Editor's Response to "In Defense of Good Scores"

This piece was originally printed in the March 2014 Reader.

While the information outlining the changes to the awards program is fact, the remaining text is my opinion, and may not reflect the beliefs or opinions of the CLD board.

Kim Jones, Reader editor

I would like to directly address a few points covered in the anonymous letter to the editor. First off, the author expressed concern that CLD is going WAY down the wrong path, and seems concerned that the awards program is headed down a path where, “no matter how poorly one plays, one always gets a ribbon”. CLDs awards are hardly the equivalent of participation ribbons. I think it would be more accurate to say the board has made the awards program more inclusive to all of its members. All of the riders honored at the awards dinner earned their award whether the score was printed in the program or not. This club is supported by many riders of different levels and the awards program should be structured around the diversity of its members. If we have members who choose not to participate in the program, it is the boards’ responsibility to examine the issues and make changes for the good of the club. We have to take the opinions and feelings of each member into account. The accusation that the rules were changed “so you won’t be reminded of the realities of the game” is insulting to all of the people who work tirelessly to keep this club going. I have outlined below what changes were made to the program between 2012 and 2013.

  • It was decided to not print scores in the awards program.
  • The prizes were changed in an effort to cut spending and include more awards as follows:
  • In recognized shows, a high point saddle pad was given to open/novice, JR&YR/AA.
  • In schooling shows only one high point pad was given to the overall hi score.
  • In addition, if you won a hi point pad you did not receive an additional award for first place in your division.
  • A third place award was added for each division and level.

That outlines the changes made for the 2013 awards year. In previous years we were giving saddle pads as hi point for each level, and Champion awards were salad plates, then bread and butter plates were for Res. Champion, no 3rd place was given.

I meet a lot of people and I have never seen a more diverse group of people who can become instant friends due to one common interest, horses. Unfortunately, sometimes it would seem that our diversity overshadows the love we share for the horse and the sport. Why is that? Maybe it’s because we all put so much emotion into our riding, we work hard, we sacrifice, we get frustrated, we lose tempers, we get our feelings hurt, and so many other emotions. The anonymous author had it right no one knows exactly what we are sacrificing for this sport. We all have a different story. At times I ask myself why? Why do I do this? The answer is of course because I love it.

While I may not agree with everything in January’s letter to the editor, I am glad to see these issues out into the open for discussion. Having spoken with quite a few people on the subject there are clearly two sides to this discussion. I will admit to being a little guilty of some (not all) of the accusations that were brought up, Although, I can say, never in a context to hurt someone’s feelings. “I wish I had the money to buy a nice horse, take more lessons, etc. (sigh)” “That horse is really nice, I am definitely not getting a blue ribbon today.” (Usually followed by “Oh well I hope I get a decent score and some good comments.”) Dressage is for every rider and every horse. While we are judged on the correctness of each maneuver, we all have to realize some horses are better equipped to do the job than others. I recognize this and I do not begrudge another person’s ability to afford a nice horse. While we don’t know everyone’s story we do know how much work we all put into this sport. If we are going to discuss good sportsmanship, lets cover all the bases. Here is a situation I have witnessed on more than one occasion:

Rider A scores a 59% and is clearly a little upset that her ride didn’t go as planned. Rider B who scored a 70% approaches. Rider A genuinely offers their congratulations on Rider B’s success, and pays some compliments, Rider B responds lamenting about how awful the ride was or how the horse should have scored better. Or how so and so was distracting her by being too close to the ring. Or how the judge must be blind to have scored me so high.

These are actual comments I have heard at shows! In my opinion a 59% is not a bad score, but a 70% is fantastic! I have seen this type of situation many times, and I believe it creates sour grapes! It’s poor sportsmanship! We all know there is always work to be done, as dressage riders there is always a quest for perfection no matter the level of horse and rider. It would seem to me that the poor sportsmanship the letter refers to is on both sides of this invisible field and is creating bad feelings within our group.

The last paragraph of the letter to the editor where it said:

“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!”

It would seem that the writer is unfairly judging others on the scores that they receive. Scores can vary due to a multitude of reasons, including a bad day, a spook, horse or riders first show, a rider error, or just the fact some horses have more natural ability to do the job at hand. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are poor riders that need serious help. The problem is that some members of this club feel that seeing a 10+ pt gap between their good score and someone else’s great score, in the awards program is discouraging. It is their right to have an opinion, it’s the board’s duty to find a solution that makes the majority happy.

As far as the advice the author gives, speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that I have to be frugal about how many lessons I can afford, thus minimizing my “eyes on the ground” and “seeing what problems follow me” from horse to horse. I have difficulties taking one lesson a week, let alone three a week, and there are many other riders just like me. So I guess I’m insane, sometimes I feel like it, as I continue to pursue my passion for dressage even though I don’t have the financial ability to do it as the author described. I will continue to ride and show and do the best I can because I love the sport.  I encourage everyone out there to do the same as this is a sport for every horse and every rider, no matter the level of rider or the caliber of horse.

Thank you to the anonymous author for sharing your perspective. You certainly got people talking. I know I will be more careful with my words, as I hope we all will be. Here in my own words, I have tried to combine my own perspective and the sentiment expressed in discussions with various members of the club who read the original letter to the editor. I hope I have given a voice to the opinion of those, that for various reasons, would otherwise not be heard.

In closing, here is some advice everyone can use no matter your scores, your money or not, riding a free horse or a $100,000 horse:

  • Stop wasting your energy on things such as bad attitudes and discouraging past events.
  • Allow yourself to fill your life with positive people, upbeat attitudes, and encouraging memories.
  • Give your time and energy to ideas and people who support you, uplift you, and inspire you.
  • Let go of bad memories, or things that drain you of your happiness.
  • Do the best you can, be objective about your riding and your scores.
  • Give people time to process their disappointments, and take time to process your own disappointments without bringing other people down.
  • When you feel like you are in a rut, change your expectations and go back to the basics, many times we make our own misery by expecting too much.
  • Take a lesson if you can and appreciate the fact that you can, as it is a luxury to some.
  • Encourage those who need it. Congratulate those who deserve it. Be tolerant of those who may be having a bad day. More than likely they aren’t trying to bring you down.

This is my goal. Good luck to all in 2014.