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Not-So Friendly Competition

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By Ruthie Stewart

not00Over the years there is a pool of familiar faces in every class and it can seem like the same people go in and out of the top ten. We all have that person we admire or enjoy watching show and aspire to be like. If we’re really honest, we all have people we like to beat and maybe we are close friends with them.

Showing is a competition where we are ranked and judged and deemed “winners” or “losers.” We sign up for the good and bad. One downside of that is the “sour grapes” of our peers; and most of us have experienced jealously. Over the years we can all think of people who don’t mask their feelings when they lose. Some are blatantly open about it. Maybe you are one of them. If you’ve shown a long time and won and lost a lot, you have probably been the target of someone who let you know you got lucky or the judges were horrible and chose you when you didn’t deserve it. After showing with my family for decades, I recall several stories that at the time were shocking, but later we chuckled about. A favorite was years ago when my husband had been leading the local club in his reining division and he had a friend who couldn’t hide his distaste that he was consistently winning and beating him.

At one show my husband was collecting his bronze when this friend marched up and said, “I’m gonna be there when you lose!” We laughed later and when I asked my husband how that made him feel, he said, “I ride every day and in the middle of the night at shows. I work really hard and I’m confident. I hate losing too, so I understand and I don’t fault the guy.”

The guy was much older than my husband and we both admire him too and still consider him a good friend, but competition brings out some ugliness in normally reasonable, intelligent people. No one is immune to it and comparing yourself to others is a natural thing in any sport, and those comparisons are what judging is rooted in and how we usually measure victory.

We love our horse show friends. We’re happy when they’re happy and we feel for them when they have a bad class or their horse doesn’t meet their hopes and expectations. Yet, we still feel a little sting when one of them wins a big class and we’re at the back of the line or, even worse, already back at the stalls or watching from the wall. A lot of times when our class goes bad and our buddy gets the gate too, commiserating together makes it easier to shake it off and move on. There’s no denying that success by a peer tends to provoke jealousy or envy. The social networks make it seem worse with floods of Facebook foals and win pictures or Instagrams of everyone else’s perfect life. We can’t escape it and although we may realize these images aren’t all they appear to be, we can’t help but compare our horses and show successes with our peers. When we are feeling low or down on ourselves and wallowing in that “little green monster” we need to pull ourselves out and get back on the high road that’ll take us where we aspire to be and out of the trappings of negative thinking.

Look at the Big Picture – Honestly

There are strategies for coping with feelings of jealousy and envy and figuring out why we feel bad and how to turn negativity into a way to live and act as better friends, competitors, and people in general. The first thing is to remember that often when we see a big win or hear of a friend’s success, we forget that is one small part of the big picture. No one is proudly displaying pictures of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into a certain horse or learning an event. There is no bragging about the blisters, falls, or money lost on horses or classes that were a disaster. Your friend didn’t “luck” into that trophy or title; they worked long and hard for it. It helps you to feel better if you remind yourself of your own hard work and goals you’re striving toward. The goal is to compare yourself to you, not your competition. Give yourself a mental pat on the back for your own progress. Perhaps others are looking up to you. Psychologists say that people have an inherent need to feel important and those with the weakest self-esteem are the most easily offended. Build yourself up and nurture your own self-esteem by accomplishing goals that make you feel proud. Be gentle with yourself when you struggle and keep a positive outlook that each failure is a learning opportunity to get better and stronger as an exhibitor.

We are taught that jealousy is shameful and embarrassing, and admitting it feels sinful for many people, especially to a friend. No one wants to look weak. However, experts say jealousy is a good tool to help you see what you really care about. Julie Exline, Ph.D., director of clinical training at Case Western Reserve University’s department of psychological sciences says the roots of our envy may be from dreams we didn’t know we had. If your buddy is thrilled with her new trainer or breed of horse, maybe it’s time you looked into a change in those areas yourself. Think about what is triggering your jealously and take a hard look at your own horse life and what you want and the necessary steps to get there. You can’t fix a problem or feel better until you know honestly why it’s happening.

Learn From the Success of Others

The same friend who makes you feel green with envy can also be the source of helping you find success. They say, “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em,” and maybe you are resisting improving your riding or current situation in horses out of ignorance or stubbornness. Drop the pride and attitude and ask your pal for help. Horse people are usually happy to chat or go to dinner to discuss their thoughts and everyone loves to talk horse shop.

My daughter is hard-headed, extremely stubborn and has always had a healthy fear of horses. She learns everything the hard way. Even as a lead line exhibitor she was telling me what to do and wouldn’t take direction from anyone but her trainer. I gave up critiquing her a long time ago and when she came out of a class that went poorly, we knew to leave her alone for awhile to collect herself. Sometimes we bought puppies after particularly bad nationals; I’m not ashamed to admit that fact. Our trainer would laugh, “Always a new puppy at a horse show!” She’s a very bad loser, and her perfectionism and desire to succeed is strong. She eventually learned that mom and dad know best and she is a great and respectful student and daughter. Her fear of horses was something she had to overcome, but her drive to win was greater. She looked at the kids she respected who were working hard and winning and went to train with their coach. She rode young horses that were more dangerous and scarier, but very talented, and when they’d spook or get stupid, she’d stick with it. She had rocky classes until she looked at the big picture of how to improve and learn and find a program she could fit into. She was honest that she didn’t want to do the all-around and focused on the pleasure and reining and gave up games and equitation so she could be relaxed and enjoy showing. She emulated other kids who were working hard and made friends with the people she found inspirational. After that, she won her first Walk-Trot National title unanimously and while every show isn’t ideal, they’re always a good experience for her and a valuable life experience.

That’s not to say mimicking and copying will get you to the title you want. A little luck helps and the best professional training, advice, and some talent make a huge difference in horses. However, for most winners in horses or any sport, hard work and dedication is why they become successful and stay in that top ten. If you do watch anyone who is a name in horses, they are all characterized by a tremendous work ethic and the tireless pursuit of refining their horsemanship skills. Great trainers are great because they aren’t lazy and are always looking at what’s new and who has a better way of getting the job done.

Great amateurs are the same way and everyone gets a little “green” every once in a while. How you act when you experience such feelings can make a big difference in your life. Jealousy can be a catalyst you need to learn and grow and ultimately turn you into the person who is doling out the advice and helping others.

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