The Appaloosa National show is just under a week away, which means I’ve spent the past few weeks hustling with my halter mare, Illegal Vixen. Fortunately, I am a teacher and have the whole summer to spend with my horse. But, there are still plenty of days when I wonder if I’m giving Vixie my best by keeping her at home instead of sending her to the trainer.
Please don’t get me wrong; I love my trainers at JH Performance Horses. The owners, Jonathan and Joanna Himes, have been fantastic since the first day I met them ten years ago. They have helped me navigate some really rough patches and given me the confidence to overcome anxieties I developed showing as a youth. I am forever indebted to them and will always seek their advice and assistance. My internal quandary is not with them, but rather the desire to care for my horse during my off-time while competing in an industry where winning is a full-time career.
If I were a trail rider, I don’t believe there would even be a question. I’d keep my horses at home in my 10 acre pasture and be okay with only riding a few days a week. However, that’s not the reality with a show horse, especially a halter horse. When I have her at my place, each day begins with a 6 am feeding followed by a drive home at lunch to check and make sure she has hay, water, etc. I’ve ruined many high heels in this lunchtime routine. After work, it’s a rush home to clean stalls, work Vixie, get dinner made, shower and prepare for bed. Then, there’s the late night barn check that every horse owner has to do. I’ve ruined more than a few house slippers during the nightly check, too.
It was 11 o’clock the other night and I was still at the barn. I probably should have been more concerned, but when I stopped for a second to think about it, I realized I could not have possibly been happier. I was brushing my horse and getting her ready for bed. What could be better?!?
There inlays the quandry.
Despite all my efforts— grooming, feeding, working— my beautiful halter mare simply does not have that finished glow she has when she is at the trainer’s. It’s the ‘it’ factor that she’s missing and I can’t seem to grab it on my own. I use the same feed, quality hay, daily work routine— there shouldn’t be a difference. But, there is. There is something about the go, go, go, push, push, push environment of a training barn that keeps the horses in ‘show mode’, if you will. It’s an environment I simply cannot replicate at my quiet farm where Vixie is my sole focus. The difference is the small things, like taking an extra second to walk onto the wash rack, that are intolerable at the trainer’s. As such, the horses there are more in tune and responsive as a show horse should be.
Or, should they? We ask so much of our show animals. Competition is fierce and I think we sometimes get so caught up in the win that we forget the why. Yes, I want more than anything to win, but I also want to hear my horse nicker at me when I feed her in the morning. The choice is frustrating and disheartening. For the time being, Vixie will reside in my care, and I will continue to prepare for this year’s National show. We’ll see how it goes and I will let you know.
Let me know your thoughts on this topic. Do you care for your horses, or do you have a trainer who helps you balance life and horses? What’s worked for you?