A Tale of Two Horse Shows

Spoiler alert: this story has a happy ending, but it was a bit dicey getting there. Some of the lessons I learned are general to the world of dressage in the digital age and some are specific to para. Of course, I had no idea what I didn’t know and really bumbled through the process. There were several minor and one profuse apology along the way. 

Read on, PLEASE learn from my mistakes! In my area, there doesn’t seem to be any other para riders showing in para classes, so it’s unchartered territory for everyone. My horse show experience is almost exclusively in the hunter realm from 1994 to roughly 2012 where there were no ride times, digital entries, or emailing show secretaries! I am totally new to online entries and dynamic, digital show schedules and scores. I should have asked the following questions and taken steps early in the registration process to have avoided some snafus.

  1. Do memberships, Safe Sport training, horse recordings well in advance of registering for horse shows. The memberships take a few days to be official and if there are errors, they can be caught and corrected early. Get coggins and vaccines in PDF format.
  2. Find USDF-sanctioned horse shows offering para on the USDF calendar. Check the prize list as soon as it’s posted online. Am I planning to ride more than one para test? Are there two para TOC classes listed on the prize list? If not, can accommodations be made?
  3. Send the show secretary USEF classification/dispensation and blank tests after getting answers about para TOC classes. 
  4. Ask about ride times, can I request riding back to back early in the process?
  5. Bring hard copies of all documents submitted online to the horse show. Also, have digital version available for easy emailing from my phone.
  6. Use the digital tools! Check ride times early and often on the online platform.

There were two rated shows sanctioned for para still standing on the USDF website after all the cancelled shows due to coronavirus. Snags from the beginning! I created an account on EquestrianEntries.com and went to register – oh, no! The classes I wanted to enter weren’t there. I emailed the show secretary and got the following response, “We aren’t offering para. We had it on our prize list for years, but never had entries.” I was devastated because USDF had listed them as being sanctioned for para. I sent a pleading response and she offered to ask show management. Eureka! They agreed. I kept plugging away on the entry – what?!  They only offered one para test of choice (TOC) and one musical freestyle (MFS). I needed two TOC classes; again, emailed the show secretary, she said, “Just register for the MFS and I’ll correct it later.” Phew! Ok, all ahead go. (This was a hard lesson learned later!) As the show approached, we still had outstanding items: Ann-Louise’s Safe Sport certificate, vaccinations, sending dispensations. Once the entries were submitted through the website, all corrections were sent directly to the show secretary via email. I finally got the clearance that everything was done. Now it was horse show time. 

In the COVID era of horse showing, there was a very socially distanced check-in process and *gasp* I didn’t have my membership cards with me. I didn’t think I would need them because I had put all of that information into the system when I registered, whoops! Fortunately, they were able to look them up on the spot. Then I had an outstanding late fee (because of all the stuff I had turned in late) which I paid with Venmo. God bless technology! The show manager tracked me down and said some incredibly encouraging words and conveyed they were so pleased to have someone entered in the para classes.

As a Grade II rider, my tests are ridden in a 20 x 40 ring. At this facility, there was room for an entire ring and warmup space for me. My tests went great. The judge loved Robin. We got scores that qualified us for Nationals. All was well.

Seeing as the first rated show went so well and we now had Nationals on the horizon, Ann-Louise and I thought we should get another big horse show under our belts. (Robin didn’t weigh in, but I’m sure he would have been in favor.) I dutifully logged into the online platform thinking this time would be a breeze. I had all the memberships done, waivers signed, vaccines, coggins, and Safe Sport. I double checked their online prize list. Yup, para TOC and para MFS were both listed. There was only one TOC, so I signed up one para TOC and one para MFS with my grade and test choices. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom I was feeling like maybe I had the hang of something. WRONG! The show secretary said I could not enter the MFS as a second TOC. Also, there was a discrepancy between Robin’s USEF card and my online entry. I hastily replied that this is what I had done at my other horse shows (of course omitting the fact that “my other horse shows” included two schooling shows and one rated show). She quickly informed me that this was not common and I should not have presumed that I could swap classes. Also, the discrepancy was not to be brushed off and that needed to be dealt with ASAP. She, of course, was right. My best course of action would have been to contact her ahead of time to see if two TOC was an option. I had assumed that because the first show had handled it this way that it was common practice. Unfortunately, my eagerness and inexperience came across as presumptiveness and arrogance. Enter my immediate, profuse, and very sincere apology. How could I possibly have made such a blunder? I was a wreck and contemplated scratching all together! I tried to be calm; technically, she never said it couldn’t happen and I not-so-patiently, but quietly waited for a response. I contacted USEF to get Robin’s registration fixed in the meantime. I had been the one to register him, so it defaulted to me as the owner rather than Ann-Louise. USEF graciously corrected the error without charging me the transfer fee. Then, to my amazement, the show secretary responded that they would make accommodations so I could ride both tests. Good! I was still feeling very sheepish about my gaffes, but was now focused on horse showing. 

The Tuesday before the horse show, the ride times arrived in my email. I had one ride before the lunch break and one ride after the lunch break. This was a fairly substantial hiccup for me. Conserving energy is one of my main focuses in life, not just in the riding sphere. My tests had always been back to back and I had no idea how it would go to ride an hour apart. I had not thought to ask for back to back ride times. This meant I had to reach out to the show secretary again, something I was not so keen on. I was afraid she was going to think I knew how to better schedule the rings (this couldn’t have been farther from the truth!) With a little encouragement from a friend (apparently most riders don’t want to go back to back), I emailed the show secretary again, this time very, very humbly, and asked if I could ride back to back. She said she would find out, but it indeed needed to be truly back to back. I assured her, I would come out of the ring for a few words from my trainer and march right back in. I waited and waited and waited for a response. It was Friday night, my ride times were 15 hours away with no word! I finally caved and emailed her again. About 30 seconds after hitting send, I remembered the ride times were posted online. DUH! I quickly checked, yup, my ride times had been rearranged back to back. I shot back another email telling her I found the updates and sorry for wasting her time. Goodness gracious, I felt like such a buffoon!

By show morning, I was a nervous wreck. I was so embarrassed to go face “these people.” This was a horse show where I knew more people, felt like I had more eyes on me, and I had been such a bumbling idiot through the whole registration process. I had let all of this get in my head and really lost sight of how much I love taking Robin into the show ring. As I drove to the barn, I was thinking, “If this is what big horse shows are like, I’m not sure I want to do this.” Then I saw Robin’s sweet face. Then we were at the horse show. Then I was warming up. He felt like a million bucks. Then I was in and out of the show ring. And yes, in fact, I love to do this more than anything else on the planet! 

These were some important lessons learned – from when and who to email to the confirmation that I really love this – now we’re even more ready for the next horse show. To reiterate again: get stuff done early, check the websites and prize lists early, ask questions early and humbly, have digital and hard copy documents at the ready, and use the online tools. Maybe there’s some way to let horse shows know that para riders need two para TOC classes. Maybe I’ll save that for my next series of blunders…

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