The Winning Attitude to have for Showing a Horse
Here is the story I promised you in last week’s blog. Gloria White, who was 14 years old, wanted to put her horse, Cody, in training with me so she could show him in English Pleasure. I screen my clients very closely, wanting to pick horses and people that are choosing a path that I believe is really meant for them, so they can experience the dream they want to have with their horse. The other thing is that I want my clients to be realistic in what it will take to produce a harmonious dance with their horse.
I was never about fixing problems, though it seemed to be something I would end up doing by getting enthusiastic about the story that I might be able to bring a happy ending to. This was the case with Gloria and Cody. They had a rough time together, when I first met them, due to the damage of previous aggressive coaching. Gloria’s hands were blistered from pulling on Cody’s mouth so hard because a former coach had told her to do so. Cody was traumatized to the point of standing in his stall and holding his breath. His body, from the end of his nose to the end of his tail, stayed straight like a broom when he made a turn. His body was stiff and hard so he could not bend his neck, even if he wanted to.
For all of you who enjoy my Uberstriechen exercises and single lining, they were developed because of Cody and Gloria. These exercises created a Champion out of a very distraught horse.
How it all started:
On my first inspection of Cody to see if I would take Cody into English Pleasure training my mother went with me. She was a very good judge of horses. My mother was shocked to see that I took such a horse into my training program. I decided to take him because I had a hunch that he probably had what it took, and so did Gloria.
I realized that Cody had almost no chance of doing well as an English Pleaser horse but I still saw something in him even though he was resentful, untrusting and conformationally challenged. He looked more like a Camel than an Arabian horse. He was only 14 hands and his back was low. Every step he took his upside down neck would rock his head upward. This kind of horse was called, years ago, a “star gazer”. Also, his rump was considerably higher than his withers. I told Gloria that Cody was the wrong horse for English Pleasure and that she might consider another horse that was more suitable. Gloria said to me, “I want to show Cody and not any another horse”. When I asked her why, she told me she had a rich girlfriend that was competing in the English Pleasure shows and was always blaming the horse for not being able to do well in competitions. This same girlfriend would say that the horse she was riding was just not good enough and her parents needed to sell the horse and buy another, and her parents would oblige her. This child had gone through multitudes of horses and was very abusive to all of them.
Gloria said that she wanted to show her girlfriend that she could win on one horse when the relationship was built on love and kinship; and that making an effort to become a better rider could also bring out the talent in the horse. This story touched me deeply and I took Cody into training. Cody came with issues and so did Gloria. But the love that Gloria, Cody and I brought to the make over of Cody never waivered. Cody became a great show horse. He qualified for the National Championship in his second year in competition. Gloria won high point junior rider of the year in equitation. She showed Cody from my barn for two years under my direction. I asked Gloria if she was going to compete at the National level on her second year after qualifying. She said no because her girlfriend had not qualified. All Gloria wanted to do was show her girlfriend a true love story, that it takes a bit of practice and effort to do well in the show ring, and that competing could be a pleasure no matter where you are placed.
There are so many stories about what took place and the lessons we all learned in the rehabilitation and training of Cody and Gloria. It would make a movie.
It turned out that little Cody loved English Pleasure to his quick. The pair was magical! I am sure that the lessons Gloria wanted her girlfriend to learn did not sink in until many years later. However, I would bet the farm that the lessons were learned.
Her girlfriend had told her that Cody was just not good enough and boy did she have to eat her words. Cody only showed in the same classes as Gloria’s friend and during the two years of showing Cody simply won over every horse her girlfriend rode.
Sometimes it is really hard to see the truth. What Gloria’s girlfriend could not see was that her problem was her lack of ability, not the horses. She needed to enjoy the experience of showing and forget about needing to “win”. What she needed was more heart and a family that knew more about how to guide her.
After telling this story, I would like to share my feelings about competition and showing. Many people see competition as a negative event because of the competitive attitude it brings out in people and how it can bring about a negative treatment of horses. For me showing has magical lessons to be learned and can be a positive experience. Instead of “competing”; showing your horse can be an exhibition to show a willing partnership, developed from a bond, which was developed from the training of the horse. People are waking up to wanting to see the connection between the rider and all the beautiful horses rather than who is best. Instead of looking for who is best, which is a competitive attitude; look for the “pair” that stands out in unity and harmony, which removes the competitive attitude. From this point of view competition does not exist.
The show experience needs to expand the friendship and the bond that you have with your horse. At a show it is important to honor a horse more than the plans you have made for him.
There is no benefit to anyone wanting only to “win”. This attitude pits people against people. It pinches off source energy.
I love showing and my advice to you, if you show, is to forget about competing and go to enjoy the company of your horse. In this way of being you will reach a true freedom that will stay with you in most all situations you face in life. Focus on the connection and not what is happening around you.
To enter competition the functional approach is to stay in tune with your horse and nothing else matters. I feel that a pure friendship is more valuable than any recognition a person might receive by winning. When the time is right you will one day stand out and shine, it is written.
If you get caught up with what is “fair” or “not fair” in how you are being judged you inadvertently get caught up in being competitive yourself. This will play heavily on the relationship and will also affect the performance of your horse in a negative way. Instead of being concerned in what is fair let the chips fall where they may and enjoy your new found freedom where the drama at the shows do not affect you or your horses well being. Pat yourself on the back that you can go with the flow with what is. This is how to reach the top without effort and you will be able to develop many friends on the way with this relaxed way of being. When you are at the show look for horses and riders that stand out because of a perfect union so you have a clear understanding of where you are headed.
Taking care of your personal well being in any situation should be your highest priority. Enjoying the ride will keep you on the pathway to where you want to go.
How not to get caught up with negative feelings in the show arena is to tell yourself that you can enjoy the day at the show even if you place last or you feel you should have won but didn’t. Competition exists from your viewpoint only. Seeking recognition can be heart breaking and it stops the flow of well-being.
See showing your horse like a tea ceremony. There is only one “self” worth serving and that is the one you share in unity with your horse. At those moments you are home to who you truly are. Enjoy every aspect of showing, that you have control of. Learn to love all the things you do to prepare for the event as much as the event itself. I always felt on top of my game, even if I went to a show and I couldn’t show my horse because I had lost my connection. I simply would not show my horse. Instead I would let him watch the classes as a way to season him. Believe in yourself no matter how others see you. This way of thinking will bring you closer to your horse and open the door to your authentic self.
Showing a horse and seeing how to fix your internal drama will lead you to a greater personal empowerment and respect of others. This is true recognition and acceptance of yourself.
The focus of competitive shows:
Yes, competitions need to change and they are changing. New outlooks are taking place. Shows are beginning to focus on helping the horse and rider have an enjoyable time together, more so than the “win”. There is now a greater interest in the relationship between horse and rider. And there is such a show that is coming this year. You might want to look into it. It is called American Horsewoman’s Challenge and can be viewed at http://horsewomanschallenge.com/.
Western Dressage has entered the scene and its focus is more on the connection rather than the superficial performance of horse and rider. Because of this we are going back into competition and the best part is how much fun and new excitement this has brought to our ranch. I hope my readers will get just as excited from what I will be sharing with you in future blogs about our journey in the show arena. Stay tuned for Oso’s, Fire Light’s, Apollo’s and Teddie’s journey preparing for competition in Western Dressage without a bit.
Have a great weekend! Be on the lookout for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.
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