Fifty-one years ago Gordon Wright wrote his great book Learning to Ride, Hunt, and Show. It has been my bible ever since.
Gordon’s words of wisdom helped riders and teachers at all levels, and he also asked other great horsemen and horsewomen of the time to aid him by writing additional chapters.
Mrs. Charles Lee (Celeste) Harper, a great rider and horsewoman, was chairman of the equitation division and a very popular judge. Celeste was a very great supporter of mine as a junior rider, and later on she became a very dear friend. She wrote the chapter for Gor-don’s book entitled “A Word to Young Riders.”
For a later edition of this same book, Gordon had Stephen Hawkins rewrite the chapter under the same heading. Steve Hawkins is a man of the highest character who has proven to be one of the greatest all-around judges of the 20th century. He has judged more breeds and disciplines at more horse shows for a longer time than any one else. Steve, like Celeste, is a very good friend of mine. I’ve learned from them both and have the highest respect for them.
That’s why I’m taking their beautifully written chapters as an outline for this article.
Most kids at horse shows are good sports. I see them cheering on each other and their friends. We’ve all been bad sports at one time or another, and, believe me, it doesn’t pay. Sports-manship and horsemanship go together. Horses will teach you to be a good sport.
Good manners and courtesy were probably better preached years ago than they are today. Young people would probably be better off to be seen more and heard less than is the custom today. If you are planning to ride abroad, you’d best practice manners and courtesy now. Foreigners look down at loud, ill-mannered types.
Good character and good manners are the responsibility of the parents, as well as the riding teacher, to mold in the formative years.
Kids, it is your demeanor toward others that is the telling sign. How do you treat your parents, your teacher, your friends, show officials and grooms? And, most of all, how do you treat your horse? Is he a friend, a living body, or is he a vehicle, a machine?
Remember, it’s not just the picture you present while in the ring alone. It’s the overall picture you present whenever and wher-ever you are at the horse show. Maybe I’m not judging you this week while at the coffee stand, but I’ll be judging you next week. Perhaps the professional mucking out in the last tent will be judging you in the fall. You are creating an everlasting impression. And a sympathetic impression with man and beast is always appreciated.
I don’t mind (occasion-ally) if an exhibitor wants to ask me about my judging decision. However, judges are not there to give a clinic. That is another time and place. You must follow the rules and question the judge with and through the steward at the appropriate time and place. And if you have a trainer, bring him or her with you so he or she can learn too.
I always want my judge’s card in hand so I can give as accurate response as possible. I want a sincere, appreciative exhibitor who has no interest in arguing but wants to improve his or her future performances. I don’t want to feel he or she is trying to influence or intimidate me.
Many people are poorly advised by the people around them and believe they’re being unfairly treated. Most judges truly try to do their very best; they try to be honest and fair. Of course, we all make mistakes. But remember, the judge is the only one who sees every single performance from his particular vantage point, and that’s the one that counts.
With your trainer, you must do your homework. Know the judge’s background and what he likes and doesn’t like.
Most of you have great trainers and are accustomed to planning out your round well before you enter the ring. That is the sport today. The name of the game is precision. I feel very lucky in having seen it evolve that way and in contributing to that artistic end. You young people must be attentive to details, the little things.
What true horsemen appreciate most in a young person’s behavior is the way he or she handles his or her mount.
Temper is always wrong. Why? Because it breeds a fear and mistrust of the rider by the horse. Pain brings blindness, and blindness brings accidents. You never want a horse “looking back” at his rider. You want the horse concentrating on the jobï¿½”jumping.
Correct punishment is called discipline and reward. Discipline is any active aid. Reward is simply the lack of discipline. Temper demonstrates the very worst in character and horsemanship. Treat horses with knowledge, kindness and patience.
A well turned-out horse is even more important than a well turned-out rider. Grooming starts from the inside of a horseï¿½”his basic health, and how he is fed. Next comes “elbow grease.” It’s the time spent grooming a horse, not just the kind of brush used. Pulling a horse’s mane, body clipping, and proper trimming are like going to the hairdresser or barber shop. It’s either clean, neat and tidy or it’s not.
But you should also be beautifully turned-out. Any deviation from classic, traditional attire simply means sloppy and the lowering of standards. For instance, I hate this fashion of open-necked riding shirts, with or without riding coats. It looks sloppy.
Long hair must be in a hairnet or under your hat. Period. Only stud earrings. Ring earrings are dangerous and wrong, whether boys or girls. And if you wear more than one ring, you should wear gloves.
Try to have neat, appropriate, well-cut clothes. Your tack should be scrupulously clean, soft and pliant. Dirty tack looks bad and is also dangerous. A well turned-out horse and rider is a compliment to the judge, the organizing committee, and the spectators.
Have the graciousness of the winner and the smile of the loser. Remember to respect and appreciate your parents, family, horses, trainers, and the rest of your support staff. Without them, you would be nowhere.
People judge you by your associates. Be careful with whom you hang out. People with class don’t have to have money. In fact, very often they don’t.
Health, fitness and weight are your choice, for riding and for life. Extremes one way or the other, like most things in life, are never too good. You have to work at it. It’s a life-long battle to be neither too thin nor too fat.
At all costs, you young people must protect the sporting traditions of generations before. Read books and learn some history of the sport of equitation. It will better help you understand what you’re doing today.
And remember you are the horsemen, officials, judges, teachers, trainers and Olympic riders of the future. You have a great responsibility on your shoulders. The history and tradition of American horsemanship is something we all can be very proud of. It is unique in the world.