Thursday, May 28, 2009

The lessons others teach

One thing I really love about my daughter riding and loving horses are the opportunities to teach her things like responsibility, compassion, empathy and hard work.

But I also get to teach her about good sportsmanship and understanding. She had an excellent time at the show this past weekend and really enjoys getting out there and putting her best boot forward. Yes, she did get frustrated with Trinity because she couldn't get her to trot. But she didn't blame Trinity for not wanting to trot, instead, she praised her for being good in all other aspects, asked her if she was hot and tired and wanted a bath and said she wished she had bigger, stronger legs. She does have pretty spindly little kid legs!

I've witnessed far too many kids (and adults!) quickly blame their horse for a bad ride when in reality, the horse is just being a horse. It's easier to blame something else for a mistake or a bad ride than to look inward and admit you did something wrong or not quite right. What is that quote? "There are no bad horses, only bad riders." That's something I absolutely believe to be true 99.9% of the time. Sometimes, there are bad horses, but usually because people somewhere down the line made them that way.

Anyway, back to the show. There is a girl about Kayleigh's age who rides at the barn. The kid has her own horse and rides regularly and is a pretty decent rider. But the girl has zero sportsmanship and plays the blame game with her horse all the time. The horse is a good plodder who safely packs her around. He tries to do what she asks but if he doesn't respond exactly how she thinks he should, he gets his mouth jerked on repeatedly or whipped and kicked and yelled at. Any other horse would dump her butt in the dirt (and it would be rightly deserved!) but he takes it and keeps going.

In one of her classes she did not place. We watched the class and she was being rough-handed and mean to him the entire class because he kept picking up the wrong lead. As soon as the placings were called and all riders left the arena, she got off him, jerked on his mouth, spanked him with her crop, flung her helmet across the barn aisle, flung her riding jacket onto the ground and stomped around saying what a stupid horse he was.

Kayleigh witnessed the entire thing and was frankly, quite shocked. I was shocked too, but even more so when the girl's mother did NOTHING to rein in and admonish her out-of-control, horrible child for being so awful. She just ignored her as she threw her little fit because she didn't place in the class.

Kayleigh asked me why she was acting like that when it wasn't the horse's fault and the ribbon really didn't matter. "Why is she being so mean to him?" she asked. I didn't have an answer, but my heart warmed when I realized that yes, I've been doing something right with this kid! We talked about the girl's unsportsmanlike behavior and why blaming the horse and being a brat about a ribbon is the absolute wrong thing to do. We talked about learning from the class and working on improving instead of having an uncalled for, childish fit.

She gets it. Thank goodness, she gets it. Because it's not about the ribbons, it's about the horses, learning and having fun. The ribbons are nice, but they aren't the be all, end all of riding.

Sure, Chief frustrates her sometimes, but I've never, ever seen her lose her temper with him. He's dumped her a couple of times (she has learned that he responds very well to just a light squeeze...a kick sends him flying forward and she falls off!) and each time, instead of getting mad at him, she apologizes to him, makes sure he's okay, and climbs back on. The two times he spooked hard and dumped her she didn't get mad, she caught him, comforted him, climbed back on and left it behind her as a lesson learned.

We are going to try to get Chief to the next show for her to ride. I don't know that's he's ever shown before so I don't really know how he'll respond to being in an arena full of other horses, but I know he will trot when she asks and she has been absolutely dying to show off the love of her life to all her riding friends. She's already braiding his mane and has even poked chicken and turkey feathers into his mane...he looks like a real Indian warhorse when he's all spiffed up in his feathers!

Now we just need to come up with a nifty show name for the old man! I'm eager to hear what she comes up with.


  1. Your daughter is on her way to becoming a great horsewoman. I fear for the other girl and any horse in her future. What a shame.

    Would love to see a picture of Chief adorned with poultry feathers. That sounds adorable. Your daughter has the right heart; love of the horse should be more important than a ribbon.

  2. Jenn: A+ in parenting

    Kayleigh: A+ in equestrian sportsmanship

    Chief: A+ for taking good care of his little person

    I second Once Upon's wish to see Chief sporting feathers!

  3. We need more parents like you in the world!

  4. Its great your kids indipendantly do the right thing isn't it :D
    Ollie is a typical 9 year old boy away from the horses and is as likely to complain about homework and bed time as the next kid, but with his ponie he is years ahead maturity wise.
    He is gobsmaked at riders who fall off and make a huge scene (He once got a mention in a newspaper for his "gymnastic dismount" 2 years ago when he was jumped off mouse and hit the ground running to catch her. He never blames his pony and is constantly worried that he might hurt her if he does it wrong.
    But so much is in the teaching.
    When he was very small (5 or so) he got cross with mouse a couple of times, **well she IS a shitty shetland ;)** and I told him in no uncertain terms that if he could not respect his pony he would not have a pony.
    An instructor who is constantly bilittiing the pony while bigging up the child is only teaching them to be a spoiled brat.
    You are doing the best job..., what a shame you are so far away, we could get a collection of NICE kids and have our own show and lessons lol. keep up the good work :)

  5. wow all of life's lessons in our horses.. you said this perfectly... and as my instructor says.. it's not about the ribbons.. it's about the goals you set for you and your horse and your partnership

    well done

  6. OnceUponanEquine...I'm trying to teach her...sometimes it feels like an exercise in futility, then something like this happens and I realize she's actually retaining some of the stuff I talk about! Yay!
    Chief lost some of his feathers in the last big rainstorm so I think he's about due for a new ' to come!

    Kathy...thank you! It's nice to know when you're doing something right, isn't it? Kayleigh is counting down the days to Nana time!

    Albigears...Thank you! I think there are lots of goood parents out's just that the bad ones are the ones people tend to remember. People don't remember the well-behaved, polite child, they remember the loud, rude, spoiled brat.

    Kelly...when they learn compassion and empathy this young, you know it will carry them through life. ROFL! "Shitty Shetland," isn't that the truth! It would be nice to have a little barn with a few kids who care more about the horses than the ribbons.

    Manker...Everything I know I've learned from horses in one way or another. I've definitely learned patience in abundance, that's for sure! :P

  7. I found your nice blog through Once Upon An Equine.
    What a good post.
    Our daughter is 14, and she has not always had the easiest ponies to deal with.
    I totally agree with you, this is one of the really important things we have to learn our children. To get out there and do as good as they can, but not get sad and never, ever blame the horse if things don't go as planned.
    What really makes me upset is that the mother of the bad behaving child did not react. Unbelievable.
    I have a question though: Here in Scandinavia we have officials to check and sanction such behavior at shows. How does that work in the US?