Camaraderie Among Competitors

Photo courtesy of Anna Kate Conley. Photo courtesy of Anna Kate Conley.

I’ve found at this age, I (and pretty much everyone in the Junior divisions) get caught up in the ribbons, scores and results of the shows more than we care about the experience and people we meet along the way. Everyone loves to win. We all love doing well.

No one goes to a show thinking, “Oh I hope Johnny and I don’t get a ribbon this time.” Yes, it may be a .30 cent ribbon. Yes, we may spend hundreds of dollars competing for one of those .30 cent ribbons, but we want one anyway. I think, in some weird, twisted way it gives us a sense of self-worth. A ribbon signifies your training is working and you’re on the right path to success. However, it can’t always be about the ribbons or doing better than someone else.

At one point in time I became so fixated on what color ribbon I got, I found myself talking poorly about my fellow competitors. I realized instead of saying, “This transition was better than the one in my last test,” I was saying, “Well, so-and-so had bad transitions this weekend so I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to beat them.”

It took me a long time to figure out you could be friends with someone you’re competing with. It’s OKAY to lose to your friend and it’s OKAY to beat them too. Here is where maturity comes into play; you should be able to go in the ring like competitors and walk back to the barn like best friends.

I have a really good friend that I’ve been competing with since our non-color cordinated, Novice days. Rachel Finlin and her horse, Skipping Stones, have been kicking butt and taking names against me and everyone else for as long as I can remember. I never actually talked to her until about three years ago when my grandma posted a stadium picture of her, and tagged me saying, “Here’s your friend.”

I always just watched them from afar, because, lets be honest, in my eyes they were perfect and “the ones to beat.” Fast forward to spring River Glen 2015. After two years of not being in the same division (I was going BN/N, she moved on to Training/Prelim), we had finally been put together in the same Training division.

Initially I was worried, I’ve cheered them on as they rocked around Prelim, so I just knew there was no way I stood a chance against them at my first Training back. I actually told Rachel this and we laughed about it the whole weekend. I ended in first and she got second.

It was honestly a perfect way to start my season and I was SO proud of her and Skip. Before we said our farewells we made a kind of pact, if you will. We jokingly agreed since I had won that weekend, she would win the next time we were competeing together, then just go back and forth.

This weekend at MayDaze, we were both in Jr. Training. We saw eachother in warm up for all 3 phases, we chatted, we laughed and we wished eachother good luck. When we met up in stadium warm up we were both equally excited because she beat my dressage score by .2 — she had a 31.4, I had a 31.6. Rachel sat in 1st in Training A, I sat in 2nd in Training B.

She went clear around stadium, I had a rail, she had a stop on cross-country, I went clean. But, she was the first one to congratulate me when I came through the finish flags. Sunday morning we hacked Reba and Skip together for over an hour just chatting away; we may be good competitors but were better friends.

As the pressure to qualify for Young Riders increases, I’m learning just how important it is to find the healthy balance of competitiveness and friendliness. At the end of the day we’re all just taking part in the sport we love. Realizing the support you give and receive can make or break you is so vital for your success.

You’re nothing without people who believe in you, and being able to stay friends with someone even though you take turns beating eachother is such a cool thing. I love Rachel and Skip; the friendship we’ve created through competition is something everyone deserves to experience. It can’t always be about the ribbons and beating people you know (or don’t know).

One day I’m not going to have all these ribbons, but I’m going to have the memory of Rachel and I hacking the property line of the Kentucky Horse Park. If you’re a young rider and you go to a show only caring about the ribbons, make friends with someone.

Whether it be the person stalled next to you, or the girl winning your division, INTRODUCE YOURSELF. Be able to joke around about who’s doing better than who, but always be supportive when things don’t go as planned, you will be better for it in the end. After all, what do you have to lose?