The Aiding & Abetting Amateur: Life lessons from horse-show moms

The A-circuit can be a brutal place to grow up. Our columnist takes a moment to revisit the hunter rings of her youth and give credit where credit is due.

From The Aiding & Abetting Amateur:

A horse show mother is a conflicted creature. She wants, first and foremost, success and safety for her child. Secondly, she wants to watch out for the well-being of her bank account, and finally she may want a ribbon or two. And sometimes these interests are conflicting.

Maybe I’m partial, but I think my mom had it down. She knew where I needed help, and her regular responsibilities included: keeping track of my gloves and number (the two things I STILL manage to lose, every horse show), making sure the tail was shavings free at the in-gate, and finally bringing the checkbook and closing out at the office. When I remember these horse shows, I hope that Mom got something out of them too. I have the fondest memories of Mom and I waking up before the sun and driving to the horse show. I always wanted to be there before my trainer so that I got to feed my horse. I loved beating everyone there. Mom was always ready to leave home in the morning, no matter what ungodly hour I decided we should leave. I remember it being “bonding time,” and I’m pretty sure it’s one of the only times Mom and I liked each other throughout my high school years.

I’ve seen the bad horse show moms. The ones that stand at the in-gate and fuss about the judge being unfair to their perfect child and pony. These horse show moms fail to understand the life lesson that are being learned by their child. Horse shows teach kids how to lose graciously. Horse shows teach us that although we may present ourselves almost perfectly, winning is not guaranteed and there’s not much that can be done to change the outcome. Bad horse show moms feel the need to constantly justify a child’s loss. I think the right approach is, “I’m sorry little Suzie, the judge didn’t pin you today, and that’s all there is too it.” Life isn’t fair, as most of us have learned. Hard work and even near perfection is not always rewarded. However, on a timeline long enough, persistence is always rewarded.

This is the lesson horse show moms need to emphasize to their child. Horse showing should teach our kids that stick-to-itness is one of the most valuable things in life. I win more now than I ever have, and I show at a much more competitive level. Maybe it’s because time has eliminated the ones who don’t have the drive and desire to win. Maybe it’s because I’ve learned how to set my horse up for success. I think it’s the combination of all of the above.

I don’t think the right answer is for a horse show mom to take all the emphasis off competitive drive. Horse showing is competitive. Life is competitive. Competitive pursuit can better us, if we frame it in the correct way. Moderation is key. Horse show moms cannot be so competitive that they cannot stand to see their child lose, but also cannot undermine the competitive drive of their child. My mom did this well. If you’re reading this, thanks Mom.

Today, Mom does not jump up and down about my competitive pursuit of riding. Being burned by trainers, being injured, and being worked to near death, she has seen the sport hurt me time and time again. However, the moment I begin to reminisce and talk about my first horse shows and my first horse and the ponies we leased, she jumps right back into it with me. The sport regains its purity in her memories. I understand it. I, too, see the past more fondly than the present. But I hold on to the idea that maybe one day, these days will be the “good old days.”

As amateurs it’s so important to not let the negative deter us from pursuing something we love. Yes, there are bad horse trainers out there that lie, cheat, and steal. And yes, there is the potential for devastating injuries. But I hope beyond all hope that these things will not keep me from enjoying the sport that I love. I won’t let them.

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 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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