Learning to Be a Good Loser

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


“If you’re not first, you’re last” is a phrase I’ve heard a lot in my riding career. It was used in dead seriousness, as a phrase of endearment, or as a joke (as it often was on my college equestrian team). There is a lot to be said about placings at horse shows and how we as competitors react towards how we do. When used in complete seriousness, the above phrase is very far from hitting the mark. 

What is important for each and every competitor to understand is that “everyone wins well, but not everyone loses well,” as my trainer likes to say. I’ve thought about this phrase a lot, and put some thought into how I lose. A year ago if you asked me if I was a good loser, I would have answered, “Absolutely not.”

I became a perfectionist with my riding during my years competing in IHSA. My first two years at school I was in a lower level due to my lack of a show record, and didn’t get a lot of practice losing which caused extra disappointment from my end when I didn’t do well. My coach would allow everyone on my team “30 minutes and a cookie,” before we had to get over our rough ride and get back to being a team player. A few times I very clearly remember taking all 30 of those minutes to get over my results. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

It wasn’t until I got into a higher level of IHSA and dipped my toes in some real rated competitions as a working student that I realized not only was I definitely not always going to be the winner, but being the “loser” wasn’t always such a bad thing. Each experience I have had in the show ring has been an opportunity to grow as a rider and a competitor. 

Now, my style is much more “You can’t win them all.” I’ve learned that there’s much more to each class than the color ribbon you get at the end. This was very hard for the perfectionist in me to learn, considering the fact that I still beat myself up just a little bit for the things I did wrong on my way back to the barn. 

I’ve learned to look at the good from each round and be proud of the things that I did well. I also consider the circumstances—Was it a huge class? Was I competing against all professionals? Was the only problem on my course a tight distance or a sticky change? If you are able pick out the good parts and make yourself feel better about the circumstances, you can count those good things as individual wins and look at it as progress in your riding. After all, learning from your own mistakes is the best way to learn.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

This sport we do is incredibly competitive, and the fact that there can only be one winner per class puts more pressure on us all. There is so much for each of us to learn every time we step in the show ring, and the lessons don’t stop after we finish our course. Just as you should always pet your horse, always pick out the best parts of your ride before being hard on yourself about the not-so-great parts. And remember that taking out your frustration on the people around you (trainers, friends, barn staff, parents, etc.) is not the answer—especially when all of these people are there to support you.

Obviously a blue ribbon is the “best” ribbon, but I’ve learned that it’s all perspective. Learning to see the good and become a good loser is a valuable lesson—even more so for those of us that are perfectionists in this sport. 

Can I confidently say there will ever be a day that I am not hard on myself for the silly mistakes I make in the ring? No, because that’s not the kind of competitor I am. What I will say is that I will continue to look for the good in each round, and use all the bad moments as something to learn off of. After all, not always winning makes the blue ribbon feel that much better. 

Amanda is currently working in Sales and Marketing in the Equine Industry. She was the captain of her college IHSA team at the University of New Hampshire, and has been a working student for the past 6 years. Adult life has not left her as much time to ride, but she is looking forward to getting back to the barn and in the show ring as soon as time allows!