What’s the toughest thing about competing? Preparation can be exhausting. Competition can be nerve wracking. Time is precious. Showing can be expensive. After all, it involves a horse, and it seems that anything involving horses is expensive! Disappointment can be tough, too. Who doesn’t want to win?

Everything about horses is revealing. Are you a perfectionist? It shows up in your preparation. Those braids are so sharp that someone could get hurt. That harness is polished to a blinding shine.

Do you believe that practice makes perfect? Do you put a lot of time into training? As your horse becomes more muscled and balanced, your scores begin to rise.

Are you a true sportsman/sportswoman who ponders their losses and tries to capitalize on mistakes, or are you stuck in third grade? No, not third level, third grade. You believe that the world is unfair. The judge suffers from breed bias. He hates Arabians, Gypsy Vanners, Iberian horses, VSE’s, Thoroughbreds, draft-crosses, and ponies in general.

He is also prejudiced against people. He is prejudiced against bigger people, boney people, people with glasses, older people, younger people.

And let’s not forget, the show committee or host club also is out to get you. Someone on the show committee failed to return your call or email instantly. The webpage won’t respond. These volunteers should be boiled in oil, AT THE LEAST!

Disappointment in any form is… well… disappointing. Expectations were not met. Handling disappointment graciously is an art form.

Wikipedia sums up sportsmanship as “an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors.”

This makes one ask oneself, “Why am I competing?” Another question could be, “What constitutes a win?

People who enjoy showing, even when they don’t bring home a ribbon, focus on small elements of the process. For example, they appreciate the huge generosity

of their horse who willingly climbs into a small black box and settles in for the ride as the driver prepares to simultaneously hit the accelerator and the GPS.

They appreciate the generosity of the unseen force that allows them to have a day free of injury to themselves and their horse. Statistically, horses are a dangerous game. (Do not, under any circumstances, admit to riding horses as a hobby when applying for life insurance.)

They appreciate the generosity of the show committee, especially those who make up volunteer organizations like STRIDE, who volunteer hours and hours of time behind the scenes so others have the opportunity to compete. They realize that these volunteers also have jobs, spouses, sick parents, children, and countless personal challenges in addition to their volunteer responsibilities.

They look at winning as a series of small victories. That walk score has gone up a point and a half consistently! That flying change was right on time! Their horse no longer leers at the judge’s box every time around. These are all reasons to celebrate.

They are grateful that they have the financial means and the physical ability to compete.

For them, showing is about striving to reach one’s personal best. They would prefer to get their best score ever and be out of the ribbons in a class of 30 than to win a class of two with a poor score. To them, it’s about moving toward an ideal.

They see every test as an opportunity for improvement, not as a reason to criticize themselves or others.

They appreciate their competitors whose entry fees make the show possible.

They enjoy the knowledge gleaned from other competitors. Who is their coach? Farrier? Saddle fitter? They’re not afraid to ask, “How did you get so darned good?”

They appreciate the judges and realize that they are people, too, and sometimes people miss things—good and bad. Perhaps they blinked at the moment your competitor made an error. Don’t fret; you’ll have days when you get lucky, too.

They enjoy the friendships and the expansion of their horsey horizon that has come about as a result of showing their horses and ponies.

Arthur Ashe said, “You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy.”

Get the most from your money when you show. Use the experience to examine your heart and count your blessings. You’ll emerge a winner every time.