Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2024

Parents, Let’s Model Good Sportsmanship

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Sure, it’s easy to pass the buck, put the burden on trainers, social media, other kids, you name it—but sportsmanship starts with parents. As a mom, it’s my responsibility to guide my young riders and hold them accountable. 

Modeling good sportsmanship starts with little gestures. When I watch my daughter’s group lessons, I show her how to be supportive. I try to compliment the other riders after their ride, recognizing their efforts. It’s a simple act of saying, “Good ride” or “I loved that stretchy trot.” 

My teenager has picked up this habit. Often, I overhear her compliment barn buddies, and she’s quick to tell friends what they’ve done well upon exiting the ring. She’s also learned to provide support when a ride goes sideways. One of the adult amateurs at her barn shared how she was downtrodden after a tough ride. My daughter noticed the slump in her shoulders and offered empathy: “It’s OK. I have bad rides too. I know how you feel.” Little things like this count, and they often aren’t innate. They’re learned.   

Blogger Jamie Sindell’s teen daughter with her barn role model, Kailei Makhija, who is always positive and willing to lend a hand. Sindell wants her daughter surrounded by adults who embody sportsmanship. Photos Courtesy Of Jamie Sindell

Another easy way I model sportsmanship is by acknowledging my daughter’s trainer: “Thanks for the great lesson. She learned a lot. We appreciate you.” 

When my kid was younger, if she forgot to thank her trainer, I gave her a whispered reminder. Now that she’s older, most often she remembers to be respectful. I expect her to exhibit good manners and to express gratitude. This is non-negotiable. 

I also ensure I’m friendly at the barn. If I arrive and someone doesn’t acknowledge me, I greet them regardless. I expect my daughter to be welcoming too. Mean-girl-style is not an option.

That is particularly important when a newbie joins the barn family. From my own experience, the transition can feel like being the new, awkward kid at school. When young people embrace new barn members, it sets the vibe.  

Also at shows, it’s exceptionally important to practice what I preach. I clap for people I don’t know, especially when they don’t have a robust cheering squad. I have a vivid memory from last summer of a woman entered the ring on a wild-eyed horse who wasn’t cooperating. Though her horse slammed on the brakes a few times, she remained steadfast. It wasn’t pretty, but she completed the round. She returned for her second round, and though it was glitchy, it was better. 

I clapped, admiring her tenacity. What I didn’t realize was that her trainer was beside me. She turned and thanked me, “She’s been working hard, and her horse is difficult.” This moment still resonates. My clap mattered. I’ve shared this story countless times with my kids: keep clapping. 

Along those lines, I recently attended my teen daughter’s show with my two younger girls in tow. As my littles awaited my daughter’s rounds, a rider engaged us in a conversation. 

“You can pet my horse. She’s a sweetheart,” she told the girls who pelted her with inquiries about her mare. The young rider sweetly answered all of them. 

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After the division ended, we passed the same girl posing for a picture, championship ribbon affixed to her bridle. 

“Congratulations!” I called. 

My younger daughters looked at me curiously: “Why did you say that? She’s a stranger. She beat our sister.” I explained she was kind. I felt happy for her.

Both my girls nodded at me and shouted: “Congratulations!” They got it. But they needed the nudge. It’s important to acknowledge people’s triumphs, even when we don’t know them personally. 

I also remind my children to stay humble. My 7-year-old daughter is full of bravado, and I’ve overheard her bragging, “I have a pony at home.” Cringe. Though I’m not always effective, I remind her to tone it WAY down. 

When I overhear kids bragging about their horses, boasting about how high they jump or flaunting ribbons, it rubs me the wrong way. Though I don’t have control over them, I can call out my own kids if I catch them acting entitled and bratty. 

I choose to expose my kids to positivity rather than toxicity. It’s my responsibility to pull my daughter out of unhealthy environments. I want my kid immersed in people who exhibit good morals. When a trainer doesn’t have the same expectations, it’s disappointing, but I can pull my kid from those surroundings, teach her right from wrong.

Blogger Jamie Sindell’s oldest daughter (standing) at a show with her trainer, Ellen Cabot. Cabot, owner of Top Flight Stables, nurtures a healthy barn environment. Sindell and Cabot agree that poor behavior is not an option.

And just like I hold myself accountable for my parenting, I’ve learned to hold my kids accountable. I’m not delusional. My children aren’t angels. A few months ago, I got a phone call out of the blue that was an unexpected kick in the gut. My daughter’s trainer called to tell me my daughter had been involved in social media shenanigans. 

My instinct in the past had been to argue instead of listen: “What?? Not my precious baby!” or, “It must be the other kids she’s hanging with at the barn.” But I’m evolving.  

I listened to the trainer’s concerns and supported her. I then addressed the issue with my daughter and told her, “When you post on social media, you are a reflection on the barn, even if you think it’s innocuous.” I don’t expect her to be Mother Teresa. Lord knows there are days I’m a parental hot mess. But I can teach her why certain actions aren’t appropriate. 

Parents’ real nemesis, the hulking monster, is social media saturation. Snippets of people living their best horse lives populate my daughter’s phone. Though it may seem tangential, reminding kids about what truly matters is part of sportsmanship.

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Reels flaunt big jumps and incredibly expensive horses. Riders in pricy brands stroll down chandelier-lit barn aisles that are more immaculate than my kitchen. It’s a lot for an adult to ingest and remain grounded, let alone malleable kids. I’m trying to combat the social media narrative by keeping an open dialogue with my daughter, but it’s hard!

I remind her that the measure of fulfillment isn’t having the most likes or the cutest reels. The sneaky filters make everything seem bright and perfect. I explain that the positive impact she has on those around her, the way she treats others, that’s what matters more than her number of followers or her online “influence.”

I’m conveying the message that her riding isn’t dependent on the trending brand of breeches. I want her to focus on riding and less on stuff. I want to ensure she isn’t judging others for what brands they’re not rocking. 

Believe me, I may talk the good talk, but I’m still making ample mistakes. Luckily, since I popped out five kids, I’ve had lots of chances to get it right. 

However, it’s truly a collective effort. I know I can’t do this alone. 

So, I ask you, even if you aren’t a parent, do you model sportsmanship?

Because even when you think you are discreet, young riders are watching you. 

Your behavior and choices, most importantly your kindness, count.


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. 

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