The Importance of Sportsmanship

Now that the Chatt recaps are done and dusted, I want to talk about something else that happened at the second show. Something that left me, honestly, pretty miffed. Nothing to do with the show itself, Chatt was AMAZING in basically every regard… but something to do with the behavior of other competitors.

sportsmanship

We all know what good sportsmanship is, I’m assuming. If not, see definition conveniently located above. To me, having good sportsmanship is almost as important as having good horsemanship. Nobody likes a bully, a whiner, a condescending winner, or a sore loser. And I’m proud to say that in eventing, I don’t think I’ve seen very many examples of poor sportsmanship as it relates to competition. Most people have quite a good attitude. It’s the kind of sport that humbles people real quick and always keeps you feeling quite mortal. For the most part, people generally want to see others have a good day and are encouraging and positive.

I saw a slightly different side of things at Chatt. Not related to the horse show itself, luckily, but in regards to – of all the ridiculous things – the totally “for fun” bouncy pony race on Friday night. You know the big bouncy ball pony things?

bouncypony1

Teams of 5 people each squared off on bouncy ponies in a relay race where each person raced down over a “jump” (pole on the ground) to a bucket, picked up an apple, raced back with said apple, and tagged the next team member. The only rules? You had to bounce on the pony, and you had to get the apple. Pretty simple. Fun, right? Especially if you’re the one watching (me) and not the one going face first over the front of the bouncy pony in some kind of weird, hilariously funny, slow-motion rotational fall (Kate).

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Sorry, Kate, couldn’t resist.

Our barn conveniently had 5 girls under of the age of 18 in attendance at Chatt, so we had an instant team. I’m too old to go flying off a bouncy pony, but I make a pretty good cheerleader on the sidelines. Trainer, of course, acted as Team Coach.

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No one can ever accuse them of lacking team spirit

Our girls went all out for this. They range in age from 12 to 17 years old, and they looted an Alabama Walmart on the day after the 4th of July to get stuff to make their outfits. They made tutu’s, they sported patriotic hats, stickers, face paint, sweatbands, glow necklaces and bracelets… you name it, they had it. Outfits: on point. But really, all of that just showed a lot of camaraderie and team work. They were excited and they were ready to go head to head with the other teams and duke it out – in a fun way. They might not win, but they were there to have fun. That’s the entire point of stuff like this, right?

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Shoutout to Mag’s Mobile Tack for “sponsoring” our girls’ team!

So when I saw an adult member (I’m assuming she was an adult, since she chugged a beer right before the race) of the team next to them yelling at one of our girls (a 13yo), getting right up in her face, and then pulling the hat right off of her head – taking some hair with it, I might add – I was shocked. When members of this same team picked up some water balloons from another team (water balloons were not part of this activity at all, but okay) and chucked them deliberately at our girls’ faces – shock turned into fury. Those people did not know our girls. That wasn’t jovial or friendly or funny. It came across as mean-spirited and inappropriate and out of line. At a friggin bouncy pony race! The prize was a big basket of chocolate, for crying out loud!

I have all of this on video, by the way, so there’s no disputing what went on.

To cap it all off, the teams were neck and neck until their last team member (the hat-yanker) decided to eschew the rules and just run her entire leg of the race carrying the bouncy pony instead of actually sitting on it at all. A person on this team was also later heard saying “there’s nothin’ wrong with cheatin’!”.

bouncypony6
round of applause for Sofia’s face though

If that team had been comprised entirely of kids then ok, sure, kids are definitely jerks to each other sometimes. But there were adults participating in and witnessing this behavior. To teenagers. That they don’t even know. Their attitude and their actions really kind of stunned our girls, who know better than to ever act this way toward other people in any kind of competition. Luckily they are all good humans and they did not retaliate in any way, but it bothered them, and it ruined the good time.

It wasn’t so much that the other team cheated (which was lame but who really cares about a bouncy pony race?) it was how they went about it and the behavior that was displayed.

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riding lessons – 2 legs to 2 hands!

To me good sportsmanship does not start and stop as you pass through the ingate on the back of a horse, it’s something that should be on display at all times. ESPECIALLY if you are an adult. Extra-especially if you are an adult among children. Good sportsmanship comes from who you are as a person. It takes class, it takes humility, it takes kindness, it takes empathy, and it takes strength of character. I was happy to see that our girls displayed those things, even if some other folks didn’t. It’s not about whether you win or lose – it’s about how you do it. Maybe that team didn’t intend to come off this way, but they did. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to all of us that in competitive situations we have to be mindful of the things that we say and do, and how those things might impact others.

What do you guys think? Ever seen behavior like this at a horse show? How important is sportsmanship to you – on and off the horse?

20 thoughts on “The Importance of Sportsmanship

  1. There is no excuse- 100% good, if not great, sportsmanship always – to be exhibited by riders, cheerleaders, trainers, parents, siblings, friends, etc. Towards all of the above AND the horse they brought. NO excuses.

    p.s. having been in the adult division of bouncy pony races, AND having had a beer beforehand (which, is really the only way to do the race, lets be honest), there’s no way, on any planet, I could have been more humbled and less likely to yell at someone. LET ALONE A YOUNG PERSON. I was waaaaay too overwhelmed with benign embarrassment, laughter, the urge to pee my pants from said laughter, and eager to get the hell off that blessed bouncy pony (which was gratefully LESS bouncy than any pony I have ridden).

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  2. I feel like, as an adult rider, it is my RESPONSIBILITY to exhibit the very best sportsmanship behavior when I’m at a show. I am setting an example for the kids at my barn and the kids who see me at the show. Those people were assholes. Pardon my bad language, but there just isn’t another word that seems appropriate.

    I’ve seen plenty of bad behavior from adults at horse shows for my entire life, but nothing like you are describing. Petty parents that like to cheat (you know, by “accidentally” popping an umbrella next to the rail when their child’s fiercest competition is doing an outside line during their Handy course), adults whining about get screwed over by a judge, but never blatant, in their face ridiculousness like this. Can you or someone in your group file a complaint with some organization? My HR self feels a strong need to have their behavior at least documented so if they do something similar again, (and again), then appropriate action can be taken.

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    1. This exactly! We are supposed to be laying down a foundation of good sportsmanship and basic human courtesy that will hopefully be continued by the next generation of riders. Not humiliating them or showing bad habits. Bouncy pony races sound amazing, but people suck.

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    1. I really want this post to be about the importance of good sportsmanship, and let it serve as a reminder to all of us that what we do (and how we do it) really matters. I don’t want to turn it into a personal attack toward these individuals.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad they didn’t stoop to that level. They deserve kuddos!! So sad that the adult was teaching her kids that cheating and unsportsmanlike behavior are okay.

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  4. That’s pretty disgusting honestly. Especially so being encouraged by an adult? I think it’s more than just bad sportsmanship though, that’s just being a crappy human being in general.
    I’m glad your girls are better people than that,even when it’s being literally thrown in their faces. I LOVE how much fun they had with this event (especially the outfits!) and how seriously they took it. Those are some good kids you have in your barn family.

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  5. That is nuts. FOR A BOUNCY RACE (which was hilarious to see btw). I hate people so much and this is one reason why. People like this. What is the point of being shitty to the kids having fun?? Sounds like they had a few too many beers BEFORE the race even began.

    This just pisses me off. Fun event to relax and they have to get all competitive about it. what the hell is the point. Your team looked great though with the outfits etc. Teamwork ๐Ÿ™‚ YAY

    PS I love their Anchor shirts with their names on them. So great ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Wow. That’s unacceptable. I agree with you on all of the things about sportsmanship. When Amber and I showed last fall, I was always cheering everyone on and telling them congrats and I actually had someone come up to me and snidely ask if I could cheer softer and why was I even cheering anyway because I was in this class and why would I cheer for the competition? I was shocked and had no words for them. Yes I’m competitive but I want everyone to do well and let’s be adults and be happy for people! This is a tough sport for everyone and we all try our best.

    I would like to see the video, but I think you were probably good on not posting it. I find it’s one of those gray areas that we’d like to show people this is NOT what sportsmanship looks like but at the same time it could look like an attempt to single people out as an attack. It’s a weird place but man I always find it so disconcerting and upsetting and disappointing when I see adults do this kind of thing – especially to kids. Ugh.

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  7. I’m glad you blogged about this, because too often stuff like this gets swept under the rug. Bringing it to the light of day is the first step. We all know what’s OK and what’s not, and we’re all quick to agree that the folks who did this are in the wrong.

    But my question to us readers is: what are we, each of us individually, going to do about it? Because if we don’t stand up and say something, right then and there, we are as good as condoning it.

    Don’t get me wrong, standing up and saying something in the moment is REALLY FUCKING HARD. I hate confrontation and will avoid it at all costs. But recently I was in a situation where this kind of thing was happening on a daily basis. Everyone knew the perpetrator and (uncomfortably) laughed off the behavior. For YEARS. When the #metoo movement was at its height, I decided that I was finally going to do something about it.

    I practiced what I was going to say. I went over scenarios in my head. I did this for probably a month before I got up the nerve to confront the person, in the moment that it happened.

    “That’s not OK for you to say.” “That’s inappropriate.” “That’s unprofessional.” “You need to stop.” Those were my phrases. At first I got a shocked look. Then I got a couple of snide comments. I stayed calm (although my heart was racing), stuck by my phrases and repeated them. Eventually, I got an apology, and the behavior has since stopped.

    I now have a small arsenal of phrases for calling people out, in the moment. I’ve practiced them, practiced breathing through the anxiety that imagining a confrontation causes, practiced staying calm if things escalate. I’m trying to be better about actually standing up in the moment because there are so many times that I regret NOT having said something.

    We’ve all witnessed stuff like this first hand, probably many times. We’ve all whispered about it after the fact. But my question is, to all of us… what are YOU going to do about it, next time you see it happening? What are you going to say? Because all the awareness in the world doesn’t stop behavior like this unless someone stands up and says something, right then and there.

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  8. I remember similar things when I went to small shows with friends. Purely as a spectator.
    There were always rich kids, completely overhorsed on an expensive horse or pony. They were snotty to the competing kids, bratty to downright abusive towards their mounts..but what really took the cake were the parents..
    Dear sweet baby Jesus, the things THEY said or did to other children riding in the same classes as their own? Left me speechless. I was a teen back then and I didn’t have the courage to speak up against an adult. Often enoufh these people were dponsors too, though…so chances are that nobody would’ve done anything anyway.

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  9. It’s really sad that this kind of incident tarnished an otherwise great trip for these girls. It’s hard enough to develop confidence and self- esteem as an adolescent, and those so-called adults were way out of line. I’d hope that the organizers dealt with the cheaters. “I’m sorry, your last team member did not follow the rules by carrying the pony. Your team is disqualified. Well done Team Anchor!” Let the rest of the team deal with the miscreant who lost the race for them. If that did not happen, let the committee know you’re disappointed that crap behavior was rewarded.
    Bystander training is a formal thing on college campuses now. Jenj has the right idea. It’s all of our responsibility to stand up and say NO to bad behavior when we see it. If direct confrontation is too hard, distract, call in official help, or do something to show support for the victim. There’s usually something that can be done in the moment, if we are determined.
    Betsy in WI

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  10. My ungracious first guess: They were drunk.

    People don’t have to be staggering to be significantly impaired, behaviorally. It just sounds like things someone would do when they think they are the life of the party, only because they are drunk. And even if others are laughing to ease the embarrassment, everyone else thinks that person is just a butthead.

    Did they throw water balloons at others, too? Not that it matters, just curious if the visitors were singled out, or if they shared the joy more equally.

    IMO it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the organizer and whoever the organizer chooses have a chance to see that video, privately. Sometimes people (especially drunk/impaired people) don’t realize how not-funny and truly-awful they are being until they see it played back for them. Seeing their own behavior can create some realizations and some changes.

    A bit shocking that whoever was running the race didn’t have a quiet word with the bad actors. But it could be that they have been around the same block before, and were concerned about the situation deteriorating and getting loud, objectionable and even more embarrassing, as might be likely with drunks.

    Hopefully the organizer and and bad actors all get a chance to see what this looked like from the outside, and think ‘soberly’ about how they would like to do things in the future. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  11. And how lovely that the Texas contingent showed such good sportsmanship in spite of this behavior by others! Sounds like the younger people would have been good models for roe certain adults to emulate. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I hope the youngsters have some good memories of their part in the costumes, at least. ๐Ÿ™‚

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