BY PIPER KLEMM, PH.D
Fall is in the air–crisp mornings, pumpkin spice everything, and the regression in horsemanship skills we see at our most prestigious horse shows and national championships.
The industry is thriving. Horses are selling, people are showing, and competition is greater and more important than ever. Wins are historically hard to come by, and at the same time, there are more divisions than ever. Fueled by social media, value judgements placed on trainers based on their success—or perceived success—have reached epic proportions.
The purpose of this publisher’s note is to encourage everyone to add a few more steps to their processes of making decisions.
To ask themselves a few more questions before landing on a conclusion. Why do people not do better? Well, either they don’t know better and it is an education issue, or they simply choose not to do better. We could parse out why that is–financial pressure, fear, ego–but I believe that overcomplicates it. Either we have learning to do or better choices to make.
Our sport could be so much better if every single one of us could take a step back and think about the bigger picture. If we think about the whole careers for students and horses. If we take a moment, take a deep breath, and control our fear.
And just so we’re all clear, the opposite intent of this pub note is to spend time judging people. Spend all your thoughts reading this piece working on yourself and conversing with your inner circle on how to handle situations better and support each other in improvement.
What is the right thing to do?
If you ask yourself one question, let it be this one. A deep breath and asking ourselves if whatever we are doing is the right thing to do can go a long way. For every big and little decision: “Should I wait for the larger lunging circle?” “Should I walk for five more minutes before I start trotting?” “Should I skip this horse show?” “Is it time to step this horse down?” “Am I putting my clients’ goals over my horse’s welfare?” “Are my clients pressuring me to alter my values?”
You can sit with all these questions and determine what is the right thing to do.
How do we all take responsibility to constructively improve our sport? This takes all of us adding value to our sport. I don’t mean money. What do you want out of the sport? What do you expect from the sport? Are you expecting more than what you put into your horses, your people, students, people who look up to you, people who are where you were, and making the sport a better place? If not, you’re not adding value. Start. Every bit is better than not. Take a moment to teach someone something they want to learn. Bring snacks. It doesn’t need to be monumental. It just needs to move the needle.
If you ask yourself, ‘How am I adding value to this situation?’ and can’t come up with an answer, either leave that process to others, or find a way to improve the project with your value. If you want to “invest in horses,” where are you adding value in that chain? If you want to have an industry business that affords you the time and money to ride, where are you adding value to horses’ lives? Where are you adding to people’s lives?
In order to do better for our sport—now and looking toward the future—I firmly believe that we need to ask ourselves questions. Every day. Some examples…
Are you blaming others? How much more responsibility could you take in this situation?
Think about whether you are actually the victim or the victim in your own mind before you play the blame game. Are you mad because you wanted to win, or because you watched the whole class from the judge’s angle? Are you being a good sport? Are people who look up to you watching you? If so, behave accordingly. Are you holding yourself accountable? The list goes on with questions to ask yourself before placing blame.
Is note-giving the answer here?
If your notes are unsolicited, consider them criticism. Is this an appropriate time to give someone your notes? Are you giving for you or for them?
Will a given decision do right by the humans who have done right by me? Will this decision improve or detract from the relationships I would like to have over the long-term?
Our human relationships will outlive almost everything else in this sport. Are you aligned with the people you want on your side? Are they inclined to be aligned with you long-term?
Is this decision constructively improving or regressing our ______ (horse/sport/student)?
Much of life arrives instantaneously. It’s hard to take a moment and look at a bigger picture of how a single action or idea can impact the future. Take a quick look around while you might still have the chance to opt out. Does a given decision improve or regress our community?
Is this decision improving the metagame or the game?
Metagame is one of the most important aspects of our sport that’s very teachable and designed to go on top of quality training, time, and learning the ‘game.’ How much metagame can I improve and ‘get away with it’?
Am I making this decision because ‘this is how I’ve always done it?’ Is it still the right thing to do in 2022? Is there anything you learned long ago that is worth revisiting?
The world is changing. Many things have not changed at all. Many things have. Our decisions and our plans need to evolve to serve the types of horses, people, and competition that we are encountering in our world. Is your decision—one that may or may not have been the right decision in the past—still the right decision to make today? What experience can you draw from to make better decisions? There were no “good ol’ days” in this sport. It might be easy to look back on the days before livestreams and accountability, but our sport has always had issues galore. It’s been full of shame, ostracization, outright theft, bad decisions, and various sins to numb responsibility. Greed has always been the achilles heel of our sport, and there was never any shortage of it.
Are you assessing enough opportunity?
Constant opportunity recognition, opportunity assessment, and opportunity realization are necessary to keep any horse, relationship, and business moving in the right direction.
Do you have students or clients?
Trainers: Is your program focused on having students or clients? Are you clear with clients about what they are and what they will and won’t walk away with from your program?
Riders: Do you know who you are, what you want, and keep your expectations in check? Are you expecting the results of a student when you’re acting like a client? Is that right?
Is there a boundary here? Is that boundary worth violating for my goals? Is the boundary in line with my principles and what is right?
We learn our own boundaries by testing them, and it’s easy to say ‘just this once’ or, ‘this horse just needs to last through one show or one season.’ Where are your boundaries on horse care? Where were your boundaries as a child? Have they shifted an amount that you are comfortable with?
Have I watched enough of X to do it? Do I really know what I’m trying to do?
Have I done enough research, reading, learning, or watching, to have this be a fair task to ask of my horses, students, or friends? Am I exhausting my mentors because I’m not putting in the work myself? Is the answer in the ‘syllabus’ and I’m not putting in the energy to look it up? Are you horse and/or your people burdened by your lack of preparation?
Am I confusing money with purpose?
Look at your clients. Many people with a lot of money are very unhappy and unfulfilled.
Am I conflating the promotion of myself or my barn or winning with someone else’s goals or ideals?
How important is winning and/or winning at this particular show for me? Why is that? Do I feel the need to win to attract more clients or promote my career? Are these reasons important to this horse or this particular client? Is it their job to serve my goals?
Am I being loyal or acting with integrity? Which one is the desirable trait for me to possess in this situation?
Just because you’ve been friends or collaborated with someone for a long time doesn’t mean they’re making good decisions in a situation or that you need to endorse bad behavior.
What is your contract with your horse? What do you owe them? What did you promise them?
Think about what you think you owe this horse. Think about what you would have thought you owed this horse as a younger person. Are you doing right by them?
Is the value in the reward?
Anyone who needs a reward to be a good horseperson isn’t a good horseperson. Good horsepeople do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Step up and be a good steward to your horses.
Does what you’re doing involve calling someone else crazy or stupid?
Is that productive? It’s so simple and so easy to develop this habit of dismissing others.
Is this my timeline or my horse’s timeline?
Is there a lot of ‘horse waste’ in how I conduct myself in this business? How do I ethically handle that? What strategic alliances can I make so that my horses, who support my career, have a lifelong lifeline in a supportive network?
Do horses that ‘fail’ out of your program have a good life with good coping mechanisms? Do you give your horses all the coping mechanisms that your program requires?
What makes someone an expert?
Are some people in your life more or less knowledgeable than they used to be, or than you consider them? Could they be more or less helpful in your own decision making?
Did I use the phrase “I suppose it’s easier” at any point in making this decision?
And what does that tell me?
How many times am I asking my horses, students, and staff to peak? Is that really constructive to long-term learning?
Is there truly time in my schedule to learn new material with the appropriate challenges, feedback, and repetition? Is there a time where we could have a conscious constructive learning environment, either at home or in the show ring?
Did I shame someone else for trying or trying to learn?
We should not be shaming people for trying. Hard stop.
Have you considered “the photos” as a reason to do something?
If you are doing anything ‘for the photos,’ you’re doing it to brag on social media. Not because it’s the right call for your horse, your students, or your humans.
Are we expecting others to be something that is beyond human?
Are you expecting good people to be superhuman? Everyone can have a bad day without being a bad person.
Are you confused by goals and results?
Goals are items you work to improve and accomplish. Results are the byproducts of successful goal-setting, hard work, and achievement of goals.
Are you being governed by fear?
Trainers are afraid of their clients. Horse shows are afraid of their sponsors. Course designers are afraid of complaints. Judges are afraid of being vilified. Everyone fears lawsuits and threats, from which the governing body doesn’t exactly protect any horse shows or officials. Our divisions are bigger than ever, our riders are riding better than ever, our horses are more competitive than ever. The importance of every single competition is at an all-time high, and yet we sit here worrying about our future. We have built so much up together and yet somehow we all feel alone and scared. We need to stand up for high standards and keep the bar high for all of us to achieve.
Are you making a mess or leaving a mess?
Making a mess is okay. It’s part of progress and most good processes. Leaving a mess is never cool. In any situation.
Is it easier to do than teach?
Our kids aren’t really learning anything about our sport when it’s much easier to just do for our clients than it is to teach them. Teaching is always the more difficult option. Do it anyway. Want it for your children anyways. Appreciate the people who take the time to let your children struggle. Know the people who let you figure it out and become independent are truly caring about you in a long-term sense.
Are we overcorrecting a prior mistake?
When we are afraid, we tend to completely overcorrect. We went from a sport of brave, cavalier, and reckless old timers who felt no consequences with neither Internet nor Cancel Culture. Today, there is accountability to every action, every moment, every step, and we all feel the consequences of that scrutiny. That level of overcorrection in every single action we make serves none of us.
If the risk of this decision doesn’t go my way, is that a gamble I can afford?
Not just money. Can you make a decision with a horse that you know could go south? Could you watch it if or when it does? Can you handle the repercussions that you came into this sport because you love horses and become something else entirely?
If this decision was put on the cover of The Plaid Horse, would I be proud of it? Is this decision adding to the reputation that I’m hoping to build?
Am I doing right by my community?
Is winning at whatever cost you put on this worth it?
Is it the right thing for my horse? Is it the right thing for me? If the answer to both is yes, do it.
Is it the right thing for me? If not, make a decision with your trainer.
Is it the right thing for my horse? No? Don’t do it.
Piper Klemm, Ph.D.
Follow me on Instagram at @piperklemm
Piper will be at all of the Indoors horse shows and would love to discuss any one of these topics with you in person. Come say hi!
If you would like to respond to this piece, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Plaid Horse is committed to publishing various opinions, stories, and experiences on every topic.
*This story was originally published in the October/November 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!