Home > Dispatches > Daily Dispatches 2014 > Daily Dispatch #235

September 2, 2014: Show Day

Today I went to the Alaska State Fair horseshow, mainly to watch my friend Vickie and her horse Hunar in the jumping classes. I tried, the entire time, to remain observant, learning what I can from the ground. I paid close attention to riding styles. I also paid close attention to how people treated their horses, and how the horses responded in kind.

The latter was revelatory. Most treated their horses with utmost respect, negotiating often tricky jump courses in a fashion that indicated that they had a bond with their animals.

And after, most (no matter how they did) gave their horse a well-deserved pat on the withers. The smartest of the lot decided to forego the pat and instead gave their horses a well-deserved scratch on the withers. (Horses like the scratch more than the pat because the scratch is more akin to social grooming).

And most came out of the arena smiling. And, of course, the smiles of some who did not do as well as they liked seemed forced. But, at least these individuals were attempting to show good sportsmanship, for which they should be given their own scratch on the withers.

I suspect that those who did the best were those who in working hard with their horses had bonded with them. How could this be any other way?

It was late and warm by the time I arrived at the fairgrounds. (I’d spent my morning riding.) This was the third day of the show. I could tell that many of the horses and riders were by now tired. There were just a tad more hesitations, knockdowns, and refusals than on the previous two days. Also, the jumps were higher later in the day.

I also noticed that the majority of riders were using spurs. And some of their horses had spur marks – small white patches – on their upper bellies. What gives? I am not going to wear spurs, and let me explain why. The use of spurs is an aversion stimulus – the horse is, in going over the jump, attempting to evade being in pain. There is an alternative to this, the use of a negative reinforcer, and that is to use of a positive reinforcer. A positive reinforcer is (for instance) a treat, given after a good round. I am going to continue to keep my thoughts about this to myself – fortunately, I am the one who makes decisions about my horses’ treatment and wellbeing, and actually am becoming increasingly more confident about standing up for what I think is right, particularly when others think differently. Nope, spurs are out, and treats are in.

I’ve pretty much decided that next year I’ll do just one show – maybe a class or two with very easy (meaning low) jumps and hopefully, easy patterns. I just want to know what it feels like to compete after doing a year’s training. Plus, this will give me incentive to keep up with lessons. In the meantime, I will continue to watch others, and learn what I can. Quite obviously, it was a good day for this.

Next: 236: 9/3/14: Trail Blazing Cowgirls