:45 and then you have to rush around like crazy). Also, if there have been any "scratches", my time may get moved up, in which case I will have to adjust my warm-up.

9. Walk back to the trailer. At the same time, look around and see if make sure you understand where the rings are and where the warm-up is.

10. Let me know what you've found out about the times. We will set our watches to match the official show time.

11. Help me get dressed - I wear scrubs (like doctors wear) over my show clothes. I will take off the scrubs and you will want to put them away. Then, you will unpack my helmet and hair net and give it to me. Check to make sure I got all my hair into the hair net. You will unpack my jacket and give it to me to put on. Then you will hold my gloves and my dressage whip until I am ready for them.

12. Help me finish tacking Penny and unload her - first, I will fix any braids that came out. I will put her bridle on in the trailer. I will go to the back of the trailer to open the door, you will remove the manure back there (so I don't get any manure on my white britches and so Penny doesn't get any on her white legs), then go back to the front and make sure Penny's reins don't get stuck on anything while she backs out. Then I will take Penny's tail wrap off and give it to you to put away.

13. Help me mount - you will bring me the mounting block and move it for me if Penny moves. Then you stand on the opposite side from where I mount and hold my stirrup while I mount. This is actually the MOST IMPORTANT task you have all day - mounting a horse with a braided mane can be really tricky, because normally I use the mane to pull myself up and I can't do that with a braided mane! Plus, Penny gets nervous and won't stand still... this is the worst part of the show. Once I'm up, the rest is easy.

14. Hand me my gloves and dressage whip.

15. Point me towards the warm-up.

16. Get the tests - remember those printed copies of the tests that you quizzed me on during the drive? Get them out of the truck and carry them around with you.

17. Verify on-time - go the ring where my first test is to be held. Check the bridle number of the horse in the ring and find that horse in the schedule. See if that rider is in the ring ahead or behind schedule. For example, your watch might say 9:20 am, and the horse in the ring is number 32. You look in the schedule and find out that number 32 was supposed to be in the ring at 9:16. This show is running pretty close to schedule. But, if number 32 wasn't supposed to be in the ring until 10:02 this show is running behind schedule. This can get tricky... number 32 might be scheduled for two tests at two times - once at 9:16 and once at 10:02. And you can't tell which test she is doing! So you look around for a "ring steward". This person is usually standing near the "in gate" with a clipboard, looking around for horse and riders. The "ring steward" makes sure the correct horses and riders get in and out of the ring in the correct order. Show the ring steward the schedule and ask her to help you determine if the show is running on-time, ahead or behind schedule.

18. Report back to me in the warm-up. Knowing how many minutes are left in my warm-up is VERY important to me, so as much information as you can gather will be helpful.

19. Go back to the ring. Watch the tests. You might want to take your folding chair. Keep track of the bridle numbers of the horses going in and out of the ring. If anything changes in the schedule (and number of minutes I have left to warm-up) report back to me.

20. When the horse that is two horses before me goes in the ring, come and get me from the warm-up.

21. Take Penny's leg wraps off.

22. Retrieve my whip - sometimes (rarely) I have discovered that Penny is better off without the whip. In this case, I will have dropped it on the ground in the warm-up area. If you see that I'm not carrying my whip, ask me where I dropped it and go retrieve it for me (keeping it hidden behind your back - if I've dropped it, it's because Penny has taken a sudden offense to whips and we wouldn't want her to think you're going to use that darned thing).

23. Walk with me back to the ring (make sure I go to the correct ring).

24. Don't tell me anything about the other horses. If you say how wonderful they are, I'll get nervous. Just keep assuring me that we are going to the right ring at the right time.

25. If I'm really nervous, I'll panic and think I've forgotten my test. In that case, hand me the copies of the tests you have been carrying around with you for me to review.

26. Remind me to stop for the "bit check" - a show volunteer, frequently the ring steward, will stick her fingers in Penny's mouth to make sure I am using a permitted bit.

27. Check the bridle number of the horse in the ring and make sure I go in the ring at the proper time.

28. Watch my test.

29. Clap (softly) when I come out - even if I didn't do so good.

30. If there is time between my two tests, I will dismount and put Penny in the trailer to rest. Then, 30-45 minutes before the next test, you will have to repeat steps 11-28. If there is not a lot of time between my two tests, I will go to the warm-up and you will only have to repeat steps 17-28.

20. After the second test (you will want to clap - I almost always do good on the second test!), walk me back to the trailer.

21. Pour Penny some water while I dismount and take her bridle off.

22. Offer our hardworking girl some refreshment. Find the treats!

23. I'll take off my jacket, helmet, hair net, boots and gloves - you will put them away for me.

24. I'll load Penny in the trailer while you empty her water bucket and put it away.

25. Together, we'll walk up to the ring and watch a couple of tests together - I'm not nervous anymore, so now you can tell me about all the other horses and everything you've seen (and ask me questions if you've got them).

26. After a bit, we'll check to see if my scores have been posted. If the class is complete, we'll go to the secretary's stand to pick up my tests (and ribbons!).

27. Homeward bound. No more quizzing, just lots of celebration for a job well done!

28. Help me unload, untack, clean the trailer and unhitch.

29. You're done!

So, what time will you be done? Again it depends.

For example, if my second test is at 3:10 pm: I'll finish riding at 3:15.
We'll finish loading Penny by 3:45.
The drive home is 1 hour 15 minutes, so we'll be back at the barn by 5:00 pm.
You'll be done helping me by 5:30 pm.

However, if my second test is at 11:20 am, you be done helping me by 1:30 pm.

So, until I have my show times (I'll get them on Friday), it is hard to zero in on a schedule for you.

Can you live with this?

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