Today I judged a 4-H show. It was a lovely event. Perfect weather and wonderful horse and rider teams. I love horse shows.
As any competitor knows, our time in the competition arena sometimes goes wonderfully, and the victory is the best feeling in the world, but sometimes it goes terribly. Horses are unpredictable. I've fallen off in the show ring. I've also had a horse fall over in the show ring. Things can go really badly. They can also go really well.
Regardless, that's never been the most important part for me. For me, the best part of shows isn't the first place ribbon, it's the community. It truly takes a village to run a show, and it is so encouraging and inspiring to see the dedication and energy of the team hosting the event. (Side note, it's fun and rewarding to be part of that team too, and if you're ever interested, shows need and love volunteers!). The competitors and their friends, families, trainers, and helpers who attend the shows are wonderful too. Everyone is so supportive and I so love that. It really feels like a place where we all come together to celebrate our love of the horses. It doesn't matter what age or skill level we are, we can all relate to each other because we all have the same passion. It was wonderful to see all of the riders at this event today supporting each other.
I think it's important for us as riders to remember that each and every one of us is part of that community and has a role in making it the wonderful place that it can and should be. I've talked to plenty of riders over the years who have become disillusioned with showing because of overly competitive negative attitudes from other riders at shows: snarky comments, overall bad attitudes, or a focus on winning to the point that the love of the horse that should bond us all together is lost. I find that so sad, because I've always had such a positive experience with a very supportive community feeling at the shows that I've attended.
I'm sure that I'm fortunate to live in a great area with an amazing, supportive dressage community. However, I also think that I was doubly lucky to have awesome role models throughout my riding journey who helped to make showing what it is supposed to be. I vividly remember sitting in the tack stall at a show with some friends years ago when one of us said something critical about another rider's performance. My trainer at the time, who we were all there with, shut that down REAL fast, saying "we don't do that." She didn't say any more than that or get into any big moral discussion. She just said no, that's not us. We don't do that. That's all she needed to say. That was the end of that. We all respected her and we all got the point. I've always remembered that moment, and I've tried my best to live up to her and her philosophy. I always try to avoid making any critical comments and to shut them down as much as I can when I hear them. Ultimately, I've even distanced myself from some people who can't seem to help themselves. Maybe that's part of their show experience, but I don't want it to be part of mine. I think that those efforts have helped me to find a personal community within the greater show community that has similar values and goals.
Like I said, I've fallen off and fallen over in classes. Actually, come to think of it now, I've both had a horse fall over, and I'VE also fallen over. I passed out in a showmanship class once as a teenager! Things definitely don't always go according to plan. You never know what's going on with another rider's horse or with their personal riding journey. It is not up to us to judge other competitors. There's literally a judge for that. If someone is truly doing something wrong in their riding, the judging will most likely reflect that, and ultimately, good for them for coming to a show to get some feedback to try to improve their performance. It takes a lot of courage to put ourselves out there as riders, and the last thing we want to feel is that everyone watching is looking to criticize our every move and mistake.
I'll stop rambling now. Moral of the story: Support each other and be encouraging. Don't criticize. Together we can help keep the horse show community what it should be.
PS. If you compete and want a little confidence boost before you go to your next show, check out our "Preparing Your Mind for a Horse Show" recording.