A Successful First Show

I had zero expectations going into this horse show. It was not only my first time showing in almost 10 years, but my first time showing in a completely new discipline. My goals included staying on pattern and staying out of my very talented horse’s way, two things I knew I was capable of doing. 

Going into a new event can be scary, especially when you only know a handful of people, but my first NRCHA experience is one that leaves me excited for what is next to come. 

Nichole Chirico competed in her first cow horse competition on veteran cow horse Shinee Hot Wheels. Performance Horse Photography

Day 1

Once I arrived and got checked into my hotel, I headed to the barn to saddle up and spend time with my horse. There was a calcutta going on to support the cow pen help, and they were getting ready to do the cutting portion, so I parked up next to the arena and watched as guys (and horses!), who were normally in the background working hard to make sure the show runs smoothly, had their time to shine. It was a lot of fun and everyone from the show came together to support the guys competing. 

After that I went for a quick breeze in the other arena and worked the flag to ensure my horse was feeling good. And he was. 

Day 2

I was originally only entered in the 1K class that was happening the following day, but on Thursday morning I decided I would try my luck and show in a class called the Pro Am which is a CRCA approved class for beginner amateurs and professionals looking to get a taste of the cow horse. 

I saddled up, grabbed one of my favorite CR Ranchwear shirts, and put on my chaps for the first time in nearly a decade and headed to the show arena. I grew up on the show circuit, I spent most of my teenage years traveling from one show to the next, so preparing to enter the arena is nothing out of the ordinary, but I could feel the familiar butterflies entering my stomach for a quick minute as I watched another rider lose her cow and go chasing after it. 

I regrouped myself and reminded myself that today was all about having fun. My horse felt good, and as we trotted into the arena to being the reining portion of my pattern, everything fell into place.

My first time competing in the cow horse went better than I could have ever imagined. Not only did we mark a 140.5 in the reining portion, but we marked a 144 on the cow. On top of that, I ended up being the winner of that class. 

Day 3

I think I set the bar a little high after my first run. The second day of showing didn’t go as well as I had hoped for, but these are the most important days, because they help me learn what to expect from my horse in the show pen. While the cow work didn’t go as smooth as the first day, my reining improved and I marked a 141. While working a cow can sometimes leave this out of my control, pattern work is something I should have total control over. So my goal was to continue marking higher in the reining. 

With the cow work, I ran into a few bobbles, and my horse wasn’t hooked onto the cow like he was the previous day. But it gave me a chance to reevaluate how I approached the cow and what I was doing as a rider in this situation. I still ended up third and took home some money, so definitely no complaints over here! 

My must-haves for showing:

Ariat R.E.A.L bootcut jeans. Some of my favorite riding jeans to wear under chaps.

YETI tumbler. I take this with me everywhere! It holds ice all day and helps me keep track of how much water I’m taking in. Plus using a reusable water container helps cut down on plastic.

Leather cleaner. Presentation is important—even at small shows. I always have leather cleaner on hand to wipe down my saddle and headstalls before walking into the show pen.

Neatsfoot oil. While great for softening reins, I always have some of this on hand to keep my stingray boots looking their best.

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Day 4

I had a day off from showing today, so I took my horse into the show arena and parked him off to the side in the small warm-up pen so he could watch horses and cattle. I purposefully put him next to where they were going down the fence so he could listen to the clatter and noises that were going on. 

I figured out I needed to spend more time in the arena to get him ready for tomorrow’s day of showing. He’s definitely a horse that’s better the more time you spend camped out on him. He also gets bored in his stall (at home he lives outside in a decent sized paddock with his full sister), so we also went for a walk around the fairgrounds. 

Once the show was over I re-saddled up and headed into the show pen to work on my rundowns. I was happy with them in my previous goes, but wanted to spend more time on them so he was listening to me and not paying attention to where he’s at in the arena. I felt him trying to stop short on the end of the arena where the cattle come out, so I wanted to spend as much time as I could over there. 

Day 5

This time I gave myself plenty of time to warm up and just cruise around the arena before showing. My horse felt relaxed and all the hours I put in the day before and morning of paid off. I ended up winning a class and marking a 144 in the reining and a 145.5 in the cow work. I never thought I would win my first cow horse event—all I cared about was remembering the pattern and staying out of my horse’s way during the cow portion. (As a control freak that’s harder than it sounds!)

Overall, the first horse show was a success, and I have to say I’m hooked. Everyone was so inviting and I loved the challenge of competing in a new event. I also had the opportunity to meet some new trainers and am excited to bring them into the Horse&Rider family—so be on the lookout for future training content! 

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