Success Doesn’t Happen in a Straight Line

I bought a Reining horse this summer. After 35 plus years of All-Around events, Showmanship and the like, I bought a Reining horse. I was looking for something new, something different, and something that I would have to learn more or less from scratch. Fortunately, I have great help about an hour away, so weekly lessons were on the schedule for much of the summer (which may be why I didn’t have time to write a blog post. Or not.)
Anyway, on the way to one of these lessons, Virginia (the Reining horse) and I were traveling through a small town and suddenly came upon a detour. But not just any detour…the Mother of all Detours. Before it was all over I went in several circles, changed directions a few times, and wound up…you guessed it, right back where I started. For a minute it felt like this detour was the closest thing I’d do to a reining pattern all day…and that I’d NEVER get to my lesson. So I called the trainer and said…”I’ll be late..if I get there at all.” She said “It’s ok. Keep coming.” So I did.

After the fact, I got to thinking about my detour. And of how we often face so many detours in horses, and even in life in general. We’re conditioned to believe that success is a straight line, from point A to point B, with an upward trajectory. But that’s not how it happens at all. Horses get sick, or hurt. Heck, people get sick and hurt. Jobs change, relationships change, you may not like the judges, show managers, trainer, concession stand…who knows what, and before you know it, you’re covering the same tracks that you were just on, and feel like you’ve made no progress at all. Goals seem pointless, your wallet is empty, and you may even think about getting a boat or a beach house.

It’s easy to get frustrated during these times, but the truth is, success never really happens to anyone in a straight line (even though it seems like it on Facebook). Everyone takes twists and turns, and goes up and down, but the important thing is that you don’t quit. If you quit, then you definitely have no chance of finding success. If you’re lucky, you have that one person who says “It’s ok, keep coming.” And sometimes that person is yourself, which is ok too. And eventually, you might find success in a straight line that looks like a better pivot, a smoother lope depart, or even this:

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My first really good stop, taken when I FINALLY made it to my lesson that day. The only success I’ve ever had in a straight line.

Losing Doesn’t Mean You’re Bad (and Winning Doesn’t Mean You’re Good)

246507_309397709150429_2062996370_nWhile judging a recent horse show, the following thought occurred to me. “Just because you don’t win, doesn’t mean you’re not good.” I was in the middle of trying to sort out a very nice western pleasure class (settle down folks. It does happen.) and I realized that even my potential bottom horse had a lot of things going for it. Sure, he didn’t appear to want to “play ball” so to speak, but he was a high quality mover that I could tell had won quite a few classes before. The same was true for places 1-5, to be honest. Every one of them was using their hocks, was consistent through their topline, and minded their manners. I ultimately went to the amount of knee demonstrated (less was more, for this breed), and stride length, to separate them. It was a judge’s dream class in many respects.

While driving home, I got to thinking about how some of the riders who were in the lower end of the placings might be (at minimum) wondering what they could have done differently. To be honest, the answer is nothing. At that particular moment in time, with that set of horses, under those conditions, I made decisions based on knee and stride length for the most part. There is nothing you can change about that. In a class full of world champions, someone has to be sixth. It’s just the nature of the game. As long as a judge can justify the placing based on (in this case), movement criteria spelled out in the rulebook, it is what it is. It doesn’t mean your horse is bad.

As I continued to mull things over, (Judges often do that in the car on the way home. Don’t let them fool you), the opposite also occurred to me. Sometimes horses win, but it doesn’t mean they’re good. Sometimes judges have to sift through the poor quality movers, wrong leads, breaks of gait, and total chaos, just to find a set of six to put on the card. And someone is going home with a blue ribbon, and probably feels pretty good about it…which is great from a horse industry perspective…they’ll probably keep participating. Again, it’s the nature of the game, provided they haven’t DQ’d in the process. But truthfully, they’ve got a lot to work on. More often than not though, it shows up in line at the concession stand as “bad judging”, as opposed to “horses and riders need improvement”.

Ultimately, what the horse show world needs more of is education, skill improvement, and self-reflection (or at least the ability to recognize when the blue ribbon may not have quite been quite earned). The ability to graciously accept a prize, and ride out silently knowing what you need to work on for next time, is a valuable skill no matter what you’re doing. This ability takes time to develop, but it is also quite handy when you have the best ride your horse has ever given you, and come out with a sixth place ribbon. You can quietly be proud of yourself and your horse, knowing how far you come…while that judge drives home and wracks his or her brain about how else they might have sorted six great horses.

There Really Are The Only Six Words A Parent Needs to Say to Their Kids…at a Horse Show Too

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The purpose of a blog is, at minimum, to share your thoughts and opinions about something that presumably, you are passionate about. Sometimes, you might also respond to the thoughts and opinions of others in your blog, which is what I’m doing here.

I can honestly say that there isn’t very much I am more passionate about than kids, horses, and what sometimes happens when kids and horses get together. It’s life changing…not to be overly dramatic. Usually, it’s life changing in a good way, but sometimes sadly, it has the opposite effect. Anyway, today, I read one of the most thought provoking blog posts I’ve ever read. Brad M. Griffin of the Fuller Youth Institute wrote a post called The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports-Or Any Performance.   Spoiler alert: the six words are “I love to watch you play”. Or in this case, “I love to watch you show (or ride)”.

In mulling this over, I tried to find the holes in the argument. But I couldn’t. These really are the only six words a parent needs to say to their kids at a horse show, when they are truly acting as a parent, at least.

There is no need for a parent to coach, especially if there is a trainer, coach or 4-H leader already involved. A parent might say…”But we spend so much money at this. They need to focus and work hard.” That is true. And they (probably) will if you say “I love to watch you show (or ride).” If they don’t, talk to them about it at home, away from the horse show, when emotions aren’t running high. Maybe even make it part of the expectations in practice. Help them set up (and stick to) a schedule of ride and practice times, for example, if they indicate that they want to improve. These six words came from research conducted by Bruce Brown and Rob Miller, supporting the fact that all many elite athletes ever wanted from their parents in a sporting environment was just this kind of emotional support.

A parent might also say “I need to stand up for my child when they aren’t treated fairly, the judging is poor, etc. etc.”. Well, unless you are a horse judge yourself that is not really a call you are in a position to make. If you are a judge yourself, you (should) know better. You should handle it one on one with the judge in question. If you can’t handle the matter in a professional conversation, then evidently it doesn’t really mean that much to you so have an iced tea and forget it.

So give it a whirl next time you’re being a horse show parent. What is the worst thing that could happen when you honestly express the six words to your child? I suppose they might laugh, but even if they don’t say thank you and simply return to texting their friends, I’ll bet it’s a comment they’ll remember forever.

Like the tagline of this blog says…”if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

The Bling is (not) the Thing.

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I am going to start this post by saying I love clothes. All kinds of clothes, and of course shoes and jewelry too. There is something about finding just the right outfit that makes the whole day seem better.  Sometimes I even feel like Wonder Woman, at least until I spill coffee on myself. This love of clothes and the confidence that comes with also extends to horse show clothes, although I honestly don’t understand this latest trend towards attaching every possible piece of lace, bling, or feather one can find to a jacket. It looks like Micheal’s exploded on you. Anyway, when I was showing regularly, my mom would say “We may not win, but we’ll look good doing it…” and the confidence that comes with finding just the right horse show outfit is worth a bunch (although maybe not the 3 house payments that some showmanship jackets cost these days). But to be honest, that is where it ends. Truthfully, while clothes matter to exhibitors, they don’t really as much to judges as people think they do. I’d love to see people spend as much time riding and practicing patterns as they do choosing outfits and obsessing about what they are wearing. When people say “Those with the best clothes win.”, it’s usually because those with the best clothes have also spent a whole lot of time working with their horse and preparing for their classes.

As I’ve said before, once I started judging, I learned what horse showing really is all about, and tragically, just how little clothes matter to judges. Oh sure, judges want to see clean clothes that fit, and well shaped hats, but at most levels of showing, judges don’t have time to analyze every detail of your outfit. They have a horse, a pattern, and your effort as a team to look at, evaluate, and rank. Quickly. Horsemanship means a lot more than “just the right green (or blue, or red)”. Sorry folks. It’s just the truth. Besides, there are lots of male judges, and many (though not all) of them are fashion illiterate at best and red green colorblind at worst. (Sorry male judge friends).

The fashion fixation plays out in all kinds of interesting ways. Once after judging, I received a call from the individual who hired me, saying he had received a call from a tack shop owner. It seems that a young lady who had shown to me (and another judge) the previous weekend told her father that one of the judges said that she “didn’t place in western pleasure because she had snaps on her western shirt, and no bling.” Now it obviously worked out well for the tack shop owner, and the young person too, but really? REALLY? First of all, I can’t see whether your shirt has snaps, from across the pen through a haze of dust. Secondly, and most importantly, in western pleasure, I am focused on your horse…specifically, quality of movement, balance, topline etc. To paraphrase… “AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR SNAPS.”

In all honesty, I am not trying to discourage you from putting some effort into your clothing choices, and even money if you have some to spare for such things. I fully support the show clothing industry, and probably have paid for a sewing machine or Bedazzler somewhere along the way.   Besides it’s part of the fun, and again, part of the confidence required to do the best you can in the show ring. All I ask is that you put as much time into your horse, as you do your show clothes.

Five Myths of Horse Show Judging

By Karen Waite
With Fair season in full swing, it seemed like a good time to reshare this post from a couple of years ago.  Feeling like “Judging Judges”?  Here are a few things to consider…
With show season just around the corner, like most of you, I’ll be changing gears as soon as the weather gets warmer than 40 degrees.  For most of my life the “gear change” was to get back into the show ring, and in that regard, not much has changed.  The last several years, however, I have been showing my horses less and less, and judging more and more.  Over the years, I have been blessed with some nice horses, and some great trainers, but I can honestly say that judging was the “missing link” in my horse show education, if you will.  I never really knew what showing horses was about until I started judging…and in light of that, and in honor of show season, I’m going to share what I have found to be (my) top five myths of horse show judging, in no particular order.  Others probably have their own list (and are free to start their own blog).

1.  If you win, it means the judge really “likes” you and your horse.

Sometimes.  But not always.  Occasionally when you win, you were the best of what was out there, so don’t let it go to your head.  Actually, you’d be better served to develop the ability to self evaluate your own performance and decide how happy to are with it.  It’s better for everyone.  And sometimes you get to see horses and riders that take your breath away.  Those are the best days.

2.  Judging is just “someone’s $5 opinion”.

Sometimes.  But not really.  There are specifications to each class and carded judges spend a lot of time learning those specs, honing their craft, and developing a system whereby they can make decisions fast enough for everyone to get through 150 classes by 6:00 pm.  There may be some opinion involved in separating close pairs, but usually that opinion is based on class specifications and not much else.

3.  Judging is really easy.  If you’ve shown, you can do it.

Wrong again.  Judging is one of the most physically and mentally demanding things I’ve ever done, with  the possible exception of running the Detroit Marathon (and I use the term “running” loosely, but I did finish before they took down the finish line, which was my goal).  Back to judging horse shows. It’s hot.  The days are long.  The potty breaks are few.  And every judge I know is dedicated to doing the best job possible based on the class specs mentioned above.  I’d agree that often times finding the first, second and third place horses is pretty easy, but after that it can get messy, and that is probably where opinion comes into play more than anywhere else.  In pleasure, for example, do I want to use the horse that lopes true, and drives hard off the hock when its because he’s running off, or do I want to use the one that listens to his rider, but maybe isn’t as high quality a mover as some of the others?  (Again, this decision has to be made in about 3 seconds, taking all other gaits into consideration as well, in 90 plus degree heat, and 200 % humidity.  Ok that’s an exaggeration I guess.)

4.  Judges don’t understand what it is like to be an exhibitor, show a Morgan, etc..

That would be tough.  I don’t know any judges who have never shown a horse.  Now, I will admit that some open horse show judges may have classes or breeds that they are more well versed in than others, based on their background.  I would get extremely frustrated, for example, when an older gentleman who probably hadn’t done a great showmanship pattern…well, maybe ever, didn’t appreciate the obvious skill of my superhorse and I.  But eventually I figured out that said gentleman probably had more years working with and evaluating western horses, or cow horses, or Morgans, than I’d ever dreamed of.  So when I became a judge, I told myself that I’d be a judge that truly appreciated showmanship and pattern classes, and the effort that goes into them.  Because I’ve been there.  I also told myself that I’d be a judge who learned to appreciate a great horse regardless of breed, color, or discipline.  I think most judges try to do the same.

5.  Judges want people to fail

Absolutely not.  Judges want to see people do their best, and treat their horses well, and work very hard to sort out talented horses and riders. That is what makes it fun.  Going back to number two, I’d much rather sort horses and riders based on positive things, as opposed to who had the fewest problems.  If you’ve ever wondered what goes through many judges heads it’s probably something along the lines of “Come on kiddo, nail that turn.  Come on horse, lift your back and lope like I know you can.  Listen to your little girl, do what she asks.” Image

I want to see those horses that take my breath away…and those riders who obviously love what they are doing…just like I do when I show.

Looking for a reason…

When I started this blog, I figured I’d mostly write about showing horses, the horse industry, sports psychology and the like.  And I’m sure that will be the primary focus…but “Out of the Box (Stall)” thinking isn’t limited to those topics actually, and besides, it’s my blog, so I can write whatever I want, right?

My first “real” post was about the tendency of some in the horse industry to just say whatever they feel like saying, wherever they want to say it, without regard for the consequences.  To quote “Not being negative, just honest.”  It’s true that we could use more civil behavior in the horse world at times, but this morning I was reminded that while there are some pretty mean and insecure people in the horse world, it is also the home of the very best the world has to offer.

The first thing I do in the morning (after letting the dogs out and making coffee, so I guess it’s the third thing ), is check my phone.  In the past several months, the morning phone checking has been met with some absolutely heart breaking news.  A former student loses her fiancé in a tragic freak accident during a storm, and now, a friend who is a horse judge has unexpectedly lost his son.  There really are no words that can be said in either situation that will ease the pain at all…but fortunately, as challenging as horse people can be, when the chips are down and people need help, they rally, and they show love like no other community I’ve ever been a part of.

The first message was followed by about 10 more asking how they could help.  And that continued throughout the day.  People aren’t using social media to tear each other down,  They’re using it  to hold one another up.  To share their love and support,  to ask if “we can do something as a group”, to share service information, and to try to make sense of unspeakable tragedy.

We don’t usually find answers to the “why” question in these situations…I used to think that everything happened for a reason.  But I don’t believe that anymore.  I believe that things happen and then God helps us through them…often by using the very same people we were competing against, or upset with last week, or last month, or last year…and maybe we should try to remember that every day.

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Two Horses Walk Into a Bar…or a Turnout Lot

When you look at the picture included with this post. What do you see?  At first glance, you’re probably thinking something on the order of “two horses in a turn out together, duh.”  In actuality, what this photo represents is a great deal of angst for me, and in turn, a lot of thinking about why I felt the way I did about this situation, and how it relates to the horse industry as a whole.

The crux of the matter is this: I’ve owned The Horse in the blue blanket for 10 years.  Up until this week, he had never been turned out with another horse.  Yes, I am ducking, and putting on my flame retardant suit, because I know that for some of you those are fightin’ words.  For others, you’re still wondering what the big deal is….many those who show extensively don’t turn your horses out with others either, for a variety of reasons, and if you do, it’s often alone. (Yes, I recognize that some also DO turn your show horses out with others, but that seems to decrease the more your financial or emotional investment (or some combination) has increased.

Let me see if I can clear it up some.  Some of you may have noticed that I referred to this horse as The Horse.  Capital “T” Capital “H”.  I refer to him this way because yes folks, he is one special horse (to me).  He has won a bunch, was a great Western Pleasure horse in his time (buttoning up the flame proof suit now), and is a Showmanship machine.  He’s unique,  with a ton of personality, and if he were a cartoon character he’d be Dennis the Mennace.  I fuss over this horse like no equine professional ever should…and while I make a living helping others learn to manage horses, I always feel a bit inadequate when making decisions for this one.  Including decisions like turnout.  When I brought him home, he had been in a training barn, and was actively being shown.  As far as I knew, he had not been turned out at all, and I wanted that to change.  At the same time, I didn’t want him to get injured by another horse, in part because I didn’t want to lose him as a show horse, but truthfully, I didn’t want to lose him period.  Horses play…horses kick…and horses break bones.  Sometimes fatally.  I didn’t want that for this Horse (or any, obviously, but especially not this one).  He’s one of “those” horses that you only have a few of in your lifetime.

I know that some of you are now thinking that I have completely lost my mind.  Some of you have horses that are always turned out with others,  You consider it an abomination if they aren’t, and are seriously considering calling the internet version of animal control on me right now.  In your mind, horses are herd animals that should always be with other horses, period, amen, the end.  Anything else is cruel.  But often, horses get used to the “habits” of their lives, and to do something dramatically different is actually stressful to them. And now maybe you’re starting to see where I’m going with this.

The fact of the matter is that I am very familiar with what are known as “The Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare”, which were developed in the UK as a guideline for the care and stockmanship of animals (http://www.fawc.org.uk/freedoms.htm).  Since then they are also the guidelines against which animal behaviorists and others measure standards of animal care.  The five freedoms are:

1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.

5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

I think this is a pretty good list, frankly, and despite the fact that The Horse was not physically turned out in the same lot as another horse, he had plenty of company over the fence, between the stalls, and met all five freedoms pretty adequately (in my mind) even before the turn out with a buddy.  The reason for the change in turnout was because he was playing over the fence with the gray horse, and there was some concern that one or both would be injured.  Given that I am not actively showing The Horse at present, and he could stand to improve his equine social skills, the decision was made to try to put the two of them together.  I prayed (A LOT) that neither would be injured, held my breath, and waited.  When I arrived at the farm, The Horse was at the waterer, and his pal was playing with the horses in the next lot.  Over the fence.  Pretty uneventful all in all.  A non-issue, as many neuroses are.

But what about my original comment about the greater industry, you ask?  What this had me thinking about was some of the judgements that are made even within the Horse Industry (capitals again, so I mean the whole enchilada).  I know that some have a real problem when horses aren’t turned out with others.  Their world view simply will not allow them to consider the fact that sometimes the reasons that people don’t turn out horses with others, or that they keep them in stalls, or do any of a number of things, is that they LOVE their horses, and want the best for them.  Yes, sometimes it is a business decision.  I get that.  But more often than not, they actually want to make certain that all 5 Freedoms, and hence good animal welfare is achieved…they care about their animals in ways that those who don’t actually know or talk to them will never fully appreciate.  While we can’t “bury our heads in the sand” and ignore poor welfare when it happens, we need to actually talk to one another. (And by the way, there is a difference between animal welfare and animal rights.  Look it up.)

In the end, perhaps a little more getting to know one another, and a little less judgement, and for sure a little less legislation without understanding the whole situation, is what this Industry needs.Image

Not being negative…just honest. (What?)

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Recently, in a horse industry related Facebook group I am part of, someone essentially made this statement.  This was in response to a conversation about Western Pleasure horses, that (as such conversations typically do) had spun wildly out of control.  In a big fat hurry.  For whatever reason, the only part of the whole sordid affair that actually stuck with  me was this comment…”she wasn’t being negative, just honest…”  I’m sorry.  What?  Is this what our world has come to?  People can say whatever they want, anywhere they want (including social media), about anything they want, because they are being HONEST?  I beg to differ.

First of all, one can be honest and negative at the same time…people do it frequently in this “reality show” world we live in.  For whatever reason, folks seem to like to make wild, uneducated statements, or take perfectly good and civil conversations off the rails, and then wait to see how many “likes” they get for being a jerk.  Unfortunately, they often do it in real life, where there is no actual “Like” option.  Oftentimes their friends (or groupies) will chime in for the desired effect to some degree, but there is another group…anyone else involved or in ear (or eye) shot.  At minimum, someone might lose a few Facebook friends…but sometimes depending on how they choose their words, they quickly lose the respect of people that don’t even know them.  Not really something you want to do in the horse industry very often, because while it’s big, it’s not that big.

What the horse industry needs is for people to realize that we are all part of the SAME industry, and we need to present it as something in which others would want to participate.  No matter your breed, association, level, discipline or activity.  Equine activity participation numbers are dropping in many areas, and that is heartbreaking.  Maybe it’s the economy and maybe it will turn around, but NOT if we continue to treat one another (and one another’s horses) with disrespect.  Let’s face it, horse people…”horse people” have a reputation for being difficult to work with…truthfully we come by it honestly sometimes.  And that needs to change if we want to bring others into the fold and continue to have a successful industry in the long run.  People spend enough time bickering at work or school, and dealing with bullies or other forms of stress and tension…for the vast majority (though not all), horses are supposed to be a stress reducing, quality of life improving outlet. For others, they are one’s personal livelihood. (Rewatch that Tom Cruise classic Risky Business for a refresher on what you DON’T do to another man’s livelihood) If we want our industry to succeed in the future…we need to come up with more positive ways of doing things.  Recently, Laura Stevens had a great article on GoHorseShow.com on random acts of kindness at the horse show .  These are the kinds of things we need to think about, and do…maybe you could even some up with a few more….

Not being negative.  Just honest.

Live like somebody left the gate open…or the stall door…either one is fine

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for 6 or 8 months.  A place to share random thoughts (sometimes very random) on the things I’m interested in.  A little “out of the box thinking” if you will.  Naturally, anyone who knows me knows that horses, horse judging, and the horse industry in general will likely be regular topics, hence the “Out of the Box Stall” title.  It would not be unusual for me to write the odd post about corgis, too.  I may also post about about sport and performance psychology, from time to time.  Or maybe even thoughts on getting out of you own “box stall”.  It’s hard to say for sure…but I had to start somewhere, and this seemed like a pretty good place.