Setting goals is a lifelong obsession of mine. There’s always been the next horse show to look forward to. Then March 2020 happened. Immediately after the biggest Arizona Quarter Horse Association Sun Circuit on record, our world shut down. Every event, every show, everything was canceled due to COVID-19. Most of us thought it would be short-lived; we all know now that wasn’t the case.
[MORE WITH LAUREL: MORE THAN RUNNING IN CIRCLES]
Some of my forward-thinking peers jumped into the void and started virtual horse shows online. It took a while for me to see the value in these newfangled events, as it was all a bit overwhelming. Yet the participation was huge, so obviously people were craving a way to show off their winning runs…or was it more than that?
Soon I was asked to judge a virtual ranch riding class, and that’s when I discovered just why online events are so popular.
Horse enthusiasts of all types sent in their videos, riding different breeds in different countries, all of them horse lovers working for a common goal: to be better. They learned from their score cards and from every word in the written comments.
Having someone video your pattern and then watching yourself can be intimidating. But that’s what it takes to become a better rider: stepping out of your comfort zone, getting help, identifying your mistakes so you can correct them the next time around.
When judging these online shows, I saw everything you can imagine: beautifully groomed indoor arenas, not-so-level outside arenas, small arenas readied just for this video, huge rodeo arenas, arenas not much bigger than a back yard, and an honest-to-goodness cow pasture complete with cows wandering through the pattern.
Some videos were nearly professional; others had riders with their heads cut off; still others showed ridiculously teensy horses far, far away.
Some runs were exceptional; most were not. I saw great riders, good riders, first-timers, old-timers, walk-trotters, and pattern-forgetters. But all of them dressed up, geared up, and showed their horses to the best of their ability. They loved what they were doing and didn’t mind putting themselves “out there” to learn more.
I tried my best to see through all the different angles to give each an equal shot.
I believe it improved my judging skills.
Some entrants submitted one video for two different classes…and I’m fairly sure I gave them two different scores, which only proves that judging is still an opinion, not an absolute. It’s human nature; we see things differently at different times.
I tried to judge as I would at a regular show, using the replay button only when my poor satellite feed required it. But it wasn’t about the final placings; it was about taking part of a new way to compete on the back of a horse. More and more I saw the value of it for my clients…and that helped me decide to get involved on the other end of a virtual horse show.
We scheduled a “Virtual Show Day”—where my clients could video themselves to enter an online show—at our ranch. It felt odd getting horses and riders show-ready, in best gear and good hats and pretty shirts, for just another day in the same ol’ arena. Everyone had practiced the pattern and arrived ready to go for the big kahuna!
The first thing that caught us off guard were horse-show jitters—even in our comfortable, well known arena. Then we noticed that the horses knew right away something was up. They sensed it through their nervous riders and the show gear. What had been easy-peasy the day before had all kinds of bobbles and mistakes on “the big day.” Everyone laughed and kidded each other about “Take 12” in video-speak.
In the end, some submitted their videos confidently, others simply settled philosophically for what happened in their last take. One thing we all agreed upon, though: It was definitely worth our time and effort. My students learned the difference between practicing and getting your show face on.
[LISTEN: THE RIDE PODCAST WITH LAUREL]
And…we began eagerly looking for another online show.
Out of the darkness, there shall be light. Our world has been going through one of the most trying times ever, but with that experience has come a new instrument for my teaching toolbox. Now that things are settling into a “new normal” and in-person horse shows are starting up again, I hope the online trend continues.
It’s an affordable way to enjoy your horse while learning a new pattern and trying new things. No matter your discipline, I encourage you to give it a try.