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Do Placings in the Show Pen Define Your Success?


Awards, trophies, titles, and ribbons — exhibitors always strive to do their best in the show pen in hopes of achieving their goals. Equestrians dream to be the last one standing in a World Show or Congress arena. To hear those simple words, “And your World Champion is…” is the dream.

Accomplishing goals and chasing dreams are two fascinating aspects of this sport. It teaches passionate equestrians to understand the meaning of hard work. Success in the show pen is rewarding, however, when does too much emphasis on placings become too much? Do you place your self-worth on a pattern, ride, or trophy?

Your definition

Defining success is a crucial aspect of your attitude and sportsmanship. An exhibitor must have a clear understanding of what being successful means to them on a personal level. Three-time AQHYA World Champion Parris Rice says, “How you view success is determined by how you define success. If you define success through the opinion of others, winning, and getting a prize, then your placings in the show pen are most going to impact your success outside of the show pen. If you don’t win or place well, you’re going to be frustrated and will have difficulty looking at the big picture and seeing some of the things you may have done well.”

Looking at the big picture puts the world in perspective. Things do not always go as planned, especially when showing horses. Awards and titles do not solely define overall success; it encompasses kindness, passion, and work ethic. Parris adds, “Placings don’t denote how smart you are, how successful you will be in life (my employers don’t care that I’ve won world championships, they care that I do my job well), and how genuine of a person you are. Those are the things that matter.”

Placings are opinions

Placings are simply opinions. They are one person’s reflection of a particular ride on a specific day. Everyone has terrible rides; exhibitors are only human. This sport revolves around equestrians “paying” for opinions. For exhibitors to enjoy their experiences, it is essential to know the difference between your self-worth and the results of a class.

Multiple AQHYA World and Congress Champion Paige Wacker, says, “Placings are simply one individual’s opinion on your performance. To solely base your success on a placing is where a lot of people go wrong.” The downfall of many equestrians is equating their self-worth to how they place in a class. Placings are opinions, not a judgment on character.

Your personal goals

It is easier said than done but focusing on your personal goals is essential to achieve success. Personal goals range from winning a world title to making it through a class without an “oops” moment. Every individual exhibitor has their journey, their strengths, and weaknesses.

Parris gives an example, “If you don’t win the class, but maybe you got your first flying lead change in the horsemanship, you were still successful. It’s a small victory along the way. This also means that you can create the confidence within yourself to know when you did a good job and what things you can improve upon.”

Small victories are stepping stones to the “big picture.” This also applies to the challenges of horse training. Multiple Congress and World Champion trainer of Grimes Iowa, Shannon Vroegh adds, “I think that placings give you a feeling of accomplishment and are good as far as social status, but I have learned to like it so much more when I have a great ride and am happy with my horse.” It is crucial to value those learning moments and strive for new heights while also finding the silver lining in any situation.

Focus on the present moment

“You are now being judged at the jog.” Exhibitors may read that phrase and automatically feel like they are in the show pen. This sport is unique in the fact that exhibitors are always being judged. Every move in the ring is meticulously examined and compared against others. It becomes very easy to focus on the “what if” and show pen jitters.

The key is to focus on the present moment and nothing else. Do not overthink the trophies, ribbons, titles, etc. Be in the moment and perform to the best of your ability that day. One ride or pattern does not define you as an equestrian or a person.

Passion and love of the sport

Horse showing comes down to the love of the horse and the sport. Equestrians with a strong work ethic and passion stick with their horse through thick and thin. Paige comments, “Yes, it’s always nice to be praised for your hard work but having that be the only reason behind your drive is what will burn someone out in any industry, job, or discipline. It’s passion and love for the horse to achieve a never-ending list of goals that determine overall success.”

World titles, ribbons, and trophies are incredible achievements that should be honored, however, do not let one ride at one show determine self-worth. Every exhibitor is defined by so much more than an award. They are characterized by their work ethic, kindness, and overall sportsmanship.

American Olympian, Mary Lou Retton, once said, “A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.”


About the Author: Cat Guenther is a devout equestrian and a senior at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. She has been riding horses for almost nine years and has loved every minute of it. Cat started and runs her successful show clothing business, Behind the Bit Show Clothing. Her favorite classes are horsemanship, showmanship, and trail. She plans to attend Michigan State University in the future to study veterinary medicine and possibly also business. Cat is excited to show the all-around classes in 2019 with Zippos Kat Man Do aka Teddy.

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