FYI…All Criticism Isn’t Constructive

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Photo by Jaye Nevins

It was never really my intention to write solely about horse judging and horse shows here, although there is typically no shortage of material in that “arena”. It certainly was never my intention to write specifically about Western Pleasure either. I think it’s safe to say that now that the dust has settled, I’ll avoid that topic for a bit. (Unless I get annoyed again.) Although really, if you think about it, all of the collective hullabaloo last fall did have an impact. Think “It’s a Southern Thing” aka Moonpie: (https://www.facebook.com/ItsASouthernThingQH/videos/1142647335754221/?theater) . And if you think I’m talking about a chocolately dessert, never mind. It’s obviously not YOUR thing. Even if you’re from the south.

Anyway, the original intent of this blog was to write about horse showing, social media, the psychology of competition, AND anything else I feel like writing about. Because I enjoy writing. And I really enjoy helping people, even if it is just to get them to consider a different perspective than their own.  To be honest, I enjoy hearing other people’s opinions even if they are different from mine. No, I don’t so much like it when people take a particular subject so far into the weeds that you’d need a map, a compass, and a week’s worth of provisions to find it again, but as I have learned, that will happen when you put yourself out there. And maybe that is really what this blog is about…putting yourself out there. Trying different things and expressing opinions, including opinions others may not like. Which is A-Ok, with one caveat, at least if you’re going to hang around here.   You have to listen to other opinions…and try to figure out which part of what they are saying may actually have a bit of truth to it. Even if it’s truth you don’t want to hear. You may even act on that opinion and make changes for the better at some point. Giving and receiving criticism is probably one of the most important skills I’ve ever learned in school and it is a pretty useful skill both inside AND outside of the show ring, come to think.

First, the giving.  At more entry-level shows, judges may make suggestions about your performance directly when time allows.  At upper level events, those suggestions may come indirectly, in the form of a low placing, or (shudder) the gate. The response by exhibitors, family members, or trainers is a sometimes a defesive one. Something on the order of “those judges don’t know what they are doing…” . I am not going to say that it is never the case, but I will say that more often than not that is absolutely NOT the case. Most judges I know work very hard to hone their craft, want exhibitors to enjoy themselves, and take their job very, very seriously. It really doesn’t do anyone much good if people stop showing horses, now does it? The suggestion that they don’t know what they are doing (if they are carded in some way) is simply a form of consoling oneself. Perhaps stuffing cookies in your mouth would be a more enjoyable option.  For everyone.

A couple of points to consider might be that they know exactly what they’re doing. They just don’t like what YOU’RE doing at the moment. (And maybe you should do some educated soul searching to try to figure out why.)  It also may be possible that it’s NOT that they don’t like what you’re doing. They just like what someone else is doing better. In the words of Cal Naughton Jr. (yes, I’m quoting Talladega Nights) “…ain’t no shame in that.” So consider whether or not your ride was better than your last one, and if it was move along to the next one.  The ribbons, points, or hoof picks  will come eventually.

We also have a tendency to think that all the criticism we give is constructive.  This is especially true when it turns out that someone doesn’t appreciate our commentary.  The problem is that unless you are specific about the issue, and can make some suggestion about how to improve it, there really isn’t much “constructive” there.  Constructive criticism builds people up.  Anything else is just criticism.  And if people don’t think you care about their improvement, again, just plain old morale sinking criticism.  (In the interest of balance, and so I don’t use Talladega Nights as my only source, I think I read that in the Harvard Business Review once.  That or something close to it.)

Learning to give and receive criticism is actually pretty valuable for navigating the world in general. For example, the next time you get a lower grade than you think you deserve, rather than assume your teacher (or boss or judge) doesn’t like you, or doesn’t know what they’re doing, think about what you did and ask yourself if it was really your best work. Ask questions to improve future work. But don’t ever assume that it couldn’t possibly have been something that you did (or didn’t do). And if it IS something you did (or didn’t) do, that is something you actually have some control over.  And that is really something to get excited about.