To The Equestrian Judge That Tried To Break My Spirit

To The Equestrian Judge That Tried To Break My Spirit

You may have won the battle, but you didn't win the war.

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There is a special thrill as a child being in the saddle for the first time. This animal delivered to me a whole new perspective of the world in all of its glory. I lived for the lessons these horses silently taught me — to be responsible, to cherish all life, to be brave in the face of adversity, and the list continues. Most of the valuable lessons I hold dear were taught by the horses I have had the honor of riding, leasing, and owning.

I wouldn't be the person I am today without these horses I adore so much, but I would be wrong if I didn't say that the coaches who taught me how to ride and the judges I have asked for advice didn't teach me valuable lessons as well. Believe it or not, even the judge who laughed in my face and insulted me showed me a crucial lesson as well. There will always be someone who doesn't like me no matter how hard I try to impress everyone.

I competed at a three-day long horse show during the summer when I was eighteen back in 2015, and I was excited because after three years of hard work Boomer and I were finally competitive to take on the big and burly quarter horses that reigned over the arena. Boomer is an Arabian horse, a relatively uncommon breed to show at this particular show and even more unusual to compete in the specific sport of Ranch Horse Pleasure.

Ranch Horse Pleasure is an equestrian sport that was made for every rider and horse. If your horse wasn't cut out for the thrilling sport of Reining and wasn't slow enough to be competitive in Western Pleasure, then Ranch Horse Pleasure was the perfect sport for avid riders. This fun and new sport was what Boomer and I planned to compete in as a stepping stone to reining, and given his almost lazy nature, he was pretty good at it.

Boomer waiting patiently for me at the gate. Photo Credit: Danielle Weeks

Although this particular horse show wasn't a top-level horse show, the competition was still very tough. Classes are often full of horses worth tens of thousands of dollars in bloodlines and training, but Boomer had proven his worth before even though I got him for free and did a large portion of his training on my own for years before this show.

The professional training Boomer did have, was earned by me through hours upon hours of saddling up horses, feeding horses, cleaning stalls, working horses, and doing other tasks around the barn for my trainers to earn training time and lessons. The work was difficult especially while I was working two different jobs, and going to junior college full time, but it was worth it seeing how well my trainers polished Boomer into an even better horse.

On the first day of competition, Boomer performed well, and the judge for the first day scored us well above my expectations. Afterward, I asked this judge for feedback, and she kindly complimented us while pointing out some criticisms she noticed to help us do better. I took note of this for the next day, and after I fed, watered, and cleaned up after twenty or so horses, Boomer and I practiced for the second day of showing and nailed our pattern. I knew we were going to do great, and I was thrilled to perform tomorrow!

But after our performance on the second day, we received a strange score. Boomer performed better than yesterday, but we received a lower rating. After my class, I took care of Boomer and the other horses and went to the office to look at my scorecard. I figured, if the judge saw anything I didn't feel, he would have written it down on the card.

When I arrived, I could see the judge putting the scorecards into the binder for the day, and I was happy I could catch him before he left for the night. When I walked up to him, I introduced myself and shook his hand, and he was very polite until I described the horse I was riding today.

The immediate change in attitude this man had was so noticeable it almost made me hesitate to continue, but I still asked, "Is there anything you saw today that I could improve on with my horse?"

Boomer and I at the three-day horse show. Taken on the second day. Photo Credit: David Weeks

Apparently, my question was funny for him, because he laughed at me as if I told him a joke, but not before telling me, "Yeah, get rid of that crazy Arab and buy yourself a real ranch horse."

My jaw dropped, and all I could do was watch him walk away from me with an astounded look on my face. Shock turned in to horror because I knew this man's dislike of my horse cost me the horse show. The thousands of hours and dollars I had spent to get to this point, was gone. None of my hard work had mattered because of this one judge who decided my horse and I didn't deserve to be here.

I dragged my feet back to the barn because it was beginning to get dark and the horses needed to be fed and watered for the night. I still wore a dumbfounded look all the way to my horse's stall, but I looked at Boomer and saw he was already watching me. When I looked at him, he let out a soft breath and walked up to the door and waited for me to pet him. I doubt he knew I was going to come into his stall and sob into his mane, but I did, because no matter how cruel people are at least Boomer's hair is thick enough to soak up my emotions.

The last day of the show went well and the judge was fair at. Unfortunately, with the averaged scores for the weekend, the second score I received by the terrible judge booted me out of the top five, and I lost out on earning a championship buckle and ribbon.

I thought long and hard about continuing to show Boomer in Ranch Riding and Reining, and I thought, maybe he was right. Perhaps I didn't belong in the sport. I saw the glares. I heard the comments that my friends and I overheard. I know the things people told my Mother, because, "[she] let her daughter ride an Arabian? Don't you know they're crazy?!" Making my Mother feel uncomfortable to be at this horse show as well.

Making my Mother uncomfortable, and the terrible judge affirmed to me that I would never return to the three-day show that gave me such a bad experience.

However, a year later I competed for the first time in Reining at a horse show series consisting of four horse shows over four months. At the end of it, Boomer and I earned a Championship and Reserve Championship buckle in our two classes. Boomer was the only Arabian to compete at the series. The year after that in 2017, we won three Reserve Championships in Ranch Horse Pleasure at a different show.

So, nice try to the judge who told me my horse and I didn't belong in this sport. I will continue to ride my 'crazy Arabian' in Reining and Ranch Riding shows and we will tear up the arena and clean up the ribbons and buckles because we have done it before and after we experienced your terrible judgment. I'll admit that you may have won the battle, but you didn't win the war. Boomer and I are not done yet, and your bad attitude isn't stopping us.

Boomer and I with our amazing Reining trainer Steven Allen after we earned our Reserve Champion buckle in Oroville California. My other amazing reining trainer, Chantel Allen took this photo that I still cherish.

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To The Coach Who Ruined The Game For Me

We can't blame you completely, but no one has ever stood up to you before.
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I know you never gave it a second thought, the idea that you're the reason I and many others, never went any farther in our athletic careers.

I know you didn't sincerely care about our mental health, as long as we were physically healthy and our bodies were working enough to play. It's obvious your calling wasn't coaching and you weren't meant to work with young adults, some who look to you as a parent figure or a confidant.

I also know that if we were to express our concerns about the empty feeling we began to feel when we stepped onto the court, you wouldn't have taken the conversation seriously because it wasn't your problem.

I know we can't blame you completely, no one has ever stood up to you before. No one said anything when girls would spend their time in the locker room crying because of something that was said or when half the team considered quitting because it was just too much.

We can't get mad at the obvious favoritism because that's how sports are played.

Politics plays a huge role and if you want playing time, you have to know who to befriend. We CAN get mad at the obvious mistreatment, the empty threats, the verbal abuse, “It's not what you say, its how you say it."

We can get mad because a sport that we loved so deeply and had such passion for, was taken away from us single-handedly by an adult who does not care. I know a paycheck meant more to you than our wellbeing, and I know in a few years you probably won't even remember who we are, but we will always remember.

We will remember how excited we used to get on game days and how passionate we were when we played. How we wanted to continue on with our athletic careers to the next level when playing was actually fun. We will also always remember the sly remarks, the obvious dislike from the one person who was supposed to support and encourage us.

We will always remember the day things began to change and our love for the game started to fade.

I hope that one day, for the sake of the young athletes who still have a passion for what they do, you change.

I hope those same athletes walk into practice excited for the day, to get better and improve, instead of walking in with anxiety and worrying about how much trouble they would get into that day. I hope those athletes play their game and don't hold back when doing it, instead of playing safe, too afraid to get pulled and benched the rest of the season.

I hope they form an incredible bond with you, the kind of bond they tell their future children about, “That's the coach who made a difference for me when I was growing up, she's the reason I continued to play."

I don't blame you for everything that happened, we all made choices. I just hope that one day, you realize that what you're doing isn't working. I hope you realize that before any more athletes get to the point of hating the game they once loved.

To the coach that ruined the game for me, I hope you change.

Cover Image Credit: Author's photo

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I Wouldn't Trade My DII Experience To Play DI Athletics Any Day

I'm thankful that I didn't go DI because I wouldn't have had the best four-year experience as a college athlete.

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As a high school athlete, the only goal is to play your varsity sport at the Division 1 level in college.

No one in high school talks about going to a Division 2 or 3 school, it's as if the only chance you have at playing college athletics is at the DI level. However, there are so many amazing opportunities to play a varsity sport at the DII and DIII level that are equally fun and competitive as playing for a division 1 team.

As a college athlete at the DII level, I hear so many DI athletes wishing they had played at the DII or DIII level. Because the fact of the matter is this: the division you play in really doesn't matter.

The problem is that DII and DIII sports aren't as celebrated as Division 1 athletics. You don't see the National Championships of Division 2 and 3 teams being broadcasted or followed by the entire country. It's sad because the highest levels of competition at the DII and DIII level are competing against some of the Division 1 teams widely celebrated across the country. Yet DII and DIII teams don't receive the recognition that DI athletics do.

Not everyone can be a DI athlete but that doesn't mean it's easy to be a DII or DIII athlete. The competition is just as tough as it is at the top for DII and DIII athletes. Maybe the stakes are higher for these athletes because they have to prove they are just as good as DI athletes. Division 2 and 3 athletes have just as much grit and determination as Division 1 athletes, without the glorified title of being "a division 1 athlete."

Also, playing at the DII or DIII level grants more opportunities to make your college experience your own, not your coach's.

I have heard countless horror stories in athletics over the course of my four-year journey however, the most heartbreaking come from athletes who lose their drive to compete because of the increased pressure from coaches or program. Division 1 athletics are historically tougher programs than Division 2 or 3 programs, making an athlete's college experience from one division to another significantly different.

The best part of not going to a division 1 school is knowing that even though my team doesn't have "DI" attached to it, we still have the opportunity to do something unique every time we arrive at an event. Just because we aren't "DI" athletes, we still have the drive and competitive spirit to go to an event and win. We are great players, and we have broken countless records as a team.

That's something we all have done together, and it's something we can take with us for the rest of our lives.

We each have our own mission when it comes to our college athletic careers, however together we prove to be resilient in the fight for the title. Giving it all when we practice and play is important, but the memories we have made behind the scenes as a team makes it all worth it, too.

The best part of being apart of college athletics is being able to be passionate about your sport with teammates that embody that same mindset. It's an added benefit to having teammates who become your best friends because it makes your victories even more victorious, and your defeats easier to bare.

No matter what level an athlete is playing at in college, it's important that all the hours spent at practice and on the road should be enjoyed with teammates that make the ride worthwhile. The experiences athletes have at any level are going to vary, but the teammates I have and the success we've had together is something I cherish and will take with me forever. I'm thankful that I didn't go DI because I wouldn't have had the best four-year experience as a college athlete.

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