Those were the first words that came out of a young girl’s mouth after her Pre-Short Stirrup classes at the horse show this weekend
“That’s okay, but…” the mother replied, as she went on to explain why the girl lost (she was not her trainer). No “you were great, honey!” Or, “don’t be sorry, you rode really well.”
As she and her pony headed toward her parents on the bleachers with her 3rd place ribbons in hand, I first said to her, “Nice job!” She sighed heavily but not rudely, thanked me and complimented my horse. Moments later she apologized to her mom.
And that interaction broke my heart. I felt the tears welling behind my eyelids. Because this girl had done nothing wrong except not win a blue ribbon for her clearly overtly competitive mom.
I am so angry at this parent. We were at a lovely little local show in Spotsylvania, Virginia on Mother’s Day. I was thrilled to have my mother with me, not to mention that she was excited to be at a horse show on a day we were supposed to celebrate her. The Pre-Short Stirrup division is for young equestrians to get their “horse legs” under them, learn how to overcome nerves, enjoy the spirit of the competition and work as a team with your pony. It is not, in my opinion, a place for cut-throat rivalry and collecting only blue ribbons. When I judge horse shows at this level I try to spread the wealth around a bit, give every competitor a sense of what it means to be on top for a job well done and how to demonstrate good sportsmanship when you don’t win the class.
But this little girl, this pretty child on a cute bay pony – who rode quite well, I watched all the classes – didn’t learn that lesson this weekend. She learned that her parents would be disappointed in her if she wasn’t the best. She doesn’t understand yet that our sport is completely subjective. She can’t comprehend that you can put in the perfect performance but you are still at the mercy of the judge or the politics of the horse show. What she clearly understood is that no blue ribbon meant she had let down the most important person in her life.
It makes me reflect on my childhood in horses. I first entered the show ring at five years old with my small pony Gloria. And I think that the reason I love horses and shows so much to this day is because my parents never made me feel like I had anything to prove to anyone but myself. My mom was incredibly supportive every time I went in to that ring. As long as I did my best she was happy. When I was a brat or acted like a snotty teenager, well, then she was disappointed in me. But that never had anything to do with the color of my ribbon, only my poor attitude.
Here are some of the things I’m sorry for over the past 33 years of my life in horses:
- I’m sorry that I ever threw a ribbon – at my mom, my trainers, random passers-by… Please know it was the pressure I put on myself to win, not any of you.
- I’m sorry that I didn’t clean my tack. I’m making up for that as an adult!
- I’m not sorry I yelled at a judge once, but I probably should be…
- I’m sorry that I fought my mom and trainer so hard when I was 7 years old about riding in my first pony medal, only to go on to win it and then determine I really didn’t care about hunters, just the equitations.
- On that topic, I’m sorry that my equitation has gone downhill the older I get. I’m pretty sure my elbows will always stick out, I’m never going to close my fingers around the reins and I’ll continue to lay on his neck over a 2’ jump. It is just who I am now, and I understand why some of the pro’s look broken on a horse – I feel it and compensate for it, too!
- I’m sorry for all the times I got after a horse or pony when it wasn’t their fault but the result of a bad day, poor conditions or other external factors.
- I’m only kinda sorry I used to freak out and cry in jumper classes. It wasn’t the fence height or colors that scared me, it was that no one in their right mind should go that fast at large obstacles!
- I’m grateful that I was taught solid basics and was given a great foundation for my riding career at a very early age. I am so very sorry that it seems many trainers skip that step these days and allow their clients to do dangerous things because neither of them appear to know any better.
- I’m sorry that my last two horses have been jerks about getting in the trailer. I’m thankful my mom had enough patience to wait Jorge out this weekend and (hopefully) taught him to load.
- I’m sorry I picked out of the corner at the show yesterday, then saw the big one last minute, jumped up his neck and chipped. I apologized to Jorge as we cantered down the remainder of the line.
- I’m sorry that I have to have a day job and can’t just be at the barn all day! But I suppose it is good that I must shower to go out in to society 🙂
Most importantly, I’m sorry for every time I wrongly judged someone or was snarky about a fellow equestrian who is just trying to do their very best with the talent and passion that they have for this sport. Whether you horse show at the top levels or you trail ride with your friends, that’s your business and as long as it makes you happy, you have my full support.
So chin up, little short stirrup girl. There are many of us who think you are just great for getting out in the ring and wish you much success in your future shows. And hopefully one day you will learn not to apologize for doing your best but rather to celebrate all that you have accomplished.
And then you can say, “Sorry Mom” that you never experienced what it is like to know you left it all in the ring!