It’s been a few years since you first put your feet in the stirrups and made your dream of riding a reality. Now, you’re starting to feel that little itch—a yearning to step your riding up a notch and show off the progress you and your horse have made together. Or maybe you’ve been showing for a while now and are ready to compete at a higher level. Either way, you’re a little unsure about taking the next step.
No matter the source of your hesitation, we want to encourage you to go ahead. Here, we talked to three Texas women who compete at different levels to give you advice, insight, and inspiration on the showing experience.
Just Getting Started
Rider: Barbie McIntire of Anna competes in Western pleasure on the local level through the Hunt County Horseman’s Association in Sulphur Springs. McIntire rode as a child but didn’t show. Her passion was reignited when she bought a horse for her niece a few years ago, then began taking lessons with Caroline Wood at JC Stables in Van Alstyne.
Horse: Late Night Impulse (Bentley), a 4-year-old Paint mare. “She’s young but extremely willing and eager to please,” McIntire says.
Main motivator: “I went to several shows to watch some of the kids from my barn. It was so inspiring to see them compete and have fun with their horses. It made me want to be a part of it all.”
Why she loves showing: The camaraderie with her horse and riding friends. “It’s an awesome experience to feel that intense connection with my horse and my new barn family. I’m not a naturally competitive person, but these new friends who also have a passion for horses spark something in me.”
How she makes it work: Establish a regimen and stick to it. “Even if it doesn’t work every week, a routine will help you progress and stay focused. Sometimes I have to be creative about finding additional riding time. If I’m watching my grandkids, for example, I’ll take them with me and put them to work doing barn chores while I ride.” Her husband’s support is also vital. “He’s not into horses, but he is into my having a horse. He sees what a wonderful thing this is for me and encourages me to get out there and enjoy this new experience.”
Greatest challenge: “My age! When I started riding again after 25 years, I learned my muscles don’t recover as fast as they once did. I don’t have as much stamina.” She started taking a weekly exercise class and says it’s increased her endurance in the saddle.
Budget-savvy tips: “Find a group of people willing to share expenses with you. There’s no reason to take multiple trailers when you can haul together.” McIntire also suggests finding bargains on used show clothing and tack from online resources, such as Facebook. “If you’re just starting out, consider borrowing or sharing clothes with friends,” she advises. “In time, you can decide what you really want to invest in.”
Unexpected reward: Lots of laughter and new friendships. On the morning of her second show, McIntire was feeling exhausted and defeated. “I had a bit of a meltdown at the breakfast table. At one point, everyone burst out laughing, and one friend said, ‘Oh, honey, we’ve all been there. It’s OK—you can do it!’ The laughter made me feel so much better and served as a confidence booster. I was very grateful for their encouragement.”
Key to happy showing: “I recognize my own limits, and I try to keep going if I make a mistake. I remind myself to breathe and enjoy the ride before every show. I’m living my childhood dream, and I take time to consciously realize the happiness I derive from the whole experience.”
Why you should give showing a try: “It’s a great way to challenge yourself. The experience has really led to personal growth for me. Someday I’d like to compete in breed shows, but showing on the local level has been an ideal place for Bentley and me to begin.”
Hitting Her Stride
Rider: Wendy Smith-Vann of Paradise competes in timed events with the American Association of Sheriff Posses & Riding Clubs and the National Association of Riding Clubs & Sheriff’s Posses in North Texas. She began showing at the age of 7 and says horses have been integral to her family for generations. “My mother was full-blooded Cherokee, and my great grandfather was on the Trail of Tears. Horses are a family tradition,” she explains.
Horses: Barbie, Smith-Vann’s grade Quarter Horse mare and longtime show partner, is still thriving at 23 and carting around Smith-Vann’s 4-year-old granddaughter. “Barbie will try anything, but she especially loves being dressed to do it. She’s a true Barbie Doll.” Steady Bet (Ariel), a 12-year-old Quarter Horse mare, is Smith-Vann’s current show mount. “She can be quirky at times, but our respective quirks mesh perfectly!”
Why she loves showing: Stress relief and confidence. “I’m an accountant, so my head is constantly filled with numbers. In the show pen, though, it’s just me and my horse—all the stresses of day-to-day life go out the window. Competing in the variety of events offered at playdays has helped me become a more diverse and confident rider. I’ve acquired a lot of new skills and established a sense of teamwork with my horse.”
How she makes it work: “I have an awesome support system. My husband tolerates my horse habit and survives when I’m away at shows. Plus, a lot of my family rides, too. They attend the events to cheer me on and help with the horses.” Fortunately, Smith-Vann owns her own business and can set her own schedule. “I had to learn how to budget my time efficiently and schedule with clients accordingly. Sometimes it’s necessary to make choices. When there’s a competition almost every weekend, I have to choose which events I can attend.”
Success secrets: Trust and try. “I trust in myself, my horse, and in God. Even on days I don’t feel like it, I do my best to try 100 percent. Negativity is toxic; I’ve learned never to let anyone tell me no or can’t.” She also says setting her own goals narrows her focus and re-inforces her determination. “I set goals based on my standards and what’s best for me and my horse. Then I challenge myself to surpass those goals.”
Greatest challenge: Conquering fear. Twenty years ago, Smith-Vann was bucked off a horse during a barrel race; her left leg was shattered. “The doctors told me I had to give up riding. They might as well have told me to stop breathing.” Nine months later, she was back in the saddle. While her leg has healed, she still experiences flashbacks of the accident. “I gave up competing for a long time because I was terrified I’d be crippled if I ever got bucked off again. But I’ve learned to face my fear and push past it.”
Budget-savvy tips: Club playdays are a great, inexpensive way to compete. “Membership fees range from $20 to $60 a year, and you can compete in eight classes throughout the day for only $15!” She also stresses that expensive show clothing and tack are not required. Riders typically compete in jeans and T-shirts. Finals, held twice a year, can be more costly than weekend events, but they’re scheduled a year in advance so riders can budget accordingly. “Plus, a lot of family and friends travel together for finals, so we share costs and collaborate on meals.”
Game changer: Three years ago, Smith-Vann’s eldest daughter Ashlie died from a rare condition called arteriovenous malformation (AVM) at the age of 23. “Most people with AVM have no symptoms. I had no idea my daughter was going to die. You can’t plan for something like that.” Ashlie, also a horsewoman, was an organ donor whose contributions saved the lives of more than 60 people, including an 18-month-old boy. After Smith-Vann met the boy’s family, she started a local playday called “Save a Life, Ride a Horse.” Proceeds from the annual event go to the Life Gift Organ Donation Center and Cook Children’s Medical Center in North Texas. “Knowing my daughter helped save a child’s life, and another family didn’t have to go through I what I did, has brought me a sense of peace.”
Key to happy showing: Don’t be overly critical of yourself. “Don’t take too many videos of your performance in the show ring. You’ll only go back and hammer yourself. If you tried your hardest and did the best for your horse, then you already won!”
Why you should give showing a try: “Competing is an ideal way to strengthen the bond between you and your horse. There’s no substitute for learning and training as a team.”
Stepping Up Her Game
Rider: Cathy Keith of Abilene shows in trail in the American Quarter Horse Association’s Select division. In 2012, she was reserve champion in trail at the AQHA Select World Show, and in 2013 she was champion. She started riding at the age of 5, but didn’t show until her late 20s. Keith currently trains with Buddy Fisher, also of Abilene.
Horses: Rinskis Old Gold (Red), Keith’s beloved 20-year-old Quarter Horse gelding and show partner of 14 years. She semi-retired Red in 2014 and now leases him to 13-year-old Landon Miers, who shows him in trail and Western pleasure. Ona Kruze (Kruzer), a 4-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, is Keith’s new show horse. “He’s still pretty green,” Keith says, “but he’s a fast learner and has an excellent work ethic, and I think he’ll be great in trail.”
Early fortitude: Keith was 12 years old when her grandfather’s ill health forced him to sell his farm and the pony he’d given her. “My dad told me that if I wanted another horse, I’d have to buy it myself. I saved my allowance, did chores and odd jobs for neighborhood friends, and bought a little Quarter Horse mare I named Molly Brown. I had her until I graduated from high school.”
Why she loves showing: “There’s something I get out of riding and competing that I don’t get anywhere else in life. Being in control of such a huge animal that’s willing to work for me and love me is a feeling unlike any other. Experiencing that harmony and sense of trust with my horse has been life-changing.”
How she makes it work: Careful planning, tangible goals, and organization. As a liaison for Texas Oncology, Keith is on the road a lot. “Smart planning is essential. It makes everything run smoother and reduces my stress level.” She also finds it helpful to articulate specific goals at the beginning of each year. “I write down my goals and then discuss them with my trainer. We prioritize goals, then decide which ones are most feasible for me at that time.” An organizational pro, Keith maintains a spreadsheet to help her manage her points. After a show, she logs any new points to determine how many she’ll need at the next show to accomplish her goals.
Success secrets: “Love what you do! Find an event you and your horse enjoy and do well in. This makes showing what it’s supposed to be—fun!” Keith says perseverance and patience are also essential. “If you have a bad day or a bad show, move past it. There’s always something you can accomplish or improve upon, so don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself credit for what you have achieved.”
Greatest challenge: Life balance; letting go of perfection.
“Showing and all the preparation necessary before a show are extremely time-consuming. I have to work to balance my horse time with my job and my family. And while I’m not perfect, I am a perfectionist. Sometimes, I put pressure on myself to the point that I’m a nervous wreck before I enter the ring. When that happens, I take a slow, deep breath and remind myself that this is the fun part. I’ve done everything I could to prepare and now it’s time for action.”
Budget-savvy tips: Establish a budget in advance. “At the beginning of the year, I determine how much money I have to work with. I don’t go to shows that aren’t within my budget.” She also suggests investing in just one high-quality show outfit. “I may be sick of looking at it. My fellow competitors may be sick of looking at it. But the judge has never seen that outfit before! And I take really good care of my show clothes to make sure they’ll last.” Keith further advises buying a good used saddle instead of a lower-quality new one. “You’ll end up spending the same amount of money, but with a quality used saddle, you’ll have a far better piece of equipment that’ll last twice as long.”
Battle wound: “I cut off part of my finger at a show,” Keith quips. After a successful ride, Keith was hitching up her trailer and accidentally put her finger in the wrong place as the hitch dropped. She ended up losing the first joint of her left, middle finger. “That was my bid to be the poster child for trailer safety!” Still…she kept going.
Key to happy showing: A good, trusting relationship with your horse. “If you’re not a good match with a horse, let him go so you can find the right horse. I used to think I was smart enough to change myself for what the horse needed. I’m not! If you have a genuine, strong connection with your horse, you’ll always take good care of one another and enjoy competing as a team.”
Why you should give showing a try: “It’s so much fun! And the competition element enables you to experience your horse in a new way. It’s not always about competing with other riders. It’s also a competition with yourself to improve upon what you and your horse have accomplished, individually and as a team.”