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Creating Checklists and Finding Family

Posted on: July 07, 2021 by Gena Hickey

Riding Should Be Fun! Part Six:

SmartPaker Gena checks “no worries” off her to-do list before shows.

A competitive equestrian and show day nerves are like unicorns and glitter. Except it does not have to be that way for us, competitive equestrians. Show-day jitters are no stranger to me. I have been in the competitive equestrian world since age 9, competed in IHSA in college, and still compete today. There are two big pieces that help me prepare for Show Day and calm those pesky nerves – organization and my team.

Now organization may not be everyone’s safety blanket, but over the years, as a competitive equestrian, it has become mine. I am a list person naturally and developed a checklist for each horse show or event. I know it sounds a little crazy, but I do believe in it. To take it a step further, I break down my list into smaller lists or sections. I try to organize my list and sections based off the order I will be working through them. For example, Horse Show Prep is first section because it is one of the first steps for the event.

For Horse Show Prep, I break it down into bathing, braiding, and show eve tuck-in. The next section would be Horse Apparel broken into two sections – tack and gear for the ring and then apparel and gear for travel. The Show Prep and Horse Apparel sections manifested and expanded to all the other sections. Kayla Schone would refer to the Horse Apparel list as a Show Bundle during my early competition years at Briggs Stables. On the day of the show, everything we needed was ready to go. This guarantee always helped me sleep the night before show day and keep my cool before entering the ring. Instead of succumbing to my nerves because I forgot a key piece to our presentation, I can imagine our best ride together and make it into a reality.

Rider Apparel is one section I developed and mastered during my IHSA career. Typically, we were not solely responsible for our horse in IHSA. This allowed me to focus on what I needed as a competitive rider, to ensure a positive experience and avoid nerves at all costs. I section off Rider Apparel into Warm Up, Ring, and Ringside. While creating this list, I work from head to toe. I try to imagine what I should wear or have on hand to be comfortable loading the horses for warm up, competing in the ring, and finally my best end of the day look to decompress while ringside. The Ring section is crucial, but I will argue Warm Up and Ringside are even more important when discussing nerves. For me, it creates a level of ease knowing I will be comfortable leading up to my time in the ring and having something fresh to jump into, once I am out of the ring. Of course, it would be easier to throw options in, but every competitive equestrian knows their horse has the bulk of the gear, so packing efficiently for yourself is important. This strategy allows me to pack meaningfully for myself without skimping on the essentials, but also save me 10 trips to retrieve all our gear!

The meaning of team as a competitive equestrian did not develop a recognizable meaning for me until my IHSA years, even though it has always been a piece. I recognize now, how even in my early years at Brigg Stables, I was part of a team. Team is my barn family. These are the folks for you to lean on during your most stressful or nervous moments. You are not dressed, they are calling your class, and a member of your barn family zooms to the announcer booth to attempt a hold on the class while the other members of your family scramble to tack your horse and get you on. This is the meaning of Team because when the situation is reversed, you are there to do the same. The people you surround yourself with at the event are your team and it is all based off kindness. Once you find this mutual kindness you have a team. For me, this realization and support, always helps reduce my show day jitters. Let other’s help you and help others when you can. Even waiting for a class, sometimes I like to compliment the other riders, starting a conversation with them lessens my nerves to head into the show ring with them. This is another example of a simple kindness that could contribute to another rider having a positive experience free of nerves too!

At the end of the day, we are all competing because of our crazy love for these incredible animals. When you think of all the similarities we have to each other in that ring, the nerves can start to melt away, especially when you add a touch of kindness to another person’s day.