by Kristina McCombie
As a long time rider, I have recently switched sides and have begun to work for the shows as a starter (aka, back gate girl, in-gate person, etc.) I have been fortunate enough to have been hired by a number of wonderful horse show managers who have entrusted me with some of their biggest CHJA shows of the year. It is my job to get all the rounds in the ring in some semblance of order, called into the judge on the correct card, check heights and courses, set rails, announce results, and stick to the time schedule that many people have come to appreciate. Over the past show year, I have gathered a list of ten things you can do as a ride to help the show go smoothly and efficiently.
2. Wear a Watch
Carry your phone. Wear a watch (how retro!) Use a sun dial. It doesn’t matter to what you use, but I absolutely cannot be the timekeeper for everyone, even though I’d love to. That being said, it is also good practice to learn how to calculate the time your class might go using the simple math of a horse show. Figure each horse is in the ring for 2 minutes. A course change is 10 minutes. Water and drag is 30 minutes. By using the schedule, class counts, and anticipating things like a course change and water and drag, you can almost figure out what time to expect your class. Of course, if you’re in the first class, 8:00 AM means 8:00 AM. By knowing what time it is on your own accord, you can have a better grasp on when your class might go and what time you’ll be expected at the ring.
3. Enter Ahead of Time
This one seems so simple, but really entering ahead of time can make or break a horse show day. Day-of adds are unavoidable, but entering by the closing deadline can help a show manager prepare their staff for what lies ahead. A show I did recently had 35 rounds entered the morning of, and by the time same-day adds were calculated in, our ring had over 100 trips. That’s a HUGE change. (Think of the calculations in the previous number - 65 extra rounds at 2 minutes a round = 130 extra minutes!) Also, at some of the smaller horse shows, knowing entries beforehand can help managers figure out which divisions or medals will fill, and which need to be combined. The nice thing about CHJA shows is their flexibility with classes; you do not always have to stay in what you entered, but even a rough idea is better than no idea.
BE THERE! When you sign up, I assume you’ll be there, ready to walk in the ring for your rounds. I understand emergencies happen, and sometimes you can’t make it. I horse show too, I’ve been on the other side, and I know how frustrating it is when you are supposed to go in a spot, and then that falls apart. I also know that sometimes we have trainer conflicts and some horses take extra time to school, etc. But whatever the case is, let your starter know. I am happy to stick in a few extras if you need to go change tack, or sit out a mintue. I am happy to fit you in early if I have an open gate. Whatever the case may be, let me know so I can make it work for you and give you one less thing to worry about.
5. Introduce Yourself
There’s a lot to be said for a simple introduction. I’m a person too, a horse show person nonetheless, and I understand the stress of the day. But I also have a name, try to be kind, and try to get to know those around me. So don’t be shy - come introduce yourself. (This also applies at bigger shows - gate people like being called by name!)
6. Follow the Schedule and Stick Around
Get a copy of the schedule in the office and follow along. I use the schedule to drive my day, and I will answer questions based on the schedule. That being said, if your division is next, don’t go wander off. Try to stick around and listen for when your class may go. I am always happy to answer questions about where we are on the schedule, even multiple times per day, but it is way too hard to track people down while also ushering people into the ring. Get to know the schedule and where you fit into it.
8. Offer Gentle Reminders
As mentioned before, I wear a lot of hats at the CHJA shows. Not only am I ensuring each horse gets in for the correct round, I am communicating with the judge, steward, office, manager and others, setting courses and getting rails, announcing results and entries. With that being said, if you see something I’ve missed - say a rail for instance, a gentle reminder will work far better than a harsh one. I promise I’m not avoiding you, ignoring the problems on course, or purposely not refilling the water jug, just that most of the time there is too much going on for me to control absolutely everything. If you see something that needs my attention, don’t hesitate to tell me! But please be conscious of how it comes across as starters have a lot on their plate at any given time. I’d be happy to fix that rail for you, or close the gate behind you, or even get you a cup of water when you finish, but please, think about how you ask.
9. Be Patient.
We all know the age old saying that horse shows are all “hurry up and wait.” Such is the case at many of the CHJA shows I work. Perhaps a rotation took longer than expected, or a division ended up with six more horses than anticipated, or even a course has to be adjusted prior to the start of the class. These things will happen, but I beg you to opt for patience rather than impatience. I understand the emotions of a horse show day - you warm up and you’re ready to roar in that ring only to get up there and realize you’re actually three rounds out. All of a sudden you feel deflated and the nerves kick in and you start feeling anxious. Trust me, I’ve been there! But I have found that patience at a horse show can go miles when you’re trying to have a successful day. As I learned a hard lesson in Estes just a week ago - unless the “barn is on fire” (or something similar), nothing is a major emergency. Take the time you need to be successful, and offer others the same courtesy.
your horse. I find that the kinder you are to others often comes back tenfold - especially at a horse show. Be sure to thank your show staff, and those who work so hard to make it possible for you to come and have FUN! Because after all, isn’t that what it is all about?
Kristina McCombie, better known around the shows as “Tina Harkin” is an amateur rider who shows her horse Linus in the Low A/Os and CHJA Amateurs. When she’s not hanging out a horse show she has a real job teaching kindergarten to some of the cutest kiddos ever in Arvada. She rides with CHJA President Jill Pelzel at Fall River Farm and almost always has peppermints in her pocket for horses at the gate. You can contact her at Harkin@Colorado.edu or say “hi” at your next horse show!
by Emily Baker
It’s funny the way life works out. As hard as we try to plan and organize – and if you know me at all you know how hard I try to do both of these things – it never works out the way we had expected.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Emily, nobody buys a horse on accident. You have to deliberately sit down and write the check, or wire the funds, or withdraw the cash from your account and physically place it in someone’s hands. You’re right; I did have to physically (and intentionally) do those things. But when I went to try horses, I was an elementary school teacher making less than an office assistant makes in a year (that hasn’t changed) and I knew that I couldn’t afford a horse. I had no intention of actually buying one of the horses I tried. Until I found Coco.
would happily be eating chicken flavored Ramen noodles for the next five years if it meant I could have a horse.
So you see… I did deliberately put money in other people’s hands to buy Coco, but I had never had the intention of doing so. It was an accident you might say. But it was the best accident of my life.
Until of course I got her home and rode her for the first time. She resembled a hot off the track thoroughbred that day (and for the month or two following.) And then the immediate buyer’s remorse set in where I was trying to control my blood pressure with my mind to stave off the impending heart attacks.
There was no amount of leverage I could get in order to keep my new mare at a manageable pace. Not to mention what would happen when you put a jump in front of her… I’m lucky I didn’t go flying off unwillingly into the sunset with that mare in full control of the steering and brakes every single day.
Coco never did slow down. But I caught up to her a little bit. Meanwhile all of the mothers watching from the viewing room were still wide-eyed and white-knuckled gripping the nearest object as if they were pulling on the reins for me. We played around at some A shows, something she had never done before in her life. I can’t even count the occasions that I would collapse on her neck after a course proclaiming “holy crap I love this horse!” A sentiment I echoed verbatim just a few days ago on what was to be my last day getting to ride that marvelous creature.
You see, I learned at those A shows that, as much as Coco loved to jump, she herself was limited to a height that was lower than what I aspired to do. That same darn teacher salary could not afford to pay for a horse I couldn’t show. She was put up for sale and sold just a few short days ago. It was the hardest thing I have had to do in my life thus far.
Granted, I have sold horses in the past, ones I had owned for many years longer than I owned Coco. But this little horse that I bought on accident was different. She was the horse that got me back into riding and competing after a two-year hiatus. She was the horse who showed me that riding could be fun and not a fear-ridden leap of faith at every obstacle. She was the horse who reminded me why I've loved this crazy sport since I myself was in elementary school. For that, and so much more, I will owe that little horse for the rest of my life.
I have found from this that so many of the best things in my life have been “accidents.” Or perhaps you might say they were serendipitous- destiny even. This is a lesson that I will always remember from Coco. Though I will never stop planning and organizing (I can thank my mother for those qualities) sometimes it’s important to just let life happen. Thank you, Coco, for teaching me that.