My journalism professors here at USC are constantly preaching that as students of the media, we need to be continuously consuming it. I agree with that; I consider myself well educated in the way of the world, what’s going on in the political arena and who’s saying what on which platforms. I have my favorite mainstream news outlets, and ones that I stay away from for one reason or another. But as a writer and rider who dreams of writing for an equestrian publication, I also consume equestrian media as if it’s my job. I have my favorite equestrian news outlets, the ones I go to on a daily basis and the ones that I only go to when I’ve already read everything on my favorites. I even have three equestrian news websites on my bookmarks bar, located after HorseShowsOnline and before Blackboard and Self-Service Carolina (priorities).

My favorite equestrian publication is far and away Noelle Floyd (especially Noelle Floyd Style). NF and NFStyle are the go-to for insider information on the top show jumpers, and you just can’t beat their amazing videos and articles that give viewers and readers a peek behind the scenes. I’m obsessed with tack rooms and tack in general, so their Bit By Bit and What’s In My Tack Trunk series are [insert key emoji here]. I also love the interviews they do with the top riders, where you can really get in their heads and see what makes these riders so incredibly successful at the highest levels.

When you’re constantly reading these things, you start to notice trends. One trend that I’ve noticed in the interviews is that many of these riders say that they’re strategic not only about which classes they do, but which classes they’re going to try to win. Wait — what? You don’t try to win them all?! The first few times I read that, I was really shocked. Obviously, after riding countless green ponies in my junior career, I know that you’re not shooting for blue on a young or green animal. You’re aiming for a good experience for the horse. But it seemed strange to me that these riders who are at the top of their game on experienced horses are spending thousands of dollars to show in a class that they’re not even aiming to win.

I thought about it.

And I thought about it some more.

Andddddd lightbulb.

As a matter of fact, that makes so much sense, and I began to apply it to my strategy with Arli. Every horse show is not all about painting your banner blue. More than anything else, each horse show is a chance to grow, to test the training you’ve done at home against the training of others, and to see where you need to make improvements and strengthen your weaknesses. As I was preparing for the horse show this past weekend, I had two people ask me why I was taking Arli. One of them wanted to know why I wanted to burden myself with my own horse when I already had four students showing, and the other was really an interesting question: “Why do you want to take Arli to Aiken? He never does very well there.” Hum.

It’s not exactly untrue. The last couple of times we showed on the Dietrich Derby Field at Highfields in Aiken, we had at least one cheap rail in every class. The Derby Field is huge and wide open, with three of the sides lacking true fencing. The courses are often set on 2/3 of the field and you still have plenty of space to gallop between the jumps. It’s massive. So when I was asked that, instead of getting irritated, I thought about why Arli doesn’t do well there. The answer was pretty simple: the wide open nature of the arena makes it very difficult to keep the horse in a “box” and with impulsion; it encourages the horse to get flat and strung out. I responded to the question honestly: “If I only ever went to the venues that he wins at, we would never improve” …and then I went to work to try to prepare for the weekend on the Derby Field.

I did not go into the weekend with the goal of winning all of my classes. Instead, I went into the weekend with the goal of having good rounds where I kept my horse together, in his box, with a good up-and-down canter. On Saturday, we showed in the pouring rain…and he jumped around wonderfully. The work that we had done at home had paid off, and he stayed with me the entire round. We had one rail in the jump off, the back rail of an oxer into a one-stride that was set awfully short. I knew exactly why it happened, and it had nothing to do with his impulsion. I was thrilled with his round, and we were awarded 2nd place out of a big, competitive field. On Sunday, we continued to improve and jumped another great two rounds. In the speed class, I didn’t go all out. I rode conservatively to be sure that my horse stayed together, and we jumped a beautiful clear round to be 3rd out of an ultra-competitive group.

I left the horse show on Sunday afternoon with a great feeling that I had done what I came there to do. I didn’t come to win. I wasn’t even trying to win. I was trying to have a great experience for my horse to set him up for future success at that venue, and I did exactly that.

Arli and I on Saturday in the rain.