The word “sportsmanship” is thrown around today like it is a style word or some option to accept or reject if we feel like it, well-respected horseman Dale Livingston says. “It gets brought up at the year-end awards banquets but is seldom exhibited lately. Don’t get me wrong, true horsemen/women don’t generally act in an unsportsmanlike manner. I believe this is because their emphasis, their efforts and thoughts are spent on the performance of the horse, not on themselves,” Livingston explained. “When we see unsportsmanlike conduct in competition, it is always connected to an immature and selfish person’s actions, and frankly they don’t care what anyone else thinks or has to deal with. All they care about is their self, whether they are a trainer, exhibitor, owner or fan.”
Top clinician Andy Moorman mentions that there seems to be a growing lack of respect toward each other in peoples daily lives as well as at the horse shows. “Bad behavior is being rewarded and set up on a pedestal,” Moorman said. “It is very difficult for AQHA and other people that have good knowledge and judgment to stand up and be counted because they are afraid of the backlash.”
Sportsmanship is defined as: playing fair, following the rules of the event, respecting the judgment of the officials and treating opponents or other competitors with respect. Some define good sportsmanship as the “golden rule” of sports — in other words, treating the people you compete with and against as you’d like to be treated yourself. Good sportsmanship is exhibited when you show respect for yourself, for your competitors or opponents, for those who support your performance whether they be a client, family or friend, as well as respect to the judges, ring stewards and those who hold the competition, Livingston remarked. “Sportsmanship isn’t just reserved for the people in the arena or warm-up pen. Fans, owners, family and friends also need to be aware of how they behave during our competitions. Sportsmanship is not a style, it is an attitude we need to exhibit more often if we intend to continue to thrive. Respect is the quintessential part in achieving sportsmanship and it can have a positive influence on everyone around when it is given to all involved.”
AQHA, APHA, and NSBA all have sections in their rulebooks dealing with unsportsmanlike behavior and the disciplinary procedures that take place for certain behavior. Show management has the right to expel any individuals from the show grounds that exhibit inappropriate behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct to help maintain the decorum at that particular show. Judges have the ability to oust any exhibitor from the arena for unsportsmanlike conduct, and they can recommend to show management that these individuals be asked to leave the show grounds. Also, a particular complaint must be in writing and presented to the Disciplinary Hearing Committee for NSBA and the Executive Committee for APHA and AQHA. Each individual involved in a dispute has the right to their day in court. The evidence of misconduct is presented at these hearings, and the committee members solely determine the punishment for each particular incident. Unsportsmanlike conduct is not taken likely but it is, at times, hard to prove and many people who file the complaints are not willing to ultimately follow through with the long legal process to find someone guilty of an infraction.
In light of what happened at this year’s Reichert Celebration and recently at other competitions across the country involving incidents such as fights, riding while intoxicated, abusing horses, and other unsportsmanlike behavior, many individuals are calling into question the integrity of some trainers in this industry. For the few readers that don’t know what occurred in Tulsa, there was a huge scene after the $250,000 Two-Year Old Challenge involving grown men and women physically assaulting one another after the class did not go quite as planned. It resulted in numerous police cars and an ambulance coming to the scene. Some people site the large amount of money at stake as the cause for trainers behaving badly. Others explain that alcohol mixed with intense emotions caused this unfortunate incident.
Non Pro Nancy Wilkerson who won the 2 Year-Old Non-Pro Western Pleasure with A Sensational Zippo at the Reichert witnessed this incident and was disappointed in the poor display of sportsmanship. “What was the saddest to me is that everybody was not speaking of the horse that won the big money class but the brawl afterward.” Novice Amateur Micah Howard from Nashville, Tennessee also saw this unpleasant event. Here are his thoughts about what took place. “Horses are animals; they are subject to be less than perfect at any moment. The outcome of this particular high dollar class wasn’t great. In all honesty, I was embarrassed by the actions of the professional horsemen as a result of this class. Their actions made me seriously take stock of why I love this business and caused me to evaluate just what part I wanted to play in this business anymore,” Howard said. “I did take into consideration that a win of this particular class would make or break any trainer. However, the lack of professionalism shown, as a result of this class, was absolutely inappropriate. I believe that professional horsemen should be held to a high standard of professionalism in competition. They are representing the best in show of our breed. They are competing as professionals. Act like it. Yes, there is pressure; there are dollars at stake; there are reputations at stake; there are clients to be had or lost, but being professional and taking the high road will win in the end.”
As far as solutions, Howard adds, “I would like to see some sort of standard set with our professionals in the form of competing while under the influence. We can’t show horses on certain performance enhancing drugs, so why should we allow our professional horsemen to show intoxicated. To me, as a client, if my trainer is showing while intoxicated, it says to me that he/she isn’t taking my hard earned dollars seriously. I will say that not all of the blame should be placed on the professionals either. As the clients, we have the ability to remove our horse from a situation if we feel it isn’t going to be shown to the best of its ability. We depend on our professionals to do their jobs and prep the horses to the best of their ability and to exhibit them in the same manner. However, if more clients would demand that the trainer also conduct himself/herself in a professional manner, then this would certainly contribute to a better system.”
AQHA World Champion Hunter trainer Sandy Vaughn also believes there should be drug and alcohol testing for our trainers and riders. “My position on this is where there is that much money and alcohol you have trouble. If all other pro sports have to drug and alcohol test, F.E.I Olympic Jumpers, NASCAR, swimmers, football, baseball, and soccer, etc. – why not the riders? I suggested it last year at the convention for one of the rule changes. Not all shows but randomly and at all the big ones just like drug testing for the horses. I think integrity, acting like an adult and controlling our emotions is important. Alcohol is a strong thing. It can control us and make us do things we would never do sober. I am no angel, but when we partied it was when the work was done.”
Select Amateur Allison Ham mentions that fights break out in a variety of events. “Did you see the fight after the Oregon/Boise State football game? The Oregon player was suspended for part of the season and was in line for a top NFL draft pick, that is until this happened. One of the statements after the incident was great, ‘Play with emotion, don’t let emotion play with us.’ The NCAA has strict rules concerning sportsmanship. The NCAA definition of sportsmanship is: Sportsmanship is a set of behaviors to be exhibited by student-athletes, coaches, game officials, administrators and fans in athletics competition. These behaviors are based on values, especially respect and integrity,” Ham said.
Pleasure trainer Suzy Jeane remarks that when incidents like these happen at the horse shows there needs to be an automatic fine and suspension of these individuals. “It shouldn’t be where someone has to turn these people in in order to get some action. There should be strict rules that are automatically enforced.”
Highly respected multi-carded judge Andrea Simons mentions that she believes the fight at the Reichert was an isolated yet unfortunate incident. “Hopefully, we will all learn from this event,” Simons said. “J.R. Reichert runs a fabulous show and I take my hats off to them for being the first in the industry to elevate our industry to a new level.” Simons adds, “I understand some trainers were involved in unsportsmanlike behavior, but I don’t believe it is in their true nature. In times of crisis, some of these same individuals are ready to do anything to help people out.”
AQHA Ambassador Lynn Palm and Carol Harris of Bo-Bett Farms mention that there needs to be a steward system set up a lot like the one the USEF has in place. “It will make our shows more professional and emphasize correct horsemanship,” Palm said. “It would also help encourage everybody to abide by the rules while on the show grounds.”
Trainers need to realize that they are role models to our children and that their bad behavior does not set a good example. AQHA judge and trainer Rebecca Halvorson believes that good sportsmanship needs to be brought back to the forefront of our industry. “We spend our whole lives competing and competition is healthy. We have parents that work so hard to make sure that there child never gets hurt or gets beat at absolutely anything (even meaningless things). Therefore, kids never learn to lose. Sure it hurts but it is life, and we all have to learn to accept the good and the bad even though we just want our kids to be protected from that pain.”
Halvorson adds, “I just want everyone to remember one thing: that it is not about us, the trainers. It is about the kids and the families that keep us going. We all have to remember our roots and give back to the little guy, the new guy, etc. We have to make sure to encourage and take care of the young people in our industry (give them help whenever we can) and take time to appreciate our customers and all of the people that are involved with managing these shows because none of us would be here if it wasn’t for the aforementioned people.”
Select Amateur Lori Bucholz who recently won the Amateur Working Hunter at the Bayer Select World Show believes sportsmanship should always be addressed, no matter what event, sport or level of competition in which you compete. Bad sports get way too much airplay, whether it be someone like Kanye West, Tanya Harding or just an obnoxious little league parent. “I do believe when those situations occur it becomes an excellent teaching opportunity for parents to show their kids how not to behave when they’re disappointed. Just because you show up at a show with a great horse, the correct trainer, tack and clothes this does not entitle you to the trophy. In today’s top-notch competition, everyone shows up prepared.” Bucholz said. “I think bad sportsmanship, sadly, often leads to our horses getting abused. A bad sport may come out of the arena and spur, pull, tug and do all sorts of horrific things to their horses when they should have taken a step backwards and asked themselves what they did wrong. Usually your horse is just doing what you asked him to do, or he misbehaved because he was scared or unprepared for the circumstances of that day.”
Bucholz adds, “I do find that the majority of competitors are gracious, especially those in the ‘select’ group and those who’ve been very successful at the world show level. We all realize the time, expense and heartache it takes to show. With our life and showing experiences, we know that today could be my day and that tomorrow could be yours. So we’re happy to celebrate with the other competitors, or to commiserate, which ever the case! Those who show with me know I say a few things when I don’t do well: ‘There’s always another horse show’; ‘Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug’; and ‘We’re not out here curing cancer’. What does all that mean? To me it means try again tomorrow, that often you just can’t influence circumstances and, finally, get a big picture view of the world.”
Livingston expresses his thoughts about the episode at Tulsa, “I personally found it very disappointing that many people’s efforts to achieve positive changes for the pleasure horse industry and the efforts to achieve great rewards for exhibiting pleasure horses can be so disrespected by a few professionals. Professionals who don’t see and don’t want to admit that their conduct and their actions may cost others a future in the pleasure horse industry beyond the next show or the next futurity season.”
According to Livingston, we need organizations that represent the needs of the industry and hold the professionals responsible for their actions. “We don’t need a lynch party or a Gestapo. We just need a group of professionals and some association members that will institute changes that will make those involved in such actions in the future more accountable,” Livingston said. “I am struck by the example of the PBR and the fact that they took some truly rough and tough cowboys and got them to all smile; got them not to talk or act bad in public; got them to support one another which turned them into millionaire bull riders with fan clubs. If we only apply ourselves, there is no limit to the possibilities available, but it will only come through respect and the help of a strong organization.”