Thursday, May. 23, 2024

I’m A Horse Show Mom Who Values Losing 



My 14-year-old daughter recently made her way back into the show ring after a seven-month hiatus. Over the winter, she had worked diligently with her leased mare. Though it was difficult financially, my husband and I extended her lease and allotted her one show per month. 

She had spent months in the indoor at home working to become a more sensitive rider. She’d put in the hours of effort alone and with her trainer. The opportunity to put her horse homework to the test away from home was our acknowledgment. She was overjoyed and grateful.

The day prior to the show, we had a heart to heart. “What if I don’t do well?” she asked, feeling some self-induced pressure.

Getting back in the show ring was a chance for blogger Jamie Sindell’s daughter to put a winter’s worth of training to the test, and to remember that ribbons aren’t always the most important outcome, and horses always get a pat after doing their job. Photos Courtesy Of Jamie Sindell

“Will you have fun regardless?”

She smiled: “Yep.” 

I explained this was the goal. She’d put in the practice. Showing was about getting out there, doing her best at the thing she loved and enjoying it, regardless of the ribbons.  

“Losing is good,” I explained. “You don’t need a ribbon to reinforce you rode well. You’ll know in your gut. And if your rides don’t go the way you hoped, you have stuff to work on at home.” 

Since there was such a gap since her last show, the jumps in her division were small. The show was an opportunity for my daughter and her mare to build confidence, strengthening their bond away from home. Though stakes were low, my heart bumped around my chest when my daughter entered the ring.

I finally remembered to suck in a breath when she finished her second course, exiting and patting her horse on the neck. Though the rides were good, there were hiccups. They weren’t the winning rounds.  


As my kid stood ringside awaiting the hack, I asked her how she felt. “She was so good, but I’m frustrated. I keep seeing the wrong distance. I make it out of the line, but I need to cluck and push to get the strides right,” she answered with a sigh. 

She wasn’t dejected but disappointed. I felt for her, but her response was a healthy one.

“I get that, but it takes time. You will get there. This is only your second show with her,” I said, trying to reassure her that it’s OK to be less than perfect.

But really, it’s freaking hard to be imperfect. Kids are often taught that success both within and outside of the ring means being THE BEST. It means being THE WINNER regardless of circumstances. After all, life can feel like a competition.

In my mom eyes, horse showing is a way of pushing back against that notion of being perfect. It’s teaching my kid that even when her horse is a super star, even when all the stars align into a constellation, she may not win one measly ribbon. Many shows, the odds are stacked against her because the class is large, or the competition is fierce. But isn’t it good practice when winning is a novelty versus the norm? 

Losing when things go well is important. If my kid can enter the ring, lay down a great ride, lose and still feel good about it, that’s a crucial takeaway.  She learns that (in most disciplines) judging is subjective, perhaps influenced by the type of horse or ride the judge prefers. Maybe she was just plain outridden. 

Losing when things go well is important. If my kid can enter the ring, lay down a great ride, lose and still feel good about it, that’s a crucial takeaway. 

She can apply this knowledge later in life if things don’t go her way, even though she’s poured in the effort. When she nails an interview but doesn’t land the job. When she writes a Pulitzer Prize-winning essay, but her crabby teacher awards the entire class with Cs. These hurdles in life are like scoring in the 80s in the classic and still walking away without a ribbon. 

If my daughter has a bad show day, it’s also a teaching moment. Being vulnerable enough to mess up in front of an audience, mostly strangers, is admirable. Heading into the ring after a less than stellar performance to try to fix it is a superpower! And if it’s unfixable at the show, the disappointment is an opportunity for reflection rather than tossing in the towel: “What can I work on at home?”

Watching other riders make mistakes is also a reality check. The add, the missed change, even pros have been there. Imperfection isn’t shameful, especially when it’s not a reflection of being ill-prepared or over-faced. Horse people don’t let the fear of losing or the fear of embarrassment in front of a crowd stop them. They try harder.


There is an art to losing, right? And horse shows are a means to developing these skills. You can lose like a sourpuss, let it haunt you. You could chastise your horse. You could fume with jealousy and frustration when others do better than you. You could blame their wins on luck, money or bias, rather than acknowledging that their dedication and effort matter. You could give up.

Or you can lose with grace. You can follow Taylor Swift’s advice and shake it off, glass-half-full style instead of glass half drained. You can do the hard work of looking within yourself to understand why something went awry while not letting it define you. 

If my daughter wants me to keep paying her show entries, I’m expecting her to opt for the latter option. But she can’t do this alone. It’s my role as a parent to encourage and model this behavior. No excuses, no blaming the horse, no blaming the trainer, learn from the experience, move on. 

Because even as an adult, I still struggle when my hard work goes awry. 

You see, there was this blogger mom who was over-the-moon-happy when the Chronicle published her first piece about the heartache of selling her daughter’s pony. Surprisingly, a few readers criticized her parenting. She cried, asking herself if she were cut out to be a blogger: vulnerable and on display, like being on course alone in the show ring.

This same blogger almost quit when she received her first rejection. It knocked the wind right out of her, like an unexpected refusal at the last fence. 

But she kept at it, pulling from a confidence nestled deep within her, because she loved how words poured out of her. Even more so, if she succumbed to negativity and doubt, her kids would have a quitter as a role model. Horse moms don’t quit. 

I want my daughter to carry this same kernel of self-esteem with her wherever she travels in life, not requiring outside validation to hold her head high and feel prideful. I’ll continue teaching her that horse showing is more than a string of ribbons on her bedroom wall. I’ll keep her riding with her trainer who also instills the same. 

Losing is much better practice for the real world than winning.

Jamie Sindell has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona and has ridden and owned hunters on and off throughout her life. She is a mom of five kids, ages 3 to 14. She and her family reside at Wish List Farm, where her horse crazy girls play with their small pony, Cupcake, and her son and husband play with the tractor.



Follow us on


Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse