By Howard J. Cormier, LSU AgCenter Southwest Regional Equine Agent
We have recently completed the 2018 La. 4-H and FFA Horse Show season, and winners will now go on to compete at the Southern Regional 4-H Horse Championships in Perry, Georgia. As a 4-H instructor, an observer of the 4-H competition, and a competitor myself in the La. Equine Council Ranch Riding event, I want to share some of my observations about what it takes to be a consistent winner.
Everyone has their own ideas about how to succeed, but most winners will agree about some basic assumptions. First of all, it takes hard work. One can win by luck, but that doesn’t offer consistent success. To be a winner means that competitors will dedicate themselves to the goal on a long-term and consistent basis. They must ride when it’s hot, cold, rainy, dry, dusty, late, or early. And they must be willing to lose as they learn. They must be willing to start from the bottom to make it to the top. I always compared winning to climbing a ladder. Almost all individuals climb a ladder the same way- starting from the bottom rung. In my years of coaching 4-H kids and some adults, I have seen the results of winning without effort. It leads to disappointment when the kids expect to win again, and they don’t. If it comes easily, without much effort, the results and euphoria will be short-lived, and the lessons of hard work and perseverance will be missed. The same lessons apply to us as adults.
Many times, competitors simply go through the motions of working to win, without having a goal in mind. If you are working because someone else is making you, such as a parent, spouse, or other person, your chances of reaching your goals are greatly reduced. YOU have to want success enough to do whatever it takes to win- legally. That last word has trapped many would- be winners who want to take shortcuts. If winning is the only goal, without self- improvement and character development, the win will be hollow. Just look at the kids who win because mommy or daddy or a hired hand does all the work. It doesn’t mean anything. Anything illegal almost always comes back to haunt to doer of the deed. Getting a reputation as a cheater is worse than not winning.
So what about hard work? You must have goals, and a reason to work. You have to study the game or event you are interested in winning. You have to know what to do to improve. You have to take care of details, like grooming your horse, cleaning your tack, proper dress for the event, good nutrition, and knowing the rules. If you feel that you can’t win because the judge is unfair, or the system is rigged against you, maybe you need to try something else. Most judges I know want to reward the best performances, regardless of who is in the saddle. That’s not to say that a sour attitude doesn’t hurt your chances to win. If you are rude or disrespectful during a pre-show clinic, don’t expect the judge to be able to forget that rudeness when you compete. He/she is only human, and will be mindful of your attitude, even before the actual class begins.
Ask questions if your performance and results don’t match up. Try to video your run. Ask the judge for his reasons for your placing, if that is allowed. Most times he will be happy to help you, if time permits. Perhaps a friend can point out your mistakes to help you. It’s all about eliminating your errors until your run is flawless.
Don’t focus on beating someone else. That can lead to jealousy and ill-feelings. Focus on beating your last performance, and cheer for your rivals, as you hope they will cheer for you when you win.
Try to act like a winner, regardless of how you place in the competition.
Competition is not easy. You are putting yourself out there for everyone to see how good you are, or how good you’re not. You are opening yourself to critique, and sometimes, to criticism. Most of those who criticize are not competitors themselves. Competitors are traveling the same course you are, even if they’re ahead of you. If they offer advice, consider it and if it can help you. Just because they beat you at one show doesn’t make them a better horseman. It only means they beat you that day.
If someone is trying to help you, whether for free or for a fee, it’s up to you to practice. Most coaches want you to succeed. If you brag about not riding or practicing since the last lesson, they will lose interest in helping you, even if you are paying them. Don’t waste their time and yours by not practicing. You will soon lose their support and enthusiasm for trying to make a difference for you.
Finally, eat right, avoid bad habits beyond moderation, get enough sleep, and say thank you to those who help you. And by the way, if you only ride to enjoy friends, a pretty day, or a peaceful trail, that’s fine, too. Be safe!