In Defense of Good Scores

This piece was originally printed in the January 2014 Reader.

So why are good scores something to be ashamed of these days? Case in point: the latest CLD awards banquet handed out high point awards for both schooling and recognized shows at all levels, but the scores were excluded from the program, ostensibly because the CLD board voted to have it that way this year. But I ask again, why should anyone be ashamed of their good scores, and why should anyone seeing them feel badly about it? I’ve got some thoughts on the matter, and of course, needed to share them with my fellow CLD members because I truly believe we are going WAY down the wrong path here.

So why should good scores be shameful? To get them, you must combine many, many hours in the saddle with eyes on the ground. There are good days and bad days, good rides and bad. Sometimes it feels as if you are going backwards! Add into it frustration that you can’t get it right, fear sometimes (adult amateurs in general don’t bounce well!), and the constant need for perseverance and courage in the face of riding forward and sticking to it. NONE of these things seem to be a bad thing to me, and all of them would be part of my prescription for kids growing into adulthood to learn to do well.

Life contains competition (there is a reason that ‘survival of the fittest’ was coined). Often this competition is with and about ourselves, but not always. Organized sports are big business these days, and you can bet there is a winner (and therefore a loser) in the games.

Competition for top jobs is also fierce, as is getting into a competitive school, getting your kid the hottest Xmas ticket item on black Friday, and the like. Yet somehow along the way we got the idea that kids shouldn’t compete and everyone should be a winner all the time. (Witness the baseball games for tots where they can bat until they get a hit and no one wins.) This is a bastardization, I believe, of helping children feel accomplished and successful as a key to a healthy adult. Of course kids need to be raised with good self esteem, but that does NOT come from a sense of entitlement where no matter how poorly one plays, one always gets a ribbon. Rather, it seems to be raising a generation of kids who believe they are winners no matter what the evidence, and see no reason to change anything they are doing to fix it.

Is that really where we want this country to go? Why should it make others feel badly if someone gets a good score? Someone else’s good score is most certainly not a reflection on you or your score, but rather the result of the other’s hard work and a bit of luck on a given competition day. Good sportsmanship means knowing that there will always be winners and losers, and we can’t always be winners every time. Poor sportsmanship and sour grapes means that if you don’t like to lose, just change the rules so you won’t be reminded of the realities of the game. And how many absolutely false rumors abound by those who aren’t getting such good scores. In my short time riding I have heard all of the following... pointed at me and others......

  1. ‘You have a lot of money and can afford to buy whatever you want.’ Well, no, actually, that is pretty much NEVER true (unless you happen to be Bill Gates!). Someone will always have more money, and there will always be horses that simply are not affordable. Walk in another’s shoes before you call them ‘effortlessly rich’ or assume they have always been in a position to buy what they wanted. Do you always know the truth about someone else’s situation? I think not, anymore than others have a clue about your life. Do you know what she has sacrificed to get the horse she has, not to mention the hours she has put in to advance through the levels?

  2. ‘If I could by an expensive push-button horse, I would do well too.’ Some dressage horses may have been relatively costly, but by no means are they EVER push button. They have their easy moves and their hard ones, personality quirks, and propensity for injuries just like everyone else’s horses. Riders of expensive horses struggle to sit the trot, keep them balanced, keep them forward, and into the outside rein like all of you do. I simply DARE anyone to get on ANY horse and declare them push button!

  3. ‘Of course you are going to win everything, your horse is super fancy.’ The falsehood of this statement was driven home to me while watching the latest Nationals competition in Kentucky. Akiko Yamazaki (Ravel’s owner, so there is one rolling in dough and able to buy anything she wants), rode to the PSG AA championship on her horse Matrix. Matrix came very close to retirement, but Akiko didn’t give up on him. He is a horse with normal movement, nothing super fancy. And yet Akiko won. Did her money do that? NO, SHE did!

  4. ‘You think you are better than us/look down on us.’ This could be no further from the truth. Riders are focused on improving their riding and their relationships with their horses. They are not looking at you. They don’t sit up at night cackling about high scores (well, I bet they do on occasion!) but they are definitely not comparing their score to yours.

So perhaps those of you worrying about high scores need to think about what to do to improve yours, if that is a goal for you. Lower scores generally mean you have some work to do. (At least that’s what I read in Dressage Today!) Maybe its time to catch a ride on someone else’s horse to see how it goes and pick out what problems follow you because they are generated by you? Let a professional take a ride on your horse and give some tips. Take a lesson from someone who can be your eyes on the ground?

After all, the definition of insanity is to keep doing what you are doing with no change in the results (and even worse, being mad about those who ARE seeing change). If/when this insanity passes, I hope we can get back to good sportsmanship and being proud of good scores – regardless of who receives them!

Signed: An Anonymous Member