There is a great deal more to horse showing that you might think. You probably acknowledge the athletic component, the mental component, all of which are the social component. You certainly are well-aware of the human-horse partnership component. But the emotional component, for people who are fiercely bonded to the equine counterpart, is huge. Equestrian Sportsmanship is complicated because of this emotion. We are so emotionally tied not only to our mental and athletic efforts, but to our horses. When we don’t measure up to our own standards, it can be devastating.
However, great equestrian sportsmanship, like in any sport, is important. It affects the collective experience, the perspective of the industry, and the path of growth. On the individual level, it affects your own enjoyment of your day. If you are a poor sport, you (and the people around you) will not enjoy the day unless all the stars align in your favor for you to win. Because with horses, the circumstances are never 100% in your own control. By being a great sport, you enhance the experience, and also your own ability to learn and improve. By extension, you enhance the experience for your team as well as model great equestrian sportsmanship for the younger people watching you. Perhaps most importantly, you reduce the stress on your horse.
How to Pull Off Great Equestrian Sportsmanship
Keep some perspective.
“If you are lucky enough to have a horse, you are lucky enough.” Sometimes when we see are at horse shows all the time, when everyone has a horse and numerous pairs of $300 breeches, you can get a warped sense of reality.
But really, what we get to do is an incredible privilege. Even when it’s hard, or when you suffer. This is the most wonderful form of suffering ever, and even on your longest, hardest day- you still have it better than most of the general population.
The other element of perspective is realizing that when you are competing at bigger shows against experienced horses and riders, any ribbon at all is fantastic. If you come from smaller shows, you might be used to being in the top three regularly. When you move up to a new division or a more competitive show, realize that any recognition at all is worthy of celebration.
We all spend a great deal of time, money, and emotional (and physical) bandwidth on riding. When it all goes wrong, it’s totally normal and healthy to want to cry, or scream, or hide. You do you. But do it in private. Walk away, have your moment, and then get it together and get back at it. Without grudge, attitude, or snide comments about the judge. Do it with class and grace, even if you aren’t quite over it internally.
Do it for the younger generation.
Even if you are still a junior, chances are there are some younger people looking up to you. Any younger person around you is watching you and learning, whether you have a stack of blue ribbons or not.
If they see you racing to count your ribbons at the end of the day, they are going to think that the ribbons are what it’s all about. Is it? If it is, you’re bound to burn out before you know it. Ribbon counting is an ugly habit we can all fall into. But recognize it and realize if you focus on improving, you set the right example and will get a lot more satisfaction. And ultimately, your fair share of ribbons as well.
Think about what you want to model for the younger generation. Rather than an idolization of ribbons, commitment to working hard, keeping a good attitude, taking great care of your horse, and supporting your team.
Do it for your Horse
You are your horse’s representative. Funny as it sounds, if you behave badly your horse will be associated with it. You should always be grateful for your horse and what they do.
Even if the judge didn’t appreciate them on a particular day, that doesn’t mean they aren’t great. You, as their rider, understand their history, their challenges, and their growth. The fact that they are out there trying for you is worthy of praise. And you should actively demonstrate that if you want any further help from them.
Do it for Yourself
With all that we put into this, we would hope that we get something out of it. It is a complete fallacy to let it all be determined by the ribbons you win. Most of us have won blue ribbons we didn’t really deserve, and we’ve also been overlooked when we shouldn’t have been. It’s a moment in time, and it doesn’t describe your overall journey with horses, or define who you are, in the least. Let it go, move on, and enjoy yourself. Evaluate the show, win or lose, by better standards than that.
Chances are, it will lead to the discovery of a different- and more valuable- version of success.
For more information on horses, shows, or sportsmanship, reach out to Alicia Wilkinson!
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