Monday, August 3, 2009

Do You Have What It Takes To Win?

Winning. What is it really all about? The pinnacle of competition, bringing home the blue or tri-color tells those around you that above all, you’re the best at what you do. But how do you arrive at the point you need to be at in order to find success?

In all likelihood, if you consistently push yourself to be the best you can be, if you strive for perfection in all your endeavors and if you never settle for a mediocre performance, no matter what, you’ll be a winner.

For most of us who compete on a regular basis, the grind of preparation is all part of the big picture -- and without proper prep, an exhibitor won’t find the winner’s circle. You need to be dedicated beyond belief to your horse(s) and your goals, so you’d better have those goals outlined before you ever fill out an entry blank. It all starts with the desire to achieve. If you’ve got a trainer, sit down with her or him and explain what you hope to accomplish with your horse. Otherwise, talk it over with horsey friends who share your show ring enthusiasm. Then design a program to reach the goals you’ve set out for yourself and your horse.

One of the most important aspects of winning is being a good loser. No horse, rider or trainer wins every class every time out. A few come close, but even the best of the best have gotten beat before when the heat was on. Knowing how to handle defeat is vital to being able to conquer the show ring. Even when you don’t place where you think you should, congratulate those who won. With a little luck, you’ll be in their shoes one day soon and will appreciate their graciousness.

Many, many years ago, the first time I ever had the opportunity to show a Saddleseat English horse, I was confronted on the rail, while waiting for our turn in the ring, by a girl in my age bracket with a fancy chestnut horse. My older grey gelding, a former Western horse, was no match for her sleek mount -- who actually looked the part of a flat saddle horse. I nervously glanced at her, then back to my horse, uttering something to the effect of, “This is my first time to show Saddleseat, I hope I don’t get bucked off!” Her retort? “Well, I hope you DO, because I like to WIN!” It’s a moment I will never forget and a moment I sincerely hope most little girls (and boys) never have to endure. By the way, I smiled at her, wishing her good luck...then promptly went out there and beat her, winning the blue ribbon in my first English Pleasure class. Woo hoo!

Nothing ruins a good performance like sour grapes and a poor attitude. Let that also be a life lesson learned. Having a top notch horse, excellent skills and abilities, beautifully made clothes and a lot of money to flaunt it all does not make you a winner. There are many folks out there who seemingly cannot compete with the upper echelon, yet win time and again because of their dedication and spirit. Remember, “winning” isn’t only about what color those ribbons you bring home are. That’s just one facet of being a winner.

Entering the ring with supreme confidence goes a long way toward establishing to the judges and your fellow competitors that you mean business and deserve to win. There you have yet another aspect of the ‘winner’ equation. Couple those with hours of elbow grease and you’ll be well on your way to gaining the altitude necessary to claim your place on the top rung of the horse show ladder.

Showing horses is all about having a good time, win or lose, and doing your best. Sure, it helps to have those things mentioned previously, but many exhibitors have to make due with less than ideal circumstances. How do you overcome such deficiencies? Easy. Well, okay, sometimes easier said than done. Be a realist, but never stop dreaming. Hard work pays off! Every time you think you’ve given all you can to this pursuit, dig a little deeper. For some, just getting an approving glance or a positive mention from a judge constitutes victory. Others thrive on covering their walls with blue ribbons. Whatever path you choose, make certain your actions speak as loud as any words you utter, and most of all that those actions say, “Look at me and see what a winner looks like!” Then you’ll have accomplished that often elusive goal of looking the part.

Congratulations! You’ve made it this get out there and smile!



  1. Right on--competing is all about enjoying the competitive spirit, not what color ribbon you end up with. And the competitive spirit means the real point of competing is to keep us and our horses improving. To be better than we were last time. To have fun, to congratulate our class-mates no matter where they or we ended up in the placings, to learn something from the judge's comments, so we work even harder and do even better next time. To learn even from those who didn't place, even if it's what not to do, especially if it's us!
    And no matter what happens, we all need to smile because 99% of people on this planet don't get to have a horse or go to shows.
    We horse people are so blessed, whether we show or not--grateful doesn't even begin to cover it--
    *throwing out blue-ribbon carrots from my garden, to all of our deserving horses*

  2. That is sooo right!! Very well said!

    I always make a point of congratulating the winner in a class I am in, if it's someone else (that sounded dumb, why would I congratulate myself, lol). I also make a BIG point of congratulating all of the kids on how their classes go, whether they're my students or not.

    I've been known to have to give "the good sportsmanship lecture" to my kids, because to me that's a lot more important than winning ribbons. Have fun doing what you're doing, do your very best, be happy with your performances and most of all, be gracious in defeat!

  3. LOL, I've been known to congratulate myself, but I try to be unobtrusive about it! I'm not so subtle when I congratulate my horse, though.

    Years ago when I judged Pony Club (the lower levels), the vast majority of the kids were true sportspeople, didn't gloat when they won or have public tantrums about losing. There was such a variety of horses and riders with different abilities though, even competing at the same level. It was pretty typical that the kids who had solid riding skills (or sometimes not), but mounted on push-button packers, would place ahead of the kids who were better riders but their parents could only afford a "project" horse.
    So many times, the riders who impressed me the most ended up in tears (not creating a scene, mostly directed into Greenie's mane) blaming themselves because Greenie refused the ditch or spooked in the Dressage arena.

    My main lecture was always along the lines of, "Try not to be upset, think of how far you and Greenie have come since you bought her last year! Remember how she wouldn't even trot? And bucked you off refusing the cross-rails? Now, you've got her cantering on both leads and jumping everything except the ditch. Instead of crying, you should congratulate yourself and Greenie on how hard you've worked and what great partners you're becoming. You're becoming a REAL horseperson, because the difficult horses might not win us the most ribbons, but they sure make us better riders. So now you might as well go congratulate Richella and Packuletti, because by this time next year you won't be competing against her, you'll be at a higher level. And, by the way, there's a free schooling session after the show, so if your parents will let you stay a little longer I'll help you school the ditch..."
    Most of the time, my little lecture went over like spitting in the wind, but 15 years later, a couple of those kids are now professional trainers.

  4. You know littledog, those "lectures" really DO ultimately sink in with most kids, at least they look back fondly on people who gave them the advice on how to handle things and how to view their performances.

    We can all probably recall some who just didn't get it, or who totally ignored all the advice they were given because they just thought they knew it all, however I've found that those instances really turn out to be few and far between overall.

    Love your means of lecturing!!

    One thing I don't see often enough, either, is judges at the smaller shows (especially) talking to the kids in the lineup or after the class on what they can do to improve their rides. Often those remarks come across as more important because they come from a judge rather than their coach or instructor/trainer.


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