How Important Is Competition'

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A few months ago at a business dinner, a non-horse person asked me what type of riding I do. I told him, ?Mainly dressage.? ?Do you compete'? he said. ? ?No, I used to, but it's an expensive, time-consuming endeavor.? ?Well, my friend rides dressage, and SHE competes,? clearly insinuating that this somehow made her better. I spent over 20 years competing, mainly in the hunter/jumper ranks, as a child, teen and young adult. ?I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I learned a lot of life?s lessons along the way. One show that always comes to mind this time of year is one I entered that I really wasn?t ready for. ?Star was a wonderful horse and a good show hunter. More importantly, he was a perfect horse to learn on. We also did dressage, combined training, six-bar jumpers, Gambler?s Choice and more. (Reminder: This was the late ?60s, ?70s and early ?80s, when most of us did ?everything.?) Star was competitive in all of it, at the level we were showing, which was mainly local and low-rated shows. Of course, teenagers tend to cocky, and I was no different. I decided this was the year to try the ?big time,? so I entered an early-spring A-rated show. I had no clue that serious high-level show people had a regular trainer, blanketed their horses all winter, or even packed up and moved, horse and all, to Florida for the winter. That circuit wasn?t quite as big or well publicized as it is today. While we were in the warm-up ring at this early-spring show, it was difficult not to notice that all the horses were sleek and shiny. Star was just as well-muscled as they were, since we road all winter long through deep snow, but he wasn?t sleek. He was shaggy, and I was intimidated. That ragamuffin feeling went with us right into the show ring. Poor Star, he even reared up when he was on deck?odd for him. Looking back, I realize my nerves and lack of confidence were being transmitted to him, as if through an intravenous drip.? We had a horrible round with missed distances and a refusal. When we got out of the ring, I burst into tears, which shocked my mother. ?You?ve had bad rounds before. Why are you crying'? ?Because,? I sobbed, ?Star didn't deserve that. He's a great horse, and that wasn?t fair to him. We shouldn't be here.? ?There will be other shows, and Star doesn't know the difference. You?re fine,? she said. ?? We were, of course. And by the end of that summer we had done other A-rated shows, earning a few odd ribbons in Medal, Maclay and Regular Hunters. But the memory of that one class is as vivid today as it was back then. It was a lesson in the importance of always being prepared for the task at hand and always doing research before you leap into something, whether it's a horse show or a job interview. It taught me that even when you lose, the sun will come up the next day and those that love you will still nicker when they see you. ?I learned that competing has its perks and its slumps, but it doesn't make you any better or worse of a horseperson. The passion you have for the sport and the commitment you have to your horse is what makes the difference.