I grew up riding, training, and showing horses. It was my first love, and is still a passion of mine. Ultimately, my desire to get back in the horse show ring spurred my interest in dogs. While there are many differences in horses and dogs, there are many similarities.
In many ways, I compare what I am doing with Hush to what I did in high school and college with my old show horse, Sundance Kid (aka Monty). I bought him, young and untrained, and with the guidance of an instructor, and lots of blood, sweat and tears, turned him into a well-known champion show horse.
I traveled almost every weekend across the country (mostly on the East Coast) to horse shows, and usually wound up coming home with an armful of prizes, and the championship ribbon. However, Monty and I were self-made, and while we frequently beat some of the best in the country, I still looked at those horses like I look at a dog that wins at Westminster. With awe, and a feeling that I could never compare, let alone beat this quality of competition.
On one of my weekends at a horse show, I found myself up against not just one or two most competitive ponies, but 16 of them! Out of the top 20 ranked ponies in the country, 16 of them were showing against me, plus an additional 20 incredibly talented, though not nationally ranked, ponies. I went in feeling like all I could do was my best, but realizing the actuality of me placing, let alone winning was slim to none. In fact, I had built my competition up so high in my mind, that I didn’t even bother memorizing my entry number, from which they call the winners.
Though I had shown very well that day, I assumed there was no way I would be called back to jog, and left my pony’s saddle on, and sat chatting to some friends as I watched the winners being called into the ring. After an over-fences class (where you jump jumps) the winning horses are called back into the ring to “jog for soundness” where any lame horses will be disqualified. To jog for soundness, you leave the horse’s bridle on, but remove the saddle, and jog into the ring just like you would in a dog show. In some classes, the horses will then be judged for conformation, which will equate for 25% of their score, and can change who the winners are in the class.
So here I sat, chatting away with a friend, Monty still in his saddle, mud all over my riding boots, as the announcer kept calling “Number 749” “Number 749” over and over again for the soundness jog. Finally, someone noticed the number pinned to my back and told me that was me, I was shocked as I quickly unsaddled Monty, and ran towards the ring, in first place.
In my handling class we do mock dog shows, judged by our trainer, an AKC judge, and she explains why certain dogs are winners. Until Tuesday night, I had never placed in these shows. I knew my spot was always in the line up, and that I was never called out as a winner. So, I wasn’t exactly sure what the trainer wanted as we finished our mock class and she pointed to me. I looked back confused, and she pointed again, signaling with her hands for me to come over to her.
I assumed I had done something wrong, and she wanted to correct me, but what it was, I was not sure. Like at that horse show, my jaw hit the floor when I learned I had pinned 3rd. Here it was, me, baby Hush, up against people with champion dogs, which have shown for years… beating them! It was an exhilarating experience, and it made me realize, if I am going to pretend like I know what I’m doing when I go to a real dog show… I better make sure I know what to do when called out as a winner!