My horse and I were leaving the arena after my test, reins long and my trademark competition smile: Lips stuck on my gums above my teeth. I had a great horse.
The comment was made by a woman who felt no sympathy at all for that less-than-flawless half pass. We weren’t friends really but she smiled. She might not have shoved herself through the hoops required to show her horse and open herself up to the judgment of others, but she wanted me to know she was capable of recognizing wrong when she saw it.
The first year I showed, when my horse spooked at the letters and ran off with me in each test, she never passed a word my way. But now our hard work was paying off and she developed the habit of letting me know our shortcomings from her enlightened position on the rail. She didn’t show because she could never find a horse good enough.
No hard feelings, I was living my dream. I wanted to be here since watching the rich kids in 4-H at the county fair. It was before I knew there were kids even richer than those kids.
Some riders say they hate the show world, that all competition is wicked and evil. They will never show. Fair enough, it isn’t for everyone. The rant still rings of judgment. Reminder: Pre-judging isn’t the same thing as not judging.
Besides, you can be just as judgmental and not even have to leave the house. It’s open season on riding videos on YouTube. We have free speech, anyone can comment. If we aren’t face to face, is there any reason to hold your tongue? Threaten bodily harm if you want. The truth is that if we didn’t even have horses, we would be still judging other people’s appearance, intelligence, lifestyle. It’s human nature to notice. It’s how we learn and grow our perceptions. Most of all, in the process of judging others, we judge ourselves. Maybe it’s the need to label things as right or wrong that is the most damaging.
Disclaimer: I’m no angel. I have all kinds of judgement. It’s judgement that I even remember this woman’s comment from the rail 20 years ago. Beyond that, my work is about judgement. Giving a riding lesson begins with an assessment of a horse and rider, balancing clarity and honesty with as much understanding and kindness as possible. It would be easier to yell and name-call but I’ve had lessons like that and I notice I didn’t learn much.
Competing your horse is about being your best self when it matters. It’s hard. It takes discipline. It builds character. Maybe the best reason to show is that it changes the view from the rail. It changes who you are with your horse and it gives you a chance to change your view of others. Is re-compassionize a word?
There’s an old adage -if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I go with that only if you are in such a rage that your eye is twitching and you spit when you speak. Short of that level of anger, I disagree. It makes us passive aggressive and we languish, lifting ourselves up by standing on others.
Yes, this is a parable. There are bigger things in the world than showing horses. It’s been a mean summer, stressful with lots of challenge and loss. And entirely too many harsh armchair judgements on anyone or anything that falls short, touted by pundits who have nothing on the line. It makes me tired. It will always be easier to shoot down someone else than find the strength to stand up and be vulnerable.
My first riding mentor was also a judge, and she was very clear. She said it was a cheap shot to look for faults. Any idiot could pick them out, it took no special perception to tell which horse was struggling. In the end, you would be left mitigating failures and giving the blue ribbon to the least bad. She encouraged me to look for what I liked and affirm that. Judge the best in the ride, let your eye rest there and ignore the everything else.
Being critical of others makes us earthbound with self-loathing judgement, thinly veiled in our criticism of others. And focusing on the worst just breeds more. How does that feel? Maybe it’s time to sit up straight.
Judgement is really a vote of how you see the world; how you want the world to be. The most votes win and you can vote as often as you like. Consider what’s at stake. Sometimes in the dark, rising up and casting an unlikely vote can change everything.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.