Recently, I went to one of my favourite showing championships of the year. I love it not just because you’re guaranteed to see top class horses and ponies, but because even though rivalry is keen, the atmosphere is always friendly.
There was plenty of showmanship from those who knew exactly how to maximise their horses’ good points and minimise the less than perfect ones. There were also heart-warming stories of equine rough diamonds who, with care and hard work, had turned out to be blindingly brilliant – and a few human ones who met the same criteria!
Every successful competitor, whether of professional or amateur status, insisted that they couldn’t do what they did without help. Friends, parents, partners, trainers – all were appreciated.
The exception, and the most poignant, was the competitor who confessed that the sash her pony was sporting had been won despite fellow clients on her livery yard, not with their support. It had taken her a long time to pluck up the courage to show him at this level, because several “knowledgeable” people had told her that she was wasting her time with her hairy little pony.
What they didn’t appreciate, but the judges at this show did, was that her pony was a great example of his type and as such, deserved to be rewarded. She had spent a year assuming that because her fellow livery owners had owned horses for longer than she had, they must know more than she did.
There are fine lines between ignorance, well-meaning but misleading advice and bullying. This case sounded to be a cross between the first and the second – but even though no malice was intended, it proved that when you ask for advice, or it’s offered whether you want it or not, you need to assess its provenance.
If you want to know if your horse has the potential to compete at a particular level, book a lesson with a local professional producer/specialist trainer; don’t ask a livery yard committee. If you’re not sure if your horse is sound, ask your vet. If you want to know how to ensure he has a balanced diet, ask a nutritionist from a reputable company who will talk about principles as well as suggesting products.
Teamwork is everything, as top riders stress again and again. You only have to listen to interviews with winning riders after big events to know that, because they always stress that victories are down to the people behind the scenes as much as the rider in the limelight.
Just make sure that the people on your team deserve their places – and if there’s anyone who has helped you succeed when doubters said you couldn’t, we’d love to know about them!