There is a story I feel like sharing because it has to do with poor sportsmanship. There have been some wonderful displays of good sportsmanship at some shows I've been to and I'll provide a couple of examples of those as well. No matter your level of expertise, the value of your horse or the rating of your competition, good sportsmanship should be part of your game plan. Good sportsmanship includes being polite to your fellow competitors as well as your trainer, your parents, your students, and certainly the judge and show staff, but also to your horse. Unfortunately, I have succumbed to pressure and nerves at horse shows and been snappy and whiney on more than one occasion but have always been very sorry and felt like a complete troll afterward. For the most part, I try (and sometimes it's not easy) to be a Golden Rule participant.
This one situation came to mind as I was writing about some of my shows with Raffles. We started participating in a series of shows mostly populated by Arabs, Morgans and Saddlebreds. In particular, I started participating in these shows to do the Road Hack class. With Raffles big trot, and Dressage horse adjustability, I *thought* we would be a shoe-in for the blue. What I didn't factor in, was Raffles' giant ego and spontaneity. If you're not familiar with Road Hack, it's basically a pleasure class judged on the horse's manners, gaits and tractability. Along with the normal walk, trot and canter, the horse also has to perform an extended trot, hand-gallop, halt and rein-back (backing up). The horse has to do this all obediently but with the equivalent of stage-presence.
In every Road Hack class we had entered something not only kept us from winning, but sometimes kept us out of the ribbons altogether. Raffles would either break from extended trot to canter, or buck during the hand gallop, or spook, or throw in a couple of lead changes because he's fancy like that. It didn't help that the class was always held late at night under the lights which not only inflated his ego but exaggerated anything he might consider spooky also. Road Hack became my albatross. We were totally capable of winning yet couldn't quite get there. We watched a lot of familiar horses take the blue time after time.
Then there was one night, when I had been having a perfectly miserable day/show/week when we put in the ride of our lives. Raffles was spot on. He was flawless. He moved with power but grace. He responded to my slightest aids. He was consistent, stunning and perfect. Despite all of this, while waiting for the placings to be announced, I was still having not just butterflies but pterodactyls in my stomach. You never know, at these type of shows, whether the judge likes your horse (despite a stellar performance) or whether any of the other competitors performed even better than your horse, or whether the judge even noticed you.
When the announcer called Raffles name as first, I just about cried. We had finally won the class after years of trying. There was never time when I needed that win to lift my spirits more. I was relieved and bursting with pride. I knew that we had earned the win and was on cloud nine leaving the ring.
There was an ice cream social for all the competitors after the Road Hack class which was the last one of the evening. After tucking my horse in with lots of extra carrots, I joined the crowd and heard many congratulatory remarks from Raffles' fans as I made my way to a seat. I sat next to one of the more well-known trainers and she, as many others did, congratulated me on my win but then, in the same breathe said, "You wouldn't have won if my horse had been in there."
My little euphoria balloon deflated and puddled around my feet. With that one remark, she belittled everything I had worked towards for years. What's worse, is that I let her remark take away my joy. It may have been true, or maybe not. Her horse was also a very talented animal, but like Raffles, also had a habit of showing a little too much exuberance in Road Hack. So in the future, fellow equestrians, please remember to pay a compliment and then zip it.
Now, I'll leave that behind me and share some stories of exemplary sportsmanship. My favorite comes from a little fun show for some pony-campers, all about 5-7 years old. They played relay games and Mother May I and were awarded their ribbons. After the classes the kids would all mill around and trade ribbons so that they each got their favorite color.
At another show, one of the horses I was bringing for students to ride, injured herself in the trailer. 2 people at the show offered to let those kids use their horses instead. The kids rode the borrowed horses, that they had never ridden before, and did not complain. They didn't win anything, but they were thrilled with the opportunity to ride some new horses.
At several shows, I have shown up without a girth or Dressage whip or boots and there has always been someone willing to loan me the needed items.
For every curmudgeon or naysayer out there, there are three other people that restore my faith in the equestrian community.