That doesn't mean I don't have any competition experience.
In fact, not to toot my own horn (doesn't that mean I am about to?), but my fifteen seasons (82 races) of endurance riding taught me a lot about navigating the world of competition and how to do it with patience, perseverance, honesty, and tactfulness. Even though endurance races might not look like serious events, they are.
Here's a quick rundown of how a race works: you show up on Friday and present your horse to the vet. You receive a vet card that will travel with you throughout the next day, usually in a Zip-loc baggie. (How's that for serious?!) The vet notes your horse's current condition on the card. You start the ride the next day. Depending on the length of the race, you will see the vet three to six times, or more, during the course of the day. He or she will continue noting the condition of your horse. If at any point during the day your horse does not meet the established criteria for pulse and respiration, hydration, and way of going, you and your horse are eliminated. At the finish, you must present your horse for a final check where he is evaluated one more time. If your horse doesn't meet all of the established criteria, you are eliminated even though you have finished the entire course.
During my first decade of riding, a pull, non-completion, was viewed by your competition as something of which to be embarrassed. Finishing was the ultimate goal. Not finishing meant that you made an error. You weren't fit enough, or your horse wasn't. And even though AERC's motto has always been To Finish is to Win, it means something different today. Not finishing no longer carries such a palpable stigma of failure. I think this is in large part to the change in the vet/rider relationship. In the old days, there was more of an adversarial relationship between riders and vets. It often felt that the vets were out to get us as opposed to helping us. During my last few years of endurance, that atmosphere changed. The climate of the vet check changed considerably to one where the vets became part of your team.
The vet is very similar to a judge. The vet fills out your card with scores and comments. In the old days, the ride manager would occasionally mail your vet card to you once the race was over so you could keep the vet's comments and scores for your records. (I've posted one below.) It is the vet who determines whether you get to keep going, or whether you're done. When a horse appears questionable, the relationship that you've fostered with the vet can be utilized to get a better understanding of where your horse truly is which can prevent an unnecessary pull. As with judges, a pleasant attitude with the vet will go a long way toward making your day a better one.
Why the heck am I even comparing vets to judges? What does this have to do with showing?
I was on the fringe of a conversation recently where dressage judges were being discussed. Oh, all right it was at Saturday's clinic! The conversation went something like this. "Pick your shows based on the caliber of judge. "R" judges aren't as good as "S" judges and should be avoided. Furthermore, pick your shows based on which particular judge is presiding as there are mean and unpleasant judges out there who should be given a wide berth."
My response to this was a simple, hmm. I added the comment that I choose my shows based on which ones will give me the experience that I am searching for at that moment (three-star experience, new venue, repeated venue, a chance for a CDS score, schooling shows for trying new tests, etc). Remember that this is my view of my equine experience - my opinion wasn't taken very seriously.
Here's yet another endurance story which might illustrate my point: Not all endurance vets are friendly. Some are downright cranky, although those old and cranky dudes seem to be fewer and fewer. There was one particular vet a number of years ago that was a complete ass. He was so nasty to me that I swore to never attend a race where he was vetting. And I didn't. I also didn't drag his name in the dirt, nor did I publicly discourage other people from attending races where he was vetting. He was a jerk, and not just to me, but it's up to each rider to accumulate her own experiences so that she can make informed decisions about her own competitive journey.
I am not ready to choose shows based on the judge. I want to show for as many judges as possible so that I can (once again) fill my own Bag of Experience. It is only with first-hand experiences that we gather enough information to make informed choices. Making decisions based solely on someone else's experience, no matter how generously offered, serves only to cheat yourself out of a potential learning opportunity. And as a life-long learner, I'll give it a try myself, thank you very much.
Click photos for captions and larger view.