Shian Nicholson, originally from Michigan, is an amateur Arabian rider, with a Canadian National Title in the show ring. In this article, she discusses how to succeed in the show ring as an adult rider on a budget.
“I took lessons starting at about age four after begging my mom to take me to a training barn. I started showing around the age of 12 in small shows and 4-H where I lived in Michigan. My first horse was a Quarter Horse who I learned everything on except how to be competitive in shows. That horse stayed with me until he passed this year at the age of 35. I got a Half-Arabian when I was 16. He was 17, thin and hadn’t been ridden in a few years. That horse and I started showing after he was healthy, and we won everything we went into. He was the first horse I got to ride Country on, and I fell in love with the discipline and the breed. After graduating college I wanted to get back into showing at the high level, and I knew I wanted another Arabian. I bought Mojo Rising for next to nothing and a promise that I would give him a good home. Five years and multiple Regional Championships, National Top Tens, and a Reserve National Championship later, Mojo Rising and I are best friends, and we get better every day together.
We won Reserve National Champion at Canadian Nationals last year in the Select Half-Arabian Country class. It was a huge moment for us, and I bawled when we left the ring. I would say the thing that makes the biggest difference for Mojo Rising “Reaux” and I is that I spend time every day with him. I work Reaux two to three days during the week, ride on the weekends, clip, blanket, feed, clean stalls, tack up, bathe, etc. myself. He lives at home with me, and I am his daily caregiver. He is turned out during the day with my retired guy and another Half-Arab that will start showing next year. At home we practice like we are going into the show ring, and I take the same mindset into the ring with us. Long lining is a big part of life during the week because I often don’t have the time or energy after work to tack up and ride so 30 minutes of long lining is great. We also hack around a lot and enjoy each other. I know when something isn’t right and when things are on point. I knew the day we went Reserve in Canada from the moment that I stepped into the stirrup that we were going to have a great ride because I know my horse.”
As we all know, showing is not easy on our wallets. What are some tips you have for fellow amateur riders on a shoe-string budget?
“For amateurs interested in showing at the highest level but maybe can’t afford to keep their horses with a trainer full time, or can’t afford to pay show fees with trainers or can’t afford the best clothes, they can still do it and well! I would say that the best thing you can do as an amateur is become a sponge for information. I have a trainer/friend named Kat Stevens of Moonshadow Performance Horses that has let me work for her at big shows like Nationals and Regionals over the years, and I am probably the most annoying person because I ask questions constantly. I learned how to long line, groom/clip for shows, and a million other things because she is willing to share her knowledge with me. So become a sponge and find people who know more than you do that you can learn from. I currently live in Amarillo, Texas and there are NO trainers near me. I drive to Kat’s a couple times a year for lessons when we are stuck or need a refresher. Many trainers are willing to give lessons and help riders who do this themselves; you’ve just got to find them. Another tough aspect of cost are the fees at shows. Choose the shows that will have the right qualifications for you and go! I take my horse and hit most of the shows on our own.
It may seem scary at first but you learn to fix problems on your own, and you don’t feel nervous because this is the horse that you work with every day! Another big issue is CLOTHES. The best way to fix this is to search on Facebook sales groups. People are selling show clothes constantly from all disciplines! I haven’t spent more than $500 on any of my saddleseat outfits, and often I put them together in pieces and eventually end up with a beautiful full outfit! Have an outfit for those class A shows where you may be a little harder on them and have your NICE outfit for the big shows. And find a good tailor to take your clothes to in order to get that custom fit. Finally, find other amateurs if possible. I have a great friend here in Amarillo that I met through horses, and we travel to shows together and split the cost of gas/hotels/tack stalls whenever possible! It’s great to have someone to watch you ride occasionally and tell you how it’s looking. Oh, and don’t be afraid to purchase an older horse. If you are considering showing on your own a lot, a ‘been there done that’ horse might be the perfect fit! My horse was 11 when I bought him and had been shown before. I have been able to take him everywhere by myself, and the stress level is way down compared to some of the young horses I’ve had! Also, the older horses are often less expensive but high quality.”
Are there any helpful resources you have used (YouTube channels, books) that have been supplemental for your training and show prep, since you do not have a trainer to guide you?
“I have done some YouTube videos for things like clipping and grooming and doing a horse show bun! I would say more than anything it’s the horse community that helps the most. Post questions on Facebook groups, filter the information to suit you. Read the USEF and Arabian show rule books and class specs! Take lessons from lots of people. I took lessons from a dressage trainer once just to add a different aspect of working my saddleseat horse. This last year we added side-saddle to our classes along with country and show hack. Being someone that knew NOTHING about side-saddle, I had to join side-saddle forums on Facebook, find books on it, and talk to a ton of experts. Last year we went Top Ten at Canada in side-saddle. People like farriers and vets often can help suggest supplements to try, sports medicine ideas, meds for shows etc. Talk to trainers at shows! Ask questions! I haven’t had anyone be rude to me or not want to help. What an amazing community the Arabian world is!
Finally, I would say that on a limited budget, remember that this is supposed to be FUN! We do this because we want to have fun, show horses, and become better horsewomen/men. Learn, have confidence in yourself enough to do things on your own, and ride your horse as much as you can. Groom your horse in the stall just because. Know that horse like the back of your hand and you will be competitive at the highest levels. Reaux and I may never win a National title, but we are there to have a great time and to give everyone a run for their money!”