Leading Her On

More thoughtful commentary from reader Louise Swan. Previous post by Louise: I Beg to Differ, A Guest Post. Welcome Louise:

My father was the Gunnery Officer on a Liberty Ship in the Pacific during  World War 2.  It was a long way between ports of call. Not one to sit idle, he kept busy by making conch shell jewelry for my mother and canvas duffel bags for himself.

And he played cribbage.  Our whole family was good at cards and Dad was especially good. I don’t know whether he learned cribbage on board ship or whether he knew it before he enlisted. I suspect the latter. 

Since the Captain was an avid cribbage player, he and Dad, the two officers, spent many hours playing. One of the first things he did when he returned home was to teach me how to play. I was about four years old.

In a recent post [Part 1], Katherine’s mother noted that all of the riders in the lead line class were so good that they all got blue ribbons. One reader objected to that result.

Let me explain how my father taught me cribbage. At first, after each hand, he showed me the points I had missed and added them to my score.

Once I started beating him, he showed me the points but I did not get credit for them. Once I started beating him with those rules, he raised the bar again.

We played from then on as the game should be played: if your opponent sees points you missed, those points are added to the opponents score, not yours. By that time, I knew how to play the game we had a level playing field. Decades later, I now play cribbage on my iPad.

If I had played by the “grown-up” rules at the start, I would not have continued playing. There was so much to learn all at once that losing every time would have made the effort pointless, especially at four.

The same is true with horse shows. There is so much to learn: working with a horse, getting all dressed up, waiting and waiting and then being in the ring on display. If at the end of it, you lose, what is the point to a three-year old?

It is important to absorb the culture of the show, especially the very real dangers of riding and being around horses. Unlike cribbage, mistakes with horses can be fatal. Learn well and learn wisely but learn. If a young rider is discouraged early on, that will be the end of that riding career.

Other riders know that a lead line First has a different context than the other blues. Other riders want the next generation to love the sport. Other riders are delighted to see the tiny ones’ broad smile at the end of the class.

The result isn’t a handful of questionable blues but a handful of future riders and a healthy horse show world.

3 thoughts on “Leading Her On

  1. The club I ride shows with has made what I think is a really nice compromise between the two ends. In the classes the judges are asked to rank the rides, but then the riders get all blue ribbons. During the class while they are trying so hard the kids are thrilled. Their rankings though count just like placings for our year end awards, so a child who gets “first blue” all year wins the high point award, “second blue” gets a red high point second place ribbon. That way they so get some feedback about how well they actually rode, but separated from the sweat and bored waiting not-gettin-dirty at the show. It seems to help motivate the kids without discouraging them.

  2. We organised a kiddy class in our dressage shows back in Cork. The kids were marked per movement and whoever was judging always tried to find something positive or at least helpful about each movement. Eg “Nice active walk but a bit wobbly” for a walk down the centre line. We didn’t add up their scores (but I’m sure the older kids did that themselves) and we didn’t post their scores on the results board. They all got the same multi-coloured ribbons afterwards.
    They seemed to enjoy it and we certainly saw the regulars improving over time. Most of them started off on the lead rein and we sometimes had to give a low mark because Mom or Dad had made a mistake… this was always noted in the comments! I seem to remember one judge writing “You can be very cross with Dad” on a sheet!

  3. I agree wholeheartedly! Learn in increments. Let them enjoy the experience before the real world comes crashing down around them!

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