Last month I entered my Reined Cow Horse in the Hackamore class at the Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno, Nevada. I thought, “$1,000 entry fee for the biggest Hackamore class of the year. Competing alongside seventy of my heroes. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Here’s the answer: Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. By the time I finished the cow work I looked up at the five-judge panel and they were searching for pieces of scratch paper to continue to write down the many mistakes that I had made! Leaving the end gate, other riders were ominously quiet and looked away as I rode by. A few moments later the announcer confirmed my deepest fears. I was a failure. “Wait! Let me do it again. I wasn’t ready. I know I can do better if you give me one more chance”. Of course there are no second chances. It is what it is.
All I wanted to do was load up my horse and go home. My wife quickly drove on ahead of me to remove all the sharp objects out of the house. (Someone had already placed the phone number for a suicide prevention hotline on my windshield!) My horse show performance was embarrassing and I was humiliated. Friends knew that I was showing that morning and they had come specifically to see me execute a poor performance in my own hometown. How could it get any worse?
I’m a professional horseman. People pay money for my instruction, insight, and coaching for their own horsemanship journey. What if somebody filmed it? What if it is put on YouTube and goes viral? I have a reputation, a public image to uphold. If anyone was thinking about coming to a Richard Winters Horsemanship Clinic and was in the stands that morning, are probably now looking at Chris Cox or Clinton Anderson’s website for their scheduled events.
People will tell me, “I’ve been following you on Facebook. Wow! You are sure doing great at the horse shows. Congratulations! “What they fail to understand is this; Every time we do well at a horse show my wife takes pictures and puts them up on Facebook, before we even leave the show grounds. When I do poorly, mums the word, until now of course. Thus my “cathartic moment.” Was there anything to learn from that thousand dollars and five mortifying minutes? I think so.
When I teach horsemanship clinics, I win almost every weekend. People think I’m great. (Most of the time!) Folks go home with renewed confidence and horsemanship skills that will help them be a better leader for their equine partner. Horse shows are different. For me, it’s a good barometer of my personal horsemanship skills. I consider it to be a continuing education and my own professional development. It’s pretty easy to begin to believe my own press releases. However, at the horse show I expose myself to objective critics who evaluate my skills and performance on one given horse at one given time.
When conducting a horsemanship clinic, it is likely that I’m the best horseman in the arena. When I show horses, I’m often surrounded by horsemen who I’ve looked up to and have admired for decades. I need that; I need to ride with people that are better than me. That’s the only way I can get better. I need to be stretched and challenged. Even if that means eating a little “humble pie” from time to time.
Competition is not for everyone. However, at whatever level and whatever discipline you’re comfortable with, it might be something that you could consider. It does not have to be a high-octane event like going down the fence on a Reined Cow Horse. And it doesn’t have to cost $1,000 every time you enter. Any type of small show, regardless of the discipline, can give you a goal to shoot for and a clear assessment of how well you and your horse can perform in a competitive setting. Who was it that said; “I’d rather shoot for something and miss than shoot for nothing and make it.”
Theodore Roosevelt, Former President of the United States had this to say; “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Was there a consolation to all my grief? I think so. Two days later our daughter Sarah showed our horse, Shine Smarter, in the Open Finals to a fifth-place finish and a $70,000 payout! That’s pretty good salve for my wounds.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 11