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)  

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23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You are fabulous. Absolutely perfect first entry.

    • You know, I had to go re-read your blog about how many shows you had to go to with your red mare where she not only didn’t place but was a freaking bronc to boot before she got to the point where she started winning. It really helped give me perspective, so thank you for writing it!

  2. I’m so happy to find VLC’s continuing adventures. I do not know much about confirmation. I do know what is “pleasing to the eye” VLC pleases my eye. Please post more pictures and congrats on his progress.

  3. Im so glad ot see you revisiting the VLC blog! Cant wait to read more.

    I loved this entry too. And the fact that you had the balls to post it. Just another Kudos to add to Cathy’s list!

  4. “Did that damn horse have any idea of how much money I was spending” – I love that you wrote that. I had that same moment years ago when I was boarding my mare at a barn. I worked my butt off to be able to keep her there, made many sacrifices along the way. I remember hitting a wall one day during a ride, my “agenda” would not let me back down and ask a question the mare could answer. I was extremely frustrated and a fellow rider rode up to me and said ” Doesn’t your horse know all the sacrifices you’ve made for her?” It hit me upside the head, I had let my agenda of winning and showing get in the way of my relationship with my horse. It wasn’t long after that I moved her home. I realized at that moment that when it comes to showing or competition I can take it or leave it. My relationship with my mare is first and foremost.

    • I wrote it and then I laughed because I realized:


      I used to hear that all the time, about riding lessons – we’re not made of money, do you KNOW how much this is costing me?

      See, you really do turn into your mom, even if you DON’T have kids!

  5. This is one of the reasons I love your blogs. You are one of us! And we sound like OUR mothers, too. We have our “children” (albeit four-legged), and they will disappoint us from time to time just like we did for our parents now and then.

    We are all in it together ;oD

  6. My gosh, he is looking studly!

  7. I love this post.

    I have had my first horse for about a year now, and I am trying to decide if I want to show him. I really hate to lose, especially to people who are doing it the cruel way. I don’t want to get mad at my horse if he doesn’t do well.

    Even if I was winning, I’m not sure it’d be worth all the money that it costs!

    But on the other hand, since I am taking lessons, I kind of want to show off my new skills… And who doesn’t love showing off their precious pony!!

    I guess I should probably try it and see how much I hate it…

    • It’s ok to have all the feelings…I guess that’s why I wrote about it. It’s just not ok to act on them in a way that’s detrimental to the horse. And I get annoyed with the holier-than-thou “winning isn’t everything” and you should “be in it for the experience” thing. C’mon, it’s an expensive hobby – you’re not out of line to want to enjoy it. So I’d say try it and see if you like it. And maybe you won’t like X discipline but you’ll like Y discipline.

  8. Oh so true!!! The desire to win fogs people’s mind sooo bad. I admit I’ve done the Money vs Ribbons thing but never put my horses into any danger. Once I pulled my head out of my @$$ and relaxed, we had better rides and placed/won!!!

    BTW, what is VLC’s breeding…besides quarter 🙂

    • Top side, he’s a grandson of Sheiks Whim, who was a Superior Halter Horse and High Point Halter horse, and a son of Impressive Sheik (he’s N/N of course). Bottom side, he’s out of a Boston Mac granddaughter and the 2nd dam is linebred King.

  9. My issue with “greed” has nothing to do with the horse and not placing first (or placing at all). Since I compete in dressage (well, we braid, wear white breeches and a hot black coat and pay to ride around in a court on any given weekend), MY issue is doing better than certain people who may be at the same show–people with whom I have had issues in the past. It’s REVENGE, plain and simple. Sometimes it works, others not so much, but I don’t find myself thinking, “If I can’t beat so-and-so, I’m quitting this gig forever.” I am trying to change it to “besting my last score” in this movement or that test. Works better, my focus is where it belongs, and while the horse doesn’t seem to realize the burden is off HIM (to beat that other person), I find we do better. I got one 4 in a dressage test (stretchy circle, Training 4, probably) and worked on it the following weekend with a clinician. Haven’t gotten one since. THAT is a laudable goal, too–no more 4s ;o)

  10. This post is the reason I am no longer in drill team. The top teams will rip each other to shreds in order to win. How in the world is that FUN?

    • That’s sad indeed. I know a lot of people who do drill and love it – I didn’t realize it got as competitive as showing!

  11. Glad to see the VLC again! He is gorgeous, of course since my girl is a buckskin too I may be biased!! Also wanted to say that I admire your ability to be brutally honest with yourself. Very refreshing!

  12. I recently started a 2 year old stud colt. Even though mine is much shorter than yours, I’m still a little afraid of the falling. He has never kicked, reared or bucked but I am still a little nervous. So far we just walk, trot, turn and back up in a halter. It has been so nice reading your adventures. I do not know if I will keep him a stallion or not. It all depends on how he does over the next couple of years. I am sending him to a professional trainer for ranch training when he is four so we will see… Keep up the good work with the VLC!

  13. VLC is so handsome, and I’m so glad that through patience you and VLC were rewarded in the end. I think that how you handled that situation should be an example to all others who fall into the “win” trap. I know that I too have had the same feelings of anger, sadness and resentment wash into me when I’m not doing well at a show, and your post here will always be in the back of my mind from this day on. Thank you!!

  14. I recently came back to the show ring in HUS. I am over 50 and just started english last November. I have ridden my whole life western.. western pleasure, trail, reining and reined cowhorse. I did this because my “western” horse came back from the trainer a bronc. Whew. Unhappy. So, I turned him out to pasture and the next season we went english. Our first show’s mantra was “We aren’t last!” Oh and “Don’t Dump Me!”. And as luck would have it, he is getting better and better. We will most likely get a top 5 award for the season. That shiney ribbon isn’t really the top award. Your super broke, sound horse is. There was a time when my friends tried to get me to sell the GJA (Giant Jack Ass), but being the stubborn gal I am, I kept trying. Seems to have worked. Keep your eye on the real prize.

    • “We aren’t last” – love it! I have been there, particularly with greenies. You know, you come out and go OMG, I ACTUALLY BEAT SOMEONE WITH THIS GREEN DING-DONG! 🙂

  15. I love to win. Really, really love it. But obviously you can’t win every single time you go to a show. So I’ve gotten over it by just telling myself I’m there to have fun and to ride my horse without getting hurt and show off my purty pony. On the other hand, I’m not trying to campaign my horse for anything (such as being a stallion or selling him), so the only thing blue ribbons do for me is feed my ego. I still love them, but I’ve definitely mellowed out about them. I try really hard to have the attitude that I’m doing this for me and for my horse and nobody else–so if I have a great ride and my horse is beautifully behaved, but we don’t win–we have still accomplished my main goals. I’ve also discovered that it doesn’t bother me at all to lose to a better horse, but it does irritate me to lose to a worse one, or to a crappy rider. I have to do the “Like water off a duck’s back,” or, to the Seinfeld lovers, “Serenity Now!” mantras when that happens. But in general, I just don’t take it too seriously, although I still wait with hushed excitement to hear my number called first, and it’s always a let down when it isn’t. That’s just human nature.

  16. I used to do hunters, and my pony is just not the right build for it. No flying leads for him without huge bucks, and don’t even think about getting the leads off the lines! Even when we did a good round we’d always get dead last, which sucked. We started doing jumpers which was amazingly fun, and as we both progressed in skill (Old ponies do learn new tricks! Hes 17 this year!) he can now be competitive in jumpers and hunter classes. He is even packing around my little sister in 1’6″ classes — winning them almost all the time without missing a lead, and he just canters over them like a pole, lol. They are the cutest team, a 14.1 chestnut pony with a cute but and a little kid with pigtails 🙂

  17. I was just going over my copies of Horse & Rider for the last year or so, and refreshingly, there were two articles written on exactly this topic; one by Bob Avila (love him!), and the other by Sue Copeland. The more we talk about it, the less taboo it will become. Thanks!

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