The seven, er, one deadly sin of showing…

First of all – welcome everybody!  Yes, I finally decided it was time to move the VLC blog to WordPress and start updating it again, so here you go.

The old posts migrated just fine.  The comments, not so much.  Sorry, but that’s pretty much the same thing that happened with the Fugly Blog.  We have comments from about the past year and that’s it.  Now on to the topic:

The VLC (and yes, I know that he is now the VLS, but I don’t care.  VLC is a nickname as far as I’m concerned and he’ll have it til he’s 30, so I’m sorry if it bugs you but it’s staying) turned five in May and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.  He is still just a joy to ride, everybody in the barn loves him and he has started showing.  Which brings up my topic for today.

I realized recently that there’s something horsepeople talk about even less than they talk about fear.  When I started this blog, I observed that it is considered beyond uncool in the horse world to admit to having any fear issues and that while most riders have them from time to time, they keep their lips zipped for fear of having to deal with exactly the feedback I got from the trolls when I started this blog – the chorus of “you shouldn’t be training if you’re scared/you’re going to ruin your horse” and the weird idea that if one admitted to fear, that meant one was therefore incompetent.  (Confidence and competence are not synonymous. I know of SUPER confident folks who can’t ride their way out of a paper bag, and I bet you have met some, too!)  As most of you know, everything turned out fine – this particular horse, though larger than I was used to, was a piece of cake to break out and I rode him for a year before sending him off to be finished for the show ring, something I realized was beyond my own abilities.

Now, another year later, I realize that there’s something horsepeople admit to even more rarely than fear.  It’s the one thing that is the cause of most of the problems in the horseshow world.  It cripples horses by the time they are four and it fries their brains and it sends plenty of them to the slaughterhouse. It drives good people out of the show horse world and draws bad people into it.  You can’t get rid of it because it’s an essential part of any competition with horses, and it is the rare person who is not afflicted with it from time to time.


I realized I had it at the VLC’s second show.  He was about 10x better than he was at his first show (and he wasn’t bad at the first show – he was just really inconsistent and distracted, and whinnied for Mommy if he heard me talking in the stands.  He got nervous every time a horse got snatched in the face or spurred around near him.  Apparently we failed to properly desensitize him to abuse and he’d never seen anything like that before, so it rattled him.  And then the guy who was beating his mare the worst ran her into him in the warm-up ring, that was awesome too…)  Anyway, at the second show, he was almost perfect with his head.  Still jogging a little faster than at home, but fine in traffic, even after numerous incidents of horses hitting the walls near him, cutting him off and getting way too close. Yes, this was an open show so he had to contend with all breeds and lots of super green horses (and chronically green runaway horses).
My trainer was absolutely thrilled with him.

Me?  I was annoyed as hell.  He didn’t place once.  Two horseshows, and all we had asked him to do was walk-trot pleasure, and not so much as a measly 5th place ribbon.  I glared at him from the stands, thinking that perhaps my blog trolls were right and he was just a piece of shit who was never going to amount to anything.  How dare he jog faster than he does at home!  Did that damn horse have any idea of how much money I was spending?  I could sell him and get something that actually wins.  Hell, I could sell him and buy the rescue pony that actually wins blue ribbons when I show her.

I was freezing cold, which didn’t help my grumpy attitude any.  Someone ought to warn you that when you have a trainer and they have an assistant and you don’t do anything all day except maybe longe your horse once, that it’s really freaking cold.  I am used to working at shows, running my butt off.  Not sitting around being cold, stiff, bored and miserable.

Oh, and then my trainer pointed out that it was a schooling show and we weren’t trying to win.  My mental reaction was a great big WTF.  How much money am I spending and we’re not even trying to win?  If we’re not going to even try to win, why don’t I stop paying for training and start buying cute shoes?  WTF!  This sucks.

And then I realized it:

This is why all of this bad stuff happens to horses. Heck, this is why you see parents yelling at their kid because the kid screwed up in Little League or messed up at their piano recital.  There’s just something about competition that makes all rational thought go out the window and only one thing matter – winning.  I am fully aware my thoughts were similar to that of a five year old who was angry she couldn’t have a cookie.  I would never actually sell the VLC or send him to another trainer, and if he turned out to be a crappy show horse, I’d just geld him and life would go on — but do I have the same thoughts as the people who send their horse to someone like Cleve Wells to get results fast?

Apparently, I do. I want X dollars to result in X ribbons, just like those people.

And while it’s easy to make that flip “winning isn’t everything” comment, when your training and show expenses are cutting into your monthly budget deeper than a new Mercedes payment would, it sure feels like everything!

I get it now, I really do.  I still don’t think it’s okay to give in to these feelings and act upon them in any way that is detrimental to the horse, like sending him to some “results in 30 days” sort of trainer, but I get them.  I finally understand why it is that so many people leave their horses in situations that they know are not good for the horse, and accept rationalizations for everything from tail blocking to soring to plastic surgery on halter horses.

So I went down and took my horse and patted him on the neck and took him back to his stall and untacked him and fed him a cookie.  I thought about the fact that we were doing this by choice, and that I had the freedom at any time to pull out of it, geld him and spend the rest of our mutual lives together running barrels at fun shows and chasing cows.  While I was still contemplating his fate and whether or not I was cut out for this, he went to his third show and was Reserve Champion halter, 2nd in trail, 2nd in hunter under saddle and 3rd in western pleasure.  The next weekend, he went to his fourth show, which was his first ABRA show, and won the 1st Year Green Western Pleasure.

I had to wait longer than I expected for it, but now I never have to look at it and feel guilty about how we treated the horse to get it.  Nor am I worried there won’t be more.  He’s settling into it now.  He still makes mistakes but not big ones.  He’s pretty consistent out there, assuming you don’t have a trail course with actual hay bales in it.  🙂

Greed is inevitable when it comes to competition…we just have to make sure it is complemented with a much larger serving of patience.  Sometimes that’s not easy but it’s always going to be the right decision, whether you’re at a horse show, watching your kid’s spelling bee or even trying to get a promotion at work.  Blowing up because you’re not getting the instant gratification you desire ruins horses, messes up kids’ heads and can ruin your own life.  Take a breath, have a cold beer…life goes on and failing one day doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things.  The blue ribbon might be just around the corner!
Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 9:49 pm  Comments (23)