Sometimes You Just Don’t Win

Most of the time we think about winning from a competitive rider point of view. We never really think about it from a judge’s point of view. Judges can lose too, however.

I spend a good bit of time judging open horse shows. Even though they’re only open horse shows, it’s a responsibility that I take very serious as open shows are usually where horsemen and horses are just starting their careers. They’re building a foundation learning lessons that may one day take them to a much greater arena than the local schooling show. There are lessons to be learned at open shows that just can’t be learned anywhere else.

Learning that having fun and staying safe is the primary reason for showing in the first place is one lesson that can be learned at an open show. The lack of pressure and a friendly environment is the perfect place to relax and focus on those two things.

Accepting your horse’s best and being happy with it is another lesson that can be learned at open shows. Open shows are usually the first place that young or green horses are ridden off the farm for the first time. Season enough green horses in any show environment and you’ll quickly learn to appreciate just keeping a leg on each side. Because of that, you start to appreciate when a horse is truly trying for you.

Another lesson is learning to lose gracefully. When you start to show for the right reasons such as growing as a rider or growing your horse this lesson just kind of falls into place. Yes, you might be disappointed but you still find some joy in a good ride or making progress in some other area with your horse and those become more important.

All of these lessons are crucial to being a gracious competitor at a higher level. Sometimes I’m able to help riders recognize those lessons, and sometimes I’m not. When I’m not able to, that’s when I lose as a judge.

My job as a judge isn’t to place first those that think they should win every time. My job as a judge is to be fair according to what I’m seeing in the class and let the riders learn accordingly from that. Most of the time they do learn but sometimes they get angry instead even though it’s just a little open show and not the world finals. That’s when a judge loses because they lost an opportunity to teach what showing is really all about in the end.

I can say from personal experience that there have been many, many times at open and breed shows that I didn’t place as well as I thought I would have. Instead of getting mad and bad mouthing the judge, I used it as an opportunity to learn. Obviously the judge saw something that I didn’t think that I needed to work on. Maybe what they saw wasn’t as high on my list but it was still something I needed to work on and was obviously important to them. Just because it wasn’t as important to me didn’t mean I didn’t need to work on it.

For the judges and the teachers out there, have there been times when you felt like you lost in teaching a much-needed lesson? What was the lesson and how did it go?

For the competitors out there have there been times that you felt like you should have place better and didn’t? How did you handle it? Did you learn something in the end?

As I have often been told, relax. They can’t kill you and eat you, it’s just a horse show! Those are good words to live by!