With the 2018 winter show season just a stone throw’s away, you can sense the shift in mentality within the horse show community: It’s time to get down to business.

The excitement level is never higher than in the opening weeks of circuit, but survival tips are often of the essence as the season goes on. This is also the point at which riders’ to-do lists suddenly become interminably long: shipping fleets of horses, organizing entries, managing a dozen simultaneously operating competition rings, and making sure all athletes remain physically and mentally fit.

We could all use some life hacks to help make the winter show season in Wellington just a little bit more manageable!

1. Utilize the best and simplest money-saver.

There’s no question the winter show circuit is expensive: entry fees, the cost of a circuit-long stall, training, braiding, last-minute equipment necessities…. The list goes on and the bills pile up quickly. While the majority of costs are inevitable, there’s a simple way to keep some extra bills in your pocket: packing a lunch.

When classes start at 8:00 a.m. and don’t end until late into the evening, packing a lunch is often the last thing riders think about. But at the horse show, you’re not just paying for the food, you’re paying for the convenience of its availability. While a sandwich and a drink at the show can easily cost more than $20 a day, you can buy a pound of lunchmeat, a loaf of bread, and a case of water at Publix that will last you the whole week for the same price. That means you’ll save more than $100 each week of circuit. Add that up over the course of 12 weeks, and you’ll have an extra $1,000 in your pocket to put toward your next horse show. Can you say, “Global Champions Tour of Miami Beach”?

There’s one more hack when it comes to food at WEF. If you happen to forget your lunch one day, you’ll never eat a better taco than the ones available at Nathalie’s, located by Ring 10. If you’re having a bad show day, an order might just make your mood a little bit brighter.

2. Own your name brand.

The most successful barns are the ones that are the most organized. The best way to maintain that organization when backpacks, saddles, and helmets are often uniform in a barn is monogramming. Monogramming your name or initials on your saddle cover, backpack and helmet bag will help you better keep track of your things throughout the winter circuit.

If you have multiple saddles, engrave your nameplates with numbers for better identification. And when you’re finished with something, lock it away in your tack trunk immediately. Otherwise, the odds of getting distracted by another task and losing track of your possessions are significantly high.

3. Make time for mental clarity.

The demands of a 12-week international circuit take as much out of a rider mentally as they do physically. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember why in fact we choose to ride—because we love it. Each week, set aside a half-hour to take your horse on a trail ride around Wellington. Utilize the many bridle paths available, and rotate; Grand Prix Village, the blue trail through Greenbriar Blvd., and the yellow trail along Pierson Rd. are just a few to get you started. This map of equestrian trails in Wellington is a great guide to keep things fresh for you and your horse throughout circuit. It’s important to get your horse out of the ring, but it’s equally important to get yourself out of it, too. It’s a time to relax and take in some fresh air in a less hectic atmosphere where you can get some quality, one-on-one time with your horse.

4. Keep records.

Most every barn has a dry erase board on which they write the day’s ride list, show schedule, and notes. But in an atmosphere where one is lucky to remember what he or she ate for breakfast, it can be hard to remember which rider rode which horse the day before, which horse had a trial, which horse showed in which ring, and which was seen by the vet—especially when the days often blend together. Therefore, each day, take five minutes of your time to copy your dry erase board log into a notebook. It will come in handy more than once.

5. Improve your (non-equine) transportation.

Save money, stay fit, and help the environment this winter. Instead of renting a golf cart, use a bicycle as your primary mode of non-equine transportation around the horse show. Riding a bike will not only improve your cardio stamina, it will also get you to your destination faster, as you’ll navigate through traffic with a new level of ease. Plus, finding your “vehicle” at the ring will be infinitely easier among the fleet of cookie-cutter golf carts, dirt bikes, and scooters.

Theft has also become an issue in the area, so another inherent perk of bicycle riding is having a mode of transportation less desirable to thieves who have shown a pattern of stealing motorized vehicles and selling their parts on the black market. (Still, don’t neglect to lock your bike up!) Reducing gas emissions into the atmosphere doesn’t hurt, either. Win, win, win…win!

6. Become a better rider…for free.

It’s unlikely you will find a larger group of international riders in one place than the one you will encounter in Wellington each winter. If you want to attend a clinic with Beezie Madden, Laura Kraut, and McLain Ward, watch them compete. Come out on a Thursday to watch a round of the WEF Challenge Cup. Watch the riders school, and then watch their performances in the ring. Watch how they train their students before the high junior and high amateur-owner jumpers. Then go to the hunter ring and watch Scott Stewart. Go to the equitation ring and watch Missy Clark and Andre Dignelli prepare their students. Listen to them when they give their riders instructions for the test. You will undoubtedly walk away with new ideas to implement into your own schooling, and it won’t cost you a dime.

Another opportunity to learn is at one of WEF’s “Ride and Learn” clinics (2018 dates coming shortly!). Participation in one of these clinics is $100, but auditing is free.

7. Remember, left shoulder to left shoulder.

It’s one of the earliest lessons we learn as riders, but it’s one that’s often forgotten in the hectic schooling areas around Wellington. When passing another rider, be sure to do it with your left shoulder adjacent to theirs. This will significantly improve warm-up traffic. You’re never too old or too accomplished not to utilize this important rule of thumb!

8. Follow the Noah’s Ark Rule.

When it comes to horse show essentials, you will save yourself a lot of time if you always have (at least) two of each of the following readily available in your ringside backpack: gloves, hairnets, and spurs.

9. Embrace your cell phone addiction.

As a society, we are glued to our cell phones. So why not utilize technology to our benefit at the horse show?

  • Maintain a group chat with your trainers when you’re ringside to update them with the ring status.
  • Create a home screen link to the in-gate service.
  • Get a Mophie for your phone for an extra battery back-up (you’ll need it).
  • Take photos of all your courses. Not only will it be a great point of reference, but you can also recreate your courses at home for practice.
  • Install the “DocuSign” app on your phone as a handy tool to quickly sign documents (think entries and sale contracts) and send them back out to the necessary parties. You’ll get deals done much faster and more efficiently!
  • Have a translator app on your phone to better communicate with riders and grooms of all nationalities.
  •  Get the Tile app to help you locate easily lost items, like your phone and car keys. It’s a lifesaver.

10. Create and maintain positive working relationships.

It takes more than a village to run a 12-week show circuit such as WEF. It’s more like an army, and some of the head commanders of that army are the men and women who run the in-gates. It’s a difficult job and often a thankless one, as it’s practically impossible to perfectly accommodate every rider’s schedule.

It’s very important to establish an effective line of communication with the in-gate managers. Make sure they can put a face to your name, make them aware of any potential ring conflicts, and, most importantly, say “thank you.” Try not to take your frustration out on these important people when your day gets hectic.

11. Realize it’s a marathon—not a sprint.

In the horse show industry, it’s a fact of life that you lose more often than you win. Not every day is going to be perfect, but when you have a 12-week circuit ahead of you, it’s important to remember that there’s almost always going to be another day, another round, and another opportunity. When things get hectic (they will), just try to take things day by day. It’s advice that is undoubtedly much easier said than done, but it’s something we all need to be reminded of.