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Sportsmanship and the Pony Ring-by Ella Doerr
I know I’m a teenager not a parent but I see the faces of the kids on ponies next to me who feel encouraged and uplifted and the faces of the kids who look discouraged. Here are some things that I think make the difference.
Observations from the Pony Ring:
10 ways family and trainers can boost a child’s self-confidence
1) The most important. Set a goal per show (one is plenty) that doesn’t involve ribbons but does involve positive progress! I remember when I had a goal to get the numbers on my little pony. If goals are realistic and progress based, then they will become attainable. I like horse show goals that are based on the pony and rider and are not impacted by how everyone else performs. If everyone’s goal is to get a blue ribbon then really only one kid will feel like they succeeded.
2) Family, take pictures before the division! Yes really. Get in the habit of celebrating the progress that got them there. Take pictures, stand together next to the kid and Pony, get the trainer in there, smile and celebrate. If you only take pictures afterwards when they have won blue ribbons, then it just feeds the feelings that the kid only did good if they won or was champion. So make all the fuss be about accomplishing all the learning needed to come together in order to show at a horse show. Celebrate the journey.
3) Make the last words the most encouraging! Right as the kid and pony are going in the ring, so many adults say something that start with the word “don’t”! For example they say “don’t look down, or don’t miss the changes, don’t add in the line”. That’s the last thing the rider hears. Maybe instead, word it the opposite way, such as; “your already looking up that’s wonderful”, “ride that great pace you get in your lessons” “Good Luck” “Have Fun”, “you can do this!”
4) Families, high five everyone and help them shrug off the bad trips. That bad trip will happen to every rider at some point. Give them a hug, remind them that it happens. If they fall off, tell them that it means an ice-cream party for everyone. Be that grown up that’s always happy and cheering. It’s so nice to see people act like this. It changes the whole atmosphere of the ringside spirit.
5) A kid might come out of the ring and the trainer will say 7 good things and 1 bad and I bet most kids will wallow on the one bad. Family, if you hear any of the good comments, remember them and repeat them back to the rider later. This is real praise not false praise. They will probably appreciate hearing the positives again when they have time to reflect on them.
6) Help nurture the bond between the kid and their pony. Model giving excellent care and emphasize the bond between them. It’s the accomplishments along the way and the life lessons from caring for another being that creates a meaningful bond. Encourage them to do fun things together and not just lesson and show. Go on a trail ride, play egg and spoon, go for a pony swim, relax on them bareback while they graze. These are special bonding experiences that they carry with them. That bond will give them that extra confidence when they are alone in the ring.
7) Farms, if possible, when your going to post something on Facebook after a show, post something inclusive, like a group picture. Or if you can, say positive things about each student. Why not post about a student’s accomplishment in a lesson. Parents, try posting about being proud that your kid got themselves up at 4 am and learned a hard course. If you only post that your proud when they win, then it seems like all the rest of the time, they have failed.
8) Families, clap for everyone!
9) Eliminate the pressure! It will be there on its own so be the opposite force of pressure! Let the trainer do their job and you just be the support. Families, I know you want your kids to do great and be happy but adding pressure to perform steals the fun from the challenges of riding. I saw a sweet little girl throw up at Pony finals from the pressure, some kids were shaking, some cried. It’s intense, so be the pressure vacuum, be the person who the kids go to when they feel stressed. Horse showing is intense and it can be a triumphant experience but a show ring performance shouldn’t make a little one feel bad about themselves or like they let their parents down. Try to have fun.
10) Celebrate milestones overall such as moving up a division and seeing their diagonal for the first time.
Horseshows are so much work. Let’s make sure it’s doing all of us some good.