I am guilty of being easily excitable. Most friends, trainers, and co-workers keep the caffeine away from me. Usually, that’s no matter. It’s pretty easy to find a Dunkin’ Donuts and fuel up. But, most of the time, I don’t need caffeine to get excited, and I’m prone to getting excited about the small things.

So. On to the small things I get excited about – excited enough to pat my horse in the show ring.

The first time I managed to do the “step” down a line, you better believe I was thrilled. When I stopped trotting my changes and executed flying changes, I wanted to whoop with glee. Yes, whoop. When I cantered around a course, found great distances, got all my changes, did the step, and rode with style, of course I was excited!

That excitement culminated in a pat of affection for my horse. A too-obvious, too-long pat in a class where that kind of affection was frowned upon. So, needless to say, I did not pin in that class yet it was one of my better rides in the last 20 years.

OK, tough pill to swallow. But I found great closure a few weekends ago after sitting with a new judge.

When a little girl atop an adorable pony patted him as she left the ring post-courtesy circle, he beamed.  “I love seeing kids pat their ponies,” he commented, obviously appreciative of her show of appreciation. Be still my beating heart! I was so excited to see the judge pleased the little girl patted her pony after her course.

There’s a lot of controversy about patting your horse in the ring, during a class, after a class… Like anything in the horse world, there’s a lot of controversy around anything opinions can be made on. Naturally, I wanted to ask the judge more about this affection-showing business.

When was it appropriate? Where was it inappropriate? Did he deduct points for it?

“I love seeing kids pat their ponies. It’s good horsemanship, and they’re appreciating what their ponies did,” he explained. The judge also took a step further, and explained he liked to see a pat of appreciation after a hunter class. Not equitation.

Well, that answers my personal question about my own pat debacle! However, should a rider’s course be exceptionally better, distinctly impressive, or another slew of adjectives that leaves a judge excited about a ride – no, he would not deduct points for patting the horse.

He also offered an alternative to a great big celebratory pat. When you’re riding an anxious horse at home, do you find yourself gently scratching their neck or withers for reassurance? That’s a perfect alternative to a small pet or a celebratory pat. The judge may see a slight of hand, but it isn’t as if you’re dropping your reins. You’re not making a big move. Instead, you’ve quietly offered your horse some appreciation for a job well done.

And the moment you’re out of the ring? Feel free to throw your arms around your horse’s neck in excitement. Or whatever else it is you might like to do to celebrate the small things and accomplishments. I won’t judge if you keep peppermints in your show ringside grooming kit.