What to Do When The Fair Isn’t Fair

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By Karen Waite

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

Mindset

.

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

hile

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.

Grit Isn’t Just For Chickens

By Karen L. Waite, Ph. D.

If you are a friend on my personal Facebook page, I’m sure at some point you’ve thought “Why does this insufferable woman post so much?  And why does she always post about her FAILURES?  Who DOES that?”  Great news.  I’m hoping to clear that up for you with this post.  But first…one of my “failures” (in quotes because “failure” is a relative term.   I was on the horse, I stayed on the horse, and was in the pen, so…).  On this particular occasion, we started one set of spins with a little too much enthusiasm, and then V got VERY excited about her fancy lead changes so she threw in an extra for good measure.  Plus I’m still getting used to the idea of just “letting her go”.  Anything that resembles speed feels like super turbo to me.

Back to the matter at hand, there are two main reasons for my either daily, or several times daily, Seinfeld-esque posts about “nothing”.  First, my almost 83 year-old mother can’t get out quite as much as she once did, but she can use Facebook.  She loves people watching, and now she can do it from her chair!  Facebook is a great way for her to keep up with what’s happening and I want her to know what’s going on…and even more importantly, when she “Likes” something I’ve posted, I know she’s ok.  The peace of mind that comes with that is priceless.

Second, Mark Zuckerberg says I can.  Facebook is my personal scrapbook, diary of daily events, or whatever else you want to call it.  Russian hacks not withstanding when I’m 83, my memories from 30 years ago will pop up in that delightful orange box, asking if I want to share them.  You betcha, I do, Mark Zuckerberg.

In addition to those two things, however, there is one additional reason I post so much about the good things, the bad things, and the totally mundane, ridiculous things.  I think that Facebook, and social media in general, lacks the authenticity and “realness” that makes up an actual life.   Success happens, failure happens, happiness happens and sometimes, very, very hard times happen.  I work with a fair number of youth and college age students, and sometimes even adults, and I try to be a good role model. (And yes, I fall down on this front consistently as well.) I want them to see that a person can have a pretty successful life full of things they enjoy, judging horse shows, being blessed to travel all over the country and even world, while at the same time being afraid of chickens, and forgetting which way or how many times to spin in a reining pattern.  Repeatedly.  And they can own all of it.  It’s 100% theirs.   Someday, they’ll realize that IRL (in real life, for those who don’t know), the journey to the success makes up a much larger and more interesting part of the actual success. Oh sure, your mom cares that you won, but honestly, If someone wins at a horse show, I’m MUCH more interested in the effort that went into it for weeks, months, or years prior.   How they fell down 7 times and got up 8.  What they had to overcome, and just how much grit they have.  That to me is much more interesting than the (nifty) cooler they won.

But what if you’re just not particularly gritty and you can’t possibly imagine that you’ll EVER be as successful as “those people” you see on Facebook?  What if grit is genetic, or you’re born with as much as you’ll ever have?  The good news is that grit isn’t just for chickens anymore!  Grit is an actual psychological skill that you can develop if you’re lacking.  There is an entire book about it, in fact.  You might want to check it out: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverance   Duckworth says of the high achievers she has studied “Apparently it was critically important-and not at all easy-to keep going after failure.  “Some people are great when things are going well, but they fall apart when they aren’t.”  This book shares accounts of those who learned to keep going, and in all honesty, that’s what sets them apart from others.  That’s why I post the good and the bad…a failure is just a step on the staircase.  And yes, I realize that in the big scheme of things, “failing” at a horse show is pretty small…but we learn to handle big things by surviving the small ones.

If you don’t have time to read an actual book, you can get the audio version and listen while you drive, clean stalls, or even while you work out.   And one day (probably before you’re 83), maybe Facebook will show you that memory of the day when your horse leaped into a spin in Green Reiner.  And hopefully by then you’ll have stuck with it long enough that your Green days are long behind you, “speed” is actually fast and maybe you’ll even be a Rookie by then!

 

Work Smarter AND Harder

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A lot has been said about Goal Setting. If you Google goal setting or SMART goals, you can spend weeks going through the 18, 800,000 hits, if you’ve got that kind if time.  And little wonder…it’s an important skill. It’s hard to accomplish much of anything worthwhile if you don’t set goals…and not just goals, but the right KINDS of goals. As an example, me saying that I want to meet and take a selfie with Ryan Reynolds is a relatively unattainable goal. As the sign says, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” (Note: I found this image during the above-mentioned Google Search. You gotta love Google.)

SMART goals are certainly a better method of goal setting than wishing. As you may be aware, a SMART goal is Specific, Measureable, Agreed Upon (or Attainable), Relevant, and Time-sensitive. So again using Ryan as an example, a better goal would be “I will meet Ryan Reynolds and take one selfie when he is in town to film his next movie in May.” Now granted, this is probably equally unattainable, but it’s a better-written goal, which is the point. And it IS just a goal…it says nothing about the effort or strategy required to actually meet Ryan Reynolds. Nor does it say anything about what I’ll do if Ryan shows in town up and I DON’T MEET HIM! And that is really the point of this post. Sort of.

If I were Queen, SMART goals would actually be SMART-ER goals. Incidentally, if you search SMARTER goals in Google there are some variations on that theme as well, but not the version I’m thinking of. My SMART-ER goals are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-sensitive, ETHICAL, and RESILIANT.

Like I said, there are many articles that detail the SMART part. If you want to review, try this reading this one (specific to horses) or this one (not specific to horses). But lets talk about ethics and resilience.

From an ethics perspective, essentially anyone can “win” through cheating. It’s a shortcut, it’s disrespectful, it doesn’t suggest ability, and frankly, it DOES suggest you don’t want to (or don’t know how to) put in the real work required for whatever it is you’re doing. You know you cheated, and I’d ask you…did you do it because you believed you couldn’t actually DO the hard work? I’ll bet that isn’t true. Did you do it because people are paying you to “win” and win quick? More likely, but that makes you a sell out, not a hero. You may “win” externally, but you should be left feeling a bit hollow inside…knowing you did unethical things to get to that “win”. Would you want that behavior on the front page of ________ (insert the horse or other website of your choice)? Probably not.

Frankly, a win through cheating is no real win at all. You may win the external hardware, and some accolades from the horse show groupies, but it isn’t much good for your internal, mental software. It’s far better to win the right way…with honor, with hard work, with respect for your animal or sport, and those around you. Those are the wins that are impressive. Anything else is weak.

The final thing to consider is resilience. Not surprisingly, I have a personal example to share. Last year, I set a goal to run the Disney Half Marathon before I turned 50 in January. I had 7 months to train for it, and while I wasn’t exactly in the best shape of my life, I was motivated. I trained with a friend for roughly 6 months…through super hot weather, cold weather, and rainy weather. In October, we ran a 10 mile “race”, and even though I was almost the last one to finish (I just said I’d run it, I didn’t say I’d run fast), I was convinced I’d be ready. And come January, I was. I rearranged my work schedule and left a rather important professional meeting early to support my friend Jessica, who had decided to run the 10K (6 miles) due to a nasty bout of tendonitis…and she did.

I did all the things I could think of to prepare for my race the next day…ate right, rested, drank plenty of water. I nursed a painful arthritic knee…but I was determined to complete the race, and I knew I would. Then, we attended a fundraising dinner the evening before, which also served as an inspirational event. At the conclusion of dinner, after being completely inspired, fired up and ready to GO it was announced that the Half-Marathon the next day was CANCELED. Yep. Not happening, due to possible lightning in the area.

While I totally understood why it was canceled, and while I was very glad I was not the organizer of the race, it was REALLY disappointing. Six months of training, and poof. Seemingly wasted. I did all the right things…I SET A SMART GOAL for heaven’s sake. And yet…not happening. Come to think of it, I had a similar experience at the last Quarter Horse Congress that I was eligible to compete in Novice Amateur Showmanship, but I wasn’t the lame one in that story. My equine side-kick was. A story for another day. Anyway, my birthday was later in the month, and honestly, I really just wanted to run around Disney.

I did what most people (should) do in such circumstances. I pouted for a while. I moped for a while. And then I started looking for the bright side. I started making plans. I appreciated all of the time I was able to spend with Jessica leading up to the race, as well as the fact that I could actually run that far (albeit slowly), then maybe I’d just change the goal to “Run a Half Marathon while I am 50. In other words, I showed some resilience:

re·sil·ience

rəˈzilyəns/

noun

noun: resilience; plural noun: resiliences; noun: resiliency; plural noun: resiliencies

  1. 1. 
the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Yes, I was disappointed. No, it didn’t seem fair. But I could wallow in those things, or I could choose to pull myself up, get out, and appreciate the fact that resilience was something I could fall back on when the SMART goal didn’t quite pan out.

Sometimes in the horse world, horses get sick, hurt, or don’t progress in training like we hoped they would. Sometimes they cost way too much money. Or judges don’t understand that we deserve to win because we’ve worked really hard. (Ok, they probably do understand, but only one person can win, so…), and sometimes we think that based on what Facebook would have us believe, when we set a goal, it just stands to reason that we’ll reach it. But that’s not true. Sometimes we reach the goal, and other times we don’t, and we have to just be glad that we prepared honestly and ethically, hopefully we enjoyed the process, and if we ultimately missed the mark, we showed resilience, got up, and tried again. Not surprisingly, its one more example of what horses teach us.

 

When Your Mom is “That Mom”(Ok Not MY Mom)

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It was bound to happen sooner or later. I’m not sure why I wasn’t more prepared…in hindsight, I should have been. I was speaking at a scientific section meeting on the topic of the human aspect of show horse welfare (part of my “day job”, so to speak).   The conversation turned to educational programs to address the topic, including parent education programs.

Afterwards, a young man who had been enthusiastically engaged in all of the presentations of the morning, and who was likely a graduate student approached me and said “I have a question. What if your mom is “that mom”?” I asked for a bit of clarification to which he responded “My mom was “that mom”. She showed horses growing up and she had no interest in being educated. About anything really. I had to go to clinics and workshops by myself. She was the one who yelled at me across the arena, and all the way home in the truck. What should I have done?”

Ouch. Poor kid. We all know that person, but hopefully, we don’t have to go home with her. You young man, should not have done anything. You were a kid. What were you supposed to do, I wondered, as I formulated a response and said a little prayer that something useful would come to me.  Something eventually did.

“You shouldn’t have done anything, but someone should have. Maybe the judge or other parents should have asked her to stop “coaching” from the rail. Maybe the show managers or other leaders should have asked her to be quiet or leave. But whatever was done, it shouldn’t have impacted your participation. You should have been able to show even if your mom couldn’t be there. I know that would have been difficult, but you obviously loved it, because you’re still working to be involved in the industry, right? I mean, you’re here.”

He got a little teary and said “yes”.

I told him that I was very sorry he had that experience growing up, but that he could make a difference going forward. Naturally, he asked “how?” And fortunately I was ready by this time.

“In the future, or even now, when you see a young person in the same situation, be extra kind to them.   Find something they are doing well and point it out to them. It may be the only kind word they hear that day. If you’re around them frequently, be a role model. Take them under your wing and model good sportsmanship. If you can, get to know the mom as well. It may be that she is hurting too, or feeling like she can’t contribute anything positive. It doesn’t excuse her behavior, but it might explain it. Ask her to volunteer. Give her a job so she has something to do other than yell at her kid. And let her know when she does a good job too. When you were a kid, you couldn’t really do anything, but as an adult, maybe you can help another kid.” He seemed satisfied with that, smiled and thanked me.  And I thanked him.

If you find yourself being “that parent”, stop and think.

When you were a kid, you couldn’t really do anything, but as an adult, maybe you can help another kid.

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.