The people who win the most are just the people who refuse to let losing make them quit. Photo © Kirstie Marie Photography

How to Handle Losing with Darla Lee

If there is one thing I can promise you about showing horses, it is that you are going to do a lot more losing than winning. That may seem like a cynical way of looking at things, but it’s the truth. When showing horses, you don’t have a 50/50 chance of winning like football or baseball. You have more like a 1/20 chance, sometimes even lower odds and then you have to factor in an animal with a mind of its own.

So, the chance of winning becomes a significant challenge. Everyone who competes at anything likely hates losing. Often, I think about a great quote from the movie, Moneyball, when Billy Beane says, “I hate losing, I hate it, I hate losing even more than I even want to win. And there’s a difference.”

But the problem is that losing is very necessary. It’s really about how you handle the loss that makes the difference.

Here are some tips on how to handle losing.

Don’t get emotional

Win or lose, I want my customers to come out of the show pen and be able to talk about what happened without getting emotional. It’s so easy to get emotional about showing and even easier when things go badly. But I think the moment you come out of the pen is when you have the best chance to talk about what happened and learn how to improve. Exhibitors who storm out of the pen or customers who have a hard time talking about why they lost are the ones that will have the hardest time trying to improve. Most of the time, even when you are winning, there are still things that can be improved.

Don’t play the blame game

If you are going to turn losing into winning, you have to own it. The most natural thing to do is blame your horse, trainer, the other exhibitors or sometimes spectators, but that gets you nowhere. In fact, I think it sets you back and puts you in a frame of mind where you are not seeing the problems of why you are losing. Focusing on things you can control and things you can do the next time are steps in the right direction.

Factor in bad luck

Sometimes you can’t catch a break. There are so many outside factors that go into showing horses. Maybe your horse randomly spooks, trips, you get cut off, you don’t get seen by the judges, you lose the tiebreaker or have an equipment malfunction. There are just some things you entirely cannot control. On those days, you have to take a step back and chalk it up to bad luck. It happens to everyone.

Schooling is not losing

Schooling is most definitely a hard thing to have to do, but it’s a necessary sacrifice. You cannot look at correcting your horse in the pen as losing. Showing a horse for a long time without schooling is impossible. When you have to school, you have to get yourself in the frame of mind that you are setting yourself up for winning in the future. And you have to school enough and not give up until you can get your horse better enough to win.

Have a short memory

When a quarterback throws an interception, he proves his greatness by forgetting about it the very next play. In horse showing, it’s important to shake off mistakes and start again. If you are holding a grudge against your horse, it will be harder to get it shown well, and there is always another chance to go in and try it again.

Don’t get discouraged

I always feel you have to mess things up a few times before you ever get something perfect. It’s so easy to get discouraged when you lose or even go on a losing streak. It is essential to use losing as fuel for getting better. The people who win the most are just the people who refuse to let losing make them quit.

About the Author: Darla Lee was born in Apple Valley, California where she began riding horses at the age of nine. She later moved to Ohio where she attended College at the University of Findlay. She has worked for many top trainers in the industry and the past fifteen years operates Lee Quarter Horses located in Plain City, Ohio with her husband Brian where they specialize in western pleasure, hunter under saddle and all-around events on the AQHA and NSBA circuits.