Pushy parents have a lot to answer for, says Carolyn Henderson
When a friend broke her ankle and asked me to help her seven-year-old daughter at a local show, I thought it would be a fun day out.
Children…ponies…friendly competition. All enjoyable, character-building stuff, right?
Wrong. For every half dozen happy combinations out to enjoy themselves, there seemed to be a fraught child being hissed at from the ringside by an anxious parent. Worst of all was the sight of a little girl trotting around the ring on a lovely but obviously sensitive pony, her hands clenched on the reins and tears running down her cheeks.
When the judge pulled them into line, she walked up to this little girl and had a quiet chat with her. Moments later, the rider was walking the pony out of the ring, the steward at her side trying to encourage her to relax.
Later, those in the know explained that the child had graduated from an elderly, confidence-giving pony to one with lots of potential in the hands of a more experienced, confident jockey. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it wasn’t working out.
Image: Smiles and success at a JumpCross competition
There’s nothing wrong with being competitive. As an adult who rides native ponies, I know that there are plenty of kids with killer instincts mean they will do anything bordering on legal to win. They ride like demons and often have ponies to match.
But I don’t think it’s always been like that, and I hope there are still shows where fun and competition are synonymous. In my Pony Club days, which admittedly were a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, pushy parents underwent mandatory lessons in sportsmanship and there was a huge scandal when the innocent winner of a best turned-out class told the judge that Mummy had spent three hours cleaning her tack.
There may be a fine line between encouraging a child to overcome nerves and pushing too hard, but no one wants to see it end in tears. And while it’s great to see fun classes where everyone gets a rosette for completing a task, or jumping a little clear round course, healthy competition can provide good education. If you don’t learn that you can’t win ‘em all early in your life, you certainly will later on.
We probably all know of talented young riders who get to the stage, and the age, where they announce to ambitious parents that they don’t want to do this anymore. That’s when the tears come from another quarter – from those selling “dream ponies” because it turns out that the dreams were theirs and not their children’s.
You can imagine how I felt when my friend’s daughter came second in her best rider class but wasn’t particularly thrilled by her blue rosette. Was she turning into a diva who thought only the red ones were worth keeping?
“I wanted a yellow one,” she said. “It’s the only colour I haven’t got.”
The little girl who had been placed third said she had lots of yellow ones but only a few blue and red ones and offered to swap. So they did, and both agreed they’d got exactly what they wanted.
What more can you ask for than that? And if you’ve got any advice on keeping competition fun, please tell us.