We all know what a unicorn is when looking to purchase a horse. It’s that 17-hand, 8-year-old, bay with four bright socks. It jumps 3 ft+, it’s a packer, auto changes… and all for under $5,000! Well ladies and gents, it’s time to talk about the other unicorn in our industry: the horse show boyfriend.
Who is the horse show boyfriend? It’s that significant other who WILLINGLY shows up to horse shows, weekend after weekend, ready to lift heavy items, hold horses, feed sugar cubes, and always have a water bottle stashed somewhere on him. When you find him, cherish him!
Luckily, I have found my own, and have learned some tips along the way to allow my unicorn to show off his talents.
1. Get Him a Gear Bag
A lot of HSBs (Horse Show Boyfriends—we’ll give them the official shorthand they deserve!) are new to the horse industry, so it is important to make them feel welcome with items they already recognize. This means putting away your SmartPak plaid tote and giving him a tool-handy man-tote to carry.
Bonus points if you take your HSB to the hardware store to pick it out. Mine chose a red and black Husky tool tote. This way, he doesn’t have to worry about having anything girly, he can carry one that fits right in back home in the garage!
2. Dress Him Up
A lot of HSBs are proud, proud of their significant other in general, and then even more proud that they get on large animals and do these crazy leaps and circles. Let them strut around in a T-shirt, polo shirt and/or a hat with your farm’s logo. Think of him as a walking advertisement!
3. Suppport His Education
As a dressage rider, my HSB thought I just went around in circles UNTIL he found my test booklet. Now, as I do my test, he follows along. It’s his self-taught way of understanding that there is more to it than circles, and that when I go sideways, it's actually intentional! This can double as an approachable way for horse-owner husbands to learn more without being overwhelmed by trainer lingo. It can easily be applied to jumping: HSBs can learn the course and act as an extra failsafe for that last minute, course memorization panic.
4. Have Code Words
We all know that horse shows can be stressful, and to those that have never done one, we as riders can appear to be running around with our heads cut off. Before my first horse show with the new HSB, we made a code word—muskrat. Anytime I am accidentally snappy or stressed and it is directed towards the HSB, he is allowed to say "muskrat" and it is my way of knowing to take a deep breath. (Luckily this has only happened once!)
5. Embrace the Training Process
Being an HSB can be quite overwhelming, so it is important to work them up to tasks and to train along the way. (We wouldn’t take a young horse and throw him into a Prix St. George test—same difference!)
Start with simple things: carrying the tote, lifting heavy objects, giving sugar cubes. Once an HSB gains confidence and starts to enjoy his new found weekend job, the possibilities are endless. Adding humor to these tasks not only helps to break up horse show nerves, it makes others around you laugh too. My favorite is to ride over to my team and say “Give me some suga, boy!” and the HSB comes over with sugar cubes. Even the horses learn that this wonderful HSB means a snack, and the horse show volunteers can’t help but smile and laugh.
6. Consider Bringing a Puppy
This is optional, but if your HSB loves dogs as much as you probably do, putting him on dog duty is always a plus. If the dog is a puppy, even better! This will help with his promotional duties in #2. Because nobody can resist a puppy.
The horse show boyfriend can be quite an asset when blossomed and encouraged, so ladies and gents, go have fun and laugh with yours at the next horse show!
About the Author
Kendra Clarke owns K.Clarke Equine, which specializes in classical dressage training. She has ridden with many notable trainers, including Conrad Schumacher and Louise Davison while working in England. She has shown up to 4th Level and schooled the FEI levels. Kendra is from New Hope, PA..