Winning Isn’t Everything at a Horse Show

Sometimes winning isn’t the biggest thrill you can have at a horse show. Read this true story about what happened at an Arabian Horse Show, when a horse came in fifth.

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You know how they say “Winning isn’t everything”… and yet they still try to win. Everyone puts the pressure on to win.  Why even compete if the end goal isn’t winning?

This is a true story about going to a horse show, competing, and not winning, but still coming out ahead of the winners.

It was back in the 1980’s in Alberta, Canada, specifically in the city of Red Deer. An Arabian Horse show was taking place. For those who are not familiar with Arabian horse shows I must provide some information regarding the shows. Arabians compete in a variety of classes, Western pleasure, English pleasure, and so on. English pleasure is not the same as what people commonly see on television where people ride horses over jumps. In an Arabian English Pleasure class, the horses are ridden in special saddles that sit the rider farther back allowing the horse to move its front legs more freely. The saddles are referred to as Cutback saddles, and the style of riding, is called Saddle Seat.

image source - me and my horse.

English pleasure horses are judged on, among other things, manners and gait. The crowd goes wild when the horses are asked to “Strong Trot” the legs become more animated, and are lifted high. The horses use extreme amounts of energy to preform the strong trot and the crowd encourages them. Only the “Park” class is more exaggerated in terms of action, all of which is perfectly naturally in the Arabian breed.

I cannot remember how many horses were competing at the show, hundreds I am sure, probably fifteen or twenty in the classes my horse was entered in. In English Pleasure classes all the horses compete together and are in the arena at the same time, unlike jumping classes where it is one after the other.

I rode him in some classes and the trainer rode him in others. My horse did very well, you can tell when the crowd loves a horse because they cheer loudly when the horse passes in front of the judge. The crowd consistently applauded when my horse, The Sorcerer, was in front of the judge.

However, my horse was not winning. The judge always placed him in the ribbons, but he was fourth or fifth, or even sixth.  Thinking back, I guess my horse competed in five English Pleasure classes, some for his age (four years or younger), some for his gender (gelding), and some open, meaning any English Pleasure horse could enter. When it came time for his final class at the show, everybody knew it.

The trainer was riding him, it was an “Open English Pleasure” class. He entered the ring at a trot, as is required of English Pleasure classes. The crowd cheered as the ringmaster called for the strong trot, two directions around the arena, walk, trot, strong trot, canter, then pull into center and line up.

The judge asks each horse to back individually. Then a pause as he reviews his decision. Then the wait for the winners to be announced. They always announce from last to first. In some shows last is tenth, in some its sixth… but either way, my horse was called to receive a fifth place ribbon.

That’s when it happened. Starting with one person, the crowd got to its feet and gave my horse a standing ovation for coming in fifth. At horse shows standing ovations were rarely given even for first place, but my horse, The Sorcerer, was given a standing ovation for coming in fifth.

Later the trainer did have a chance to ask the judge what he did not like about my horse. The judge responded along the lines that he felt the horse was too extreme for the class, basically saying the horse was too good. Two days later this was confirmed when (under a panel of 3 different judges) my horse won the Western Canadian Arabian Park Championship, a more prestigious honor. None the less, I still have that fifth place ribbon, and always remember not winning the earlier show.

Further Reading

What is English Pleasure

Beauty of the Arabian Horse

Finding an Old Horse - true story

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4 Comments
  1. Sarah
    Posted March 10, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Excellent!

  2. LewP
    Posted May 8, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    I loved the article. Great job!

  3. Deanda
    Posted July 4, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    WOW that horse is beautiful!!!

  4. Catherine South
    Posted July 9, 2008 at 5:46 am

    As your article proves, winning isn’t always about receiving a first place ribbon.
    Great story :)

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