The term ‘vacation day’ takes on a completely new meaning when you are married to a horse woman. Where once a ‘day off’ meant being able to kick back and relax at home, and ‘vacation’ may have meant lounging on a beach or going on some exotic cultural excusion, it now means going to a horse show to support your wife as she competes.
Horse husbands don’t take vacations. They are taken on ‘showcations.’
A showcation basically results from a recognition that your wife is going away to a horse show, and that her plans leave you with one of two options: either stay home alone (or with the kids, or dogs, or whatever) or go to the show with her. The exact shape that a showcation takes will differ from person to person, but it basically means embracing the fact that your time away is about her and her horses, and accepting this as an opportunity to help and connect by actively participating in something that she loves. It probably means getting dirty. It likely means giving up a degree of personal autonomy. That’s not a bad thing.
There are three basic types of showcation:
1.The Weekend Showcation
Basically, this involves going to a local horse show that requires a minimal amount of travel time and preparation. Whether it is just a day trip or the whole weekend, its the kind of thing you can commit to without using up any of your precious vacation days. Because the show is local, it usually means that the event is smaller, involves less pressure, and so can be pretty laid back. Grab a lawn chair, read a book, drink a beer or two. Make sure you get the necessary photographs and video she wants, but other than that your job is basically to relax and hang out.
2. The Long weekend Showcation
My wife is a three-day eventer, which means that a weekend show often begins on a Thursday or Friday, or else starts so early on a Saturday that travel on Friday is unavoidable. They aren’t actually all that different from regular weekend showcations. You can expect about the same level of filth (just more days of it) and the expectations placed on you are pretty much the same. But the fact that the show extends into the week can make things complicated. It means either taking a day or two off of work, joining later in your own vehicle (and so driving back alone), or figuring out a way to work remotely. When I was in school and had more ‘disposable time,’ I was able to do a lot of these. Now, however, I tend to stay at home. I am trying to figure out how to be as productive on the road as I am at home, but it’s something I still have yet to master. We also have a geriatric dog who isn’t as mobile as she used to be (and has recently taken to crapping in the truck on long trips), and so my staying at home with the pups over a weekend is often times just a better option for all of us.
Sometimes a long weekend showcation turns into a Loooong weekend showcation. For example, next week I will be at the Carolina International Horse Trials. I am taking the week off and traveling up to Raeford, NC with my wife and three dogs (deliberating whether to put diapers on our geriatric K9, ironically named Poohie). For domestic events, we are very fortunate that Elisa’s father, Rick Wallace, has a trailer with a very nice living quarters, which means that we don’t have to arrange for hotel (a challenge with 3 dogs…little do they know that the wife is dirtier than all three combined) or sleep in my wife’s tack room (been there, done that). It’s great bonding time as Elisa and I, along with Rick and his working student Briggs pile in a trailer together…with five dogs.
3. Overseas Showcation
These are expensive and intense. They are expensive because they mean forking over wads of cash for airfare, accommodation, and local travel. They require more advanced planning, including arranging time off from work. On the one hand, you end up in locations that many would choose for a standard vacation (like England, for example). But on the other hand, your time is so fully occupied with barn stuff that it in unlikely that you will do anything ‘touristy.’ Stress levels are higher, since pressure is greater to succeed (if she is paying $15k on airfare to get her horse over, she wants to do well). There might also be increased risk compared to more local events, as was the case when Elisa competed at Burghley last year (the most difficult three day event since 2004).
You might not feel like a tourist, but you do have behind the scenes access to a large event in a way that most locals will never experience. Along with pressure and risk, comes camaraderie among competitors from all nations. At least in the eventing world, international events are well-run and feel kind of like carnivals. Take the time to appreciate the event for all it offers to both competitors and spectators. Food and drink are highlights. At the end of a long dirty day or intense competition, there’s nothing quite like dining on local cuisine, drinking whatever’s on tap, and laughing with friends old and new.
After many years, I’m coming to appreciate the many virtues of a showcation. It’s great to get away and be proud of the one you love. As difficult as it may be to let go, it is also kind of nice to be forced to go with the flow. At a horse show, you have to be prepared for anything to happen. The best laid plans can be quickly upset. A sudden change in the horse’s health and mood can mean the difference between diner with friends and a night of giving fluids at the barn.
During any showcation, the worst thing you can do is think that you have any control over what will happen next. If you embrace the fact that the schedule is not your own and that you are at the mercy of circumstances that are absolutely beyond your control. If you give yourself entirely to the show and are motivated only out of love for your wife. Then the showcation can be incredibly liberating. In the real world, the weight of responsibility for others is constantly on your shoulders. At a horse show, your sole duty is to relax, be happy, and do what your told.
There’s incredible freedom in that.