Photo by Jaye Nevins
By Karen Waite
It’s that time of year again!
If you live in the Midwest, you may have noticed that it’s county fair season…that age old bastion of tradition, education (intentional and otherwise), drama, intrigue, teen romance, and corn dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I love county fairs and 4-H (which often go hand in hand). Both made me who I am, made me a better horseman, and I’m convinced that in the long run it made me a better human. My first real successes (after potty training, learning to walk, and using a fork as a tool not a weapon) came from The 4-H Fair experience. The first time someone handed me a ribbon and a trophy, I was HOOKED. By golly, I was GOOD at something! (I can’t say that I knew what that something was, but they handed me a trophy, and people were smiling and congratulating me, so I obviously was really good, right? RIGHT?! Ok, maybe, maybe not. Read
Losing Doesn’t Mean You’re Bad (and Winning Doesn’t Mean You’re Good)
if you’re confused.
After that first win, I wanted MORE winning. My entire summer, no, my entire YEAR revolved around “The Fair”, wanting to win my classes, and qualify for the State 4-H Horse Show. If I had the right clothes, saddle, bridle, and halter, I’d win. If I figured out “what judges preferred” and what little details would set me apart from the rest, I would surely win. Do I look back to back? Look back after I back? Look back EVER? (Hey, it was the 80s). Do I watch the pivot foot? Band the mane? We agonized over these little details for DAYS. (Which come to think of it, hasn’t really changed much. We just do it on Facebook now.)
Then there were Fair politics. If everyone followed “the exact same rules, and no one ever had spoken to the judges, or made eye contact with them 6 months prior at the grocery store, all would be “fair at The Fair”, and then I’d win. If I wanted it more than anyone else, I’d be a good competitor and I’d win. As you may have noticed, everything I’ve mentioned so far was nothing I had any control of, which made the days I didn’t win pretty tough, confusing, and left me looking for reason why…because frankly, I didn’t always know. Or maybe I didn’t listen to those who tried to tell me. So it logically followed (in my 14-19 year old mind) that if I didn’t win, then clearly, someone had paid a zillion dollars for their horse, had 15 professional trainers, and never, EVER did their own work. Things were NOT always fair at The Fair…and sometimes things got out of hand.
It was only about 30 years of showing and judging horses later that I realized one important fact: It’s not enough to want to win, and wins aren’t driven by outside factors. You’ve just got to do the work to win. But how? Here are 5 tips for Working to Win at The Fair (or anywhere else.)
1. Take Your Eyes Off the Prize
I don’t know who developed the “keep your eyes on the prize” concept, but it can go away anytime. Yes, you can tuck it away in the back of your mind as a motivator, but it can’t be your primary focus all of the time. You’ve got work to do, and focusing exclusively on external rewards rather than personal growth brings with it a variety of unhelpful issues that don’t guarantee success, may actually even sabotage it. For more on that, read Carol Dweck’s book
If you’re short on time, just keep reading this (for now.)
2. Learn What’s Required to Win
If you wanted to learn to perform brain surgery, would you ask your friends, or the guy at the gas station, or on Facebook? Of course NOT. You’d get help from professionals who either make their living performing brain surgery, or at minimum, people who have been doing it successfully for years. This could be a professional riding instructor, a horse trainer, or it could be a 4-H leader who really knows their stuff. It could be a judge who actually knows what judges are looking for, and how to evaluate and score specific classes. In many ways, I wish that amateur competitors could give lessons without penalty, but in the stock horse world, they can’t without risking their amateur status. Off season clinics, participation on (or coaching) judging teams, all of these things help you learn what’s required to win…and how else are kids supposed to learn other than by getting (some) help from others?
3. DO What’s Required to Win
Practice, copy your own patterns, develop the motor skills and muscle memory that riding and showing requires, and once you’ve done that, learn more about pattern strategy. It won’t happen overnight, but if you don’t give up, and you have the right attitude and help, it will happen eventually. If you play your cards right, you may even realize that these are the things that fuel a lifetime of riding and showing. Parents and other adults can also help by looking at horse showing as a marathon, not a sprint. Not so much an”one time deal”, but rather an ongoing process. The Fair Frenzy is diminished a bit if it’s “just another horse show” in a series. And that can dial back the emotion that sometimes causes problems. Plus you have control over what you do yourself.
4. Video Your Classes
Have some one video your classes and watch them w
looking for areas to improve. You may want to talk them through with the folks mentioned above, to help you learn what is good, and what could be better. Then do those things. (Note: This is true even if you just had the ride of your life.)
5. Repeat Steps 1-4 As Necessary…
As I said in the beginning, I love county fairs. They are a big part of who I am, and why I owe 4-H so much. For some people, The Fair is their Congress, their US Nationals, and World Show, all rolled into one and as a result, tensions run high. I also recognize, that sometimes people at The Fair are in the process of learning about showing horses, and when they don’t understand why things happen they way they do, they make up crazy things
to explain it,
or blame their lack of success on things they can’t control. But I can say for certain that we learn the most when things aren’t fair at the Fair, and that makes it a win.