Horse Show Bullies

We’ve seen commentaries and letters to the editor in many publications about bad show manners, and we suspect they never do any good. Poor sports either don’t care or don’t recognize themselves when described this way.

We’d like to speak, instead, to competitors who mail their entries before the closing date, or wait patiently in line at the secretary’s office, or show up at the in-gate ahead of time, or yield the right-of-way in the warm-up ring, or actually thank show volunteers for their efforts (that last one is really rare). If you’re one of these blessed individuals raised well by your parents and your trainers, you sometimes may wonder whether patience really is a virtue when a bully blows past you.

We believe show officials and other good sports like yourself really do know who you are and care about you. Even more to the point, they know who the creeps are. They recognize those who snarl at judges, or make unreasonable demands on show secretaries, or who ride dangerously in a crowd, or who take out their frustrations on their horses and their associates. They might not always be able to stop these excesses, but they also try to not reward them.

Horse shows have their own form of “road rage,” where people get impatient or frustrated and strike out at the nearest available target, often causing an equally rash response. This hurts feelings and can also result in actual injuries, especially in a crowded warm-up ring.

We know people who become so tangled up in their show nerves that they shove others out of their way without realizing their own rudeness. We’ve seen trainers who seem to feel they aren’t giving their clients their money’s worth unless they argue every “wrong” decision or apply pressure to every show official they encounter. Mostly they’re just making a lot of noise.

Bad show manners can’t be chalked up to a strong competitive attitude. Some of the most successful riders and trainers we know are also the most gracious. They focus their competitive nature on the job at hand. They win because they’re good, not because they throw their weight around.

We know nerves can be on edge, especially when there’s a lot at stake, both in terms of pride and money. Sometimes people cut loose when they shouldn’t or otherwise wouldn’t. Those with basically good show manners may be forgiven, those with a cavalier attitude won’t be.

Judges don’t always make the “right” decision. Volunteers often fumble when they don’t clearly understand their particular job. Show secretaries with a lot of balls to juggle at once sometimes drop one at a crucial moment. These things usually happen more from accident than from incompetence, although it may not seem that way at the time. Gracious competitors realize that everything doesn’t always go their way and don’t take out their disappointments on someone else. Instead, they cheer the accomplishments and good fortune of fellow riders.

So if you’re a courteous competitor who sometimes feels following rules and being understanding and flexible aren’t getting you anywhere, stop and think again. Not only are you deeply appreciated, but when you cheer and help others, others will also cheer and help you.

’Til next month,

-Margaret Freeman

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