Lessons Learned from Horse Shows

Horse people are tough, and horse people who show are even tougher. There are many challenges: Early mornings caring for, grooming and braiding your horse, navigating hectic warm-up rings, memorizing jump courses under pressure, fighting nerves in the show ring, handling success or defeat with equal grace and good temper.

For young people, going to horse shows can teach life lessons: sportsmanship, maturity, responsibility, and so on. Showing horses is about more than just competition. Riding in shows teaches special skills that may help horse people face other challenges in life, both in and out of the show ring.

Showing at an Early Age

Riders competing in their first leadline classes can be as young as two, or even younger. The littlest leadline competitors may not even understand what they are doing, but once they get the horse show bug, it can be hard to shake, even if that first show didn’t go so smoothly.

Celia & Liza Cram

“Both myself and my sister Liza have been riding since before we can remember and started competitively showing at around age 5 or 6,” said Celia Cram, 20, who is a student at Savannah College of Art and Design where she rides on the intercollegiate equestrian team. She and her younger sister Liza, a freshman at the University of Georgia and a member of their equestrian team, are the daughters of Rick and Cathy Cram who own and run Progressive Show Jumping and Highfields Event Center in Aiken, South Carolina.

“The first time I can remember showing was in the leadline class at the Aiken Spring Classic on a borrowed pony,” Celia continued. “He was spinning around in circles because he saw the mounted officer carrying the flag.”

“My first memory of showing was also in the leadline on our pony Good Golly Miss Molly at the Aiken Spring Classic,” added Liza Cram. “Molly was our first real pony, and Celia showed her in the walk trot at the same show.”

Some young riders know they want to ride horses at the beginning, but don’t plan on showing. However, for some riders that start out thinking this way, the horse showing bug eventually bites them.

Jacqui Lanier

“I started riding when I was 12,” said Jacqui Lanier, now a lawyer based in the Greenville, South Carolina area. “My dad had horses when he was younger and because of this, I was always interested in horses and riding. When I started taking weekly lessons, I promised that I would not want to get involved in horse shows, but that quickly changed.”

Lanier showed hunters and jumpers growing up, but stopped riding for several decades while establishing her career and family. She has gotten back into the ring in recent years and today, she shares the horse show experience with her teenage daughter Jazzy.

“I still love to show. Whether I am terrible or great, I love the entire experience,” she said. “The preparation, the next level relationship you develop with the horse that you travel with and take care of at shows – it’s all my favorite! I am so glad that I learned how fun horse showing can be, and of course, I am competitive. I truly love the entire experience of taking my horse out, seeing everyone else’s horses, and being surrounded by people who all love the same thing.”

Life Lessons

“My strong work ethic is directly related to the long hours of training and showing that resulted from growing up on the circuit,” said Celia Cram. “I think some lessons that I learned are being humble and adaptable. These two traits have gotten me very far in life.”

Liza agrees. “Everyone has a bad day, including your horses, and it’s always important to take what you’ve learned and grow from it. Every day is a new chance to be the best you can be and give your horse a positive experience. I’ve learned to be appreciative of every opportunity and take nothing for granted.”

For Lanier, showing horses gave her bravery and resilience that she carried into adult life.

“Horse showing has been everything to me. I learned how to work hard, to care about something beside myself, and to do things even if I was scared at first,” she said. “Today, it is a reprieve from all the demands of being a mom and business owner as well as giving myself and my daughter common ground and amazing experiences to share.”

Teamwork and Sportsmanship

While showing horses is technically not a team sport, it can help develop a rider’s ability to work as a team. The most important aspect of this teamwork is with the horse, but young riders also learn to be supportive of their peers.

Jazzy Lanier celebrates horse show success

“As I watch my daughter show, I see the other girls she rides and shows with in our barn all cheer for each other,” said Lanier. “They go through the entire show process together from schooling to caring for and feeding the horses all weekend as a team. They are truly vested in and celebrate each other’s success.”

“I think being part of a team, whether it’s your barn or your college team, means you have a whole support system and family,” said Liza Cram. “Not only are they there to cheer you on, they’re also there to help with any difficulties along the way. I think this has shown me that no matter what, there’s always someone on your team.”

The Person They Are Today

Jacqui Lanier attributes much of her professional success to the work ethic she developed during her hours at the barn growing up.  “I also think it has helped me, as an adult, to understand work is not everything, that balance is important, and that you must take time for the things in life that you love and that bring you joy.” Today, Lanier gives back to the sport by serving on the Board of Directors of the Foothills Riding Club in Landrum, South Carolina. In the fall of 2023, she became the owner of the Motlow Creek Equestrian Center in Campobello, South Carolina.

Celia and Liza Cram believe that their horse show careers have had a profound influence on their lives and their personalities.

“I can positively say that I would not be the same person I am today without growing up at horse shows,” said Liza Cram. “I made forever friends, learned from my many mistakes and successes, and I would not change a thing.”

Celia Cram agrees with her sister. “I think that your ability to succeed in this sport is not necessarily based on how early you start, but rather how hard you work. We were fortunate enough to start very early though, and have been working hard day in and day out to better ourselves from the beginning. We both appreciate having to work for everything we have and are grateful for every opportunity and experience we have been given.”

Celia and Liza Cram – horse shows are fun


Under 21: Gigi Phillips

When asked about other plans, Gigi Phillips laughs. “I am very competitive and I really enjoy the various divisions and moving up the ranks. Also, I just love being around the animals. I kind of decided what I liked from a young age and I just have been ‘all-in’ with horses.”

Spring 2022

Our Spring 2022 edition features the 2022 Grand Prix Eventing Festival at the Aiken Horse Park, a New Age of Nursemares and more. Cover: Boyd Martin and Fedarman B winning the GPE festival.

Lessons Learned from Horse Shows

Horse people are tough, and horse people who show are even tougher. There are many challenges: Early mornings caring for, grooming and braiding your horse, navigating hectic warm-up rings, memorizing jump courses under pressure, fighting nerves in the show ring, handling success or defeat with equal grace and good temper.

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