The determination, humility, compassion and understanding are the persistent mental health benefits of working with an underdog, just like that boring, bitter coffee improves long-term physical health. Photo © Google Images

The Underdog: The Black Coffee of the Horse Industry

During my senior year of high school, I was late to my first class countless times because I fell susceptible to the sweet, delicious taste of a Dunkin Donuts’ Medium Caramel Iced Coffee with two creams and two sugars.  A multitude of teenagers and adults are addicted to this sugary drink and the many variations of it, such as additional cream and sugar, a different flavor or a larger size.

While many people enjoy this drink during their morning routine, the rest of the coffee addicted population stand in their kitchen, pop a K-cup into their Keurig, and watch the hot, dark, bitter black coffee pour into their cup.  They slowly take small sips of this flavorless caffeine-loaded beverage as they pass by others chugging their sweetened Dunkin iced coffee.

Looking from the outside, one would think the Dunkin enthusiast is the winner because of the smile on their faces as they enjoy their drink, but those people are far from winning when compared to the black coffee drinkers.

 While black coffee drinkers may not have immediate benefits, such as satisfying their taste buds, they have long-term health benefits of improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, memory improvement, and so much more, as opposed to the weight gaining effects of sugary coffee.

Also, these people have the strong self-discipline to choose to suffer through the bland coffee instead of happily consuming the sweet, calorie-packed one.
 This pattern of behavior people partake in every morning is very similar in the horse industry to working with an “underdog.” A horse that is considered an underdog would be one that was purchased for a meager price, does not have appealing movement, lacks perfect confirmation, suffered an injury with a painful recovery or is very strenuous to train. This horse is the black coffee: it’s less desirable and tough to endure.

The opposite of an underdog would be the naturally talented, fluent moving, perfectly conformed and easily trainable horses that commonly come with a high price tag. These horses are hard for an underdog to compete against because they are inherently gifted. This horse is the sweetened coffee: they are more desirable and provide instant satisfaction.

Based on the description of an underdog, the question arises of, “Who would want a horse like that?” Well, why do people drink black coffee? Think back on all the health benefits listed above. After reading how black coffee improves a person’s heart, brain, and stomach in the long run, the answer is clear why many would suffer through the short-term misery of drinking it black.

The situation is the same for an underdog horse. An equestrian who chooses the untalented, cheaper or injured horse is focused on the long-term values they will attain. They are focused on the great rides, perfect lessons, and first places that are invigorating after enduring endless bad trips, rough lessons and no placings. They are focused on strengthening their self-discipline to saddle up every day, no matter how many days, weeks or months in a row they were frustrated at the end of a ride. They are focused on the end goal of the industry knowing their horse’s name, story and accomplishments because at one point in time, no one thought this horse would ever achieve success.

Now, do not get me wrong, I fully understand that even the naturally talented horses have rough days and bad rides. However, people expect these occurrences to be few and far between. With an underdog, there are many more doubts that they will ever be the last one standing in the show arena.

These doubts, this lack of trust and faith, is what makes an underdog so motivating to work with. They make a rider more determined to prove the judges, trainers and other exhibitors wrong. They teach a rider to be humble because they must accept that their horse is not the most ideal. They embed compassion and understanding into their riders who must tolerate a slower process, to receive no placings, to endure bad rides, to sip their black coffee. The determination, humility, compassion and understanding are the persistent mental health benefits of working with an underdog, just like that boring, bitter coffee improves long-term physical health.

Not a single equestrian, nor even a non-horse person, can argue with the idea that the tougher the journey is, the sweeter the reward feels. When a rider finally finds that underdog’s talent, the class it fits best in, the most effective workouts, they will feel unending satisfaction after so much time of struggling. Not only will they prove to the industry that the horse is capable and did have a hidden gift, but they also proved to themselves that they were able to persevere through the endless hardships to find that capability, to see that hidden gift.

Just as caffeine is an addiction, winning is also an addiction. Too many individuals focus on the short-term happiness of a perfect ride day after day, of drinking that sugary iced coffee morning after morning. Instead, they should turn to the underdog, who provides the hardships that lead to lifelong lessons, the black coffee with the lasting benefits.

Every time you pick out a horse, each day you pour a cup of coffee, think about how this decision will affect you. Consider the lessons you will learn from that naughty little ranch horse, or from that poor-legged pleasure horse, or from that recovering hunter horse. Understand their history, take the time to learn them, and uncover their potential within. Dedicate your time to give that four-legged animal the attention and dedication it deserves, no matter how bitter that sip of coffee may taste day after day after day.

So get up, drink your boring, plain, bitter black coffee, and don’t surrender yourself to the easier path, to the instant satisfaction, to the proven horse. Every rider deserves a lifelong lesson, but most importantly, every horse, no matter their history, deserves a chance to shine.

About the Author: GoHorseShow writer, Emily Ambrose of Chardon, Ohio is a sophomore at Kent State University. She trains under the guidance of Seth and Amber Clark from Pierpont, Ohio. Emily avidly shows her horses, Play for A Minute, known as Ralphie, who is a 12-year-old all arounder, and Super Yellow Doc, known as Doc, who is a 22-year-old ranch horse. Her love of showing has been strengthened with the support of all of her friends in the Quarter Horse community and will continue her passion through and following the completion of her college career.