6 Reasons to Ignore Negative Arena Chatter

shutterstock_291776885Recently, I read an article about how criticism in the show ring hurts the horse industry. And I couldn’t agree more. Mean people turn newcomers off in any discipline, whether it’s barrel racing, team sorting, or show jumping.

And ultimately it hurts everyone. Fewer people get involved in horse events, which means fewer entries, which means less money and prizes up for grabs, which means an eventual dissolution of the things we hold most dear.

So why do it? Simple. Some people feel superior by putting others down. These same people are often the most insecure of all.

Confession: I have done this. I have “mean-talked” people behind their backs.

Not recently. And never on social media. But when I was young, I was sometimes critical of people who didn’t have the same means as I did to be successful with horses. Like their lack of success was their fault because they didn’t dedicate enough time or money or get the right kind of help to be successful.

What I didn’t realize at the time is that some people don’t even know how to go about getting the right kind of help. Which is why those of us who do need to be supportive and encouraging.

I know that even if you start something new and 9 people out of 10 are nice to you and totally encouraging, that one person who isn’t is the one that will stick with you the most. It’s human nature. We tend to believe our critics.

But you don’t have to. And you shouldn’t. Because what others say about you is none of your business.

And for these other reasons too (you might want to read this before going to take that riding lesson, or loading your horse in the trailer for your next event or…)

We all started in the exact same place

I’ve said this before, I but I think it’s worth mentioning again because it is absolutely 100% true. I am so fond of saying “great cowboys are made, not born” because it’s a fact. I don’t know of one person who came out of the womb with his spurs on already knowing how to use them.

Some people have certain advantages maybe you didn’t, like being born into a ranching or rodeo family. They may have had first-class instruction starting at a young age. But I guarantee you, they still fell off. They put their splint boots on backwards. They cinched up their headstall too tight. They drove their horse crazy.

We ALL do it.

The only difference is, some of us start doing it later in life. Pat yourself on the back because you are out there making the effort, picture that “mean girl” (or guy) getting augured in the dirt (because I guarantee it has happened) and keep reaching for whatever it is you want to achieve.

Oftentimes, the people who are the loudest, know the least (and are the most self conscious)

I’m making a generalization here, because it isn’t always the case, but many times the people who criticize you are jealous or insecure. They have their own demons that they are dealing with. And you are just an easy target.

Oftentimes the pros will help you because they understand their industry depends on newcomers like you. Learn and take advice from those who truly wish for you to succeed. If someone says to you, “you are on your horse’s head too much” in a mean catty voice, ask someone who you trust whether that is true.

And sometimes, people just get snobby and stuck up and forget where they came from. After some success, their heads swell so big they have to go up a few hat sizes. “I have made it. I no longer need to mingle with the peasants.”

Your true friends, the people whose opinions matter will lift you up, not drag you down

You’ve heard the saying, “you are the average of the five people who you spend the most time with.” It is so important to spend your time with good people. Find those friends who truly care about your success and want to help you. I truly believe it is one of the keys to success in whatever you’re doing.

Don’t try to go it alone. Don’t be so afraid of the bad seeds that you don’t associate with anyone. Good friends will help you get to a higher level and celebrate your successes on the way up.

You only get one shot at this one life. Do not let anyone steal your dream

Often it’s the people who love us the most who are the worst perpetrators of this. They think they know what’s best for us (more than we know ourselves). They don’t want to see us “horse poor” and living in our trailers. This is not unlike when your parents tried desperately to talk you into medical school rather than art school.

But here’s the thing. This is YOUR life. You get to decide how to live it. I refuse to look back upon my life and wish that I had cleaned my house less and ridden my horses more (sorry future husband).

Please, please, please don’t let anyone talk you out of your dream. You will end up kicking yourself in the end for ever having listened to them.

He who works the hardest, wins

I know how easy it is to look at people who have been competing since childhood and think, “how am I ever going to measure up to them?” I know because I have had the same thoughts. And in some areas, people have had the same thoughts about me.

It is easy to make excuses and talk yourself out of your goals. It’s easier this way because you’ve already beat yourself before you ever walk in the ring. Forget failure, you’ve already failed. It’s kind of like breaking up with someone before they can break up with you. I don’t have the right horse or the right gear or the right background to compete with all these people that have all these advantages over me.

But that’s not actually true. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. We all have bad days and good days.

Yes, you need some good instruction, the right mindset, some knowledge and a good horse to win. But those things can all be cultivated. Get some instruction, work on your mindset, learn all that you can and get a good horse for whatever it is you want to do. That doesn’t mean you need instruction from birth, a horse trainer for a dad and a $20,000 horse.

The best horse my family has ever owned was given to us.

You might not beat those “lifers” every day, but if you work at it, you will beat them. And more importantly, you will develop into someone you could have only dreamed of when you started.

Remember, everything that’s easy was once hard. Even learning how to walk. You will get better.

Your goals are yours alone

Nobody but you gets to decide what this journey looks like for you. If you are deathly afraid of competing and you get out there and face that fear, that is an accomplishment for you, even if it goes horribly.

Those people who criticize you have no idea what a personal win that “disaster” was for you. But you do.

So, walk out of the ring smiling. And if someone says, “you really need to keep your hand down” or “you should give your horse a bigger pocket” or “you really need to work on your collection,” keep smiling and say,”that will come in time. I am just happy to get through today.”

Keep that positive attitude and trust me, they’ll leave you alone. And even if they don’t, you won’t care.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Nicole Farber

    What a well written post! And totally spot on! I’m a “lifer” of horses. I pay it forward each chance I get… and can only hope my students do the same when they have the chance… and they know better than to be the “mean” girl…

    1. Alyssa Barnes
      Alyssa Barnes

      That’s awesome Nicole. I think the environment people learn in is so important for cultivating that “pay-it-forward” attitude. Good for you. Creating a positive culture in your barn is a lot more important than most people realize.

  2. Jandee

    Alyssa,
    This is the first blog I have read of yours and I am hooked!! I remember my first year of high school rodeo, watching you and the Marvel clan had me weary of my skills. Outside of barrel racing and pole bending, the other events were pretty new to me, especially cutting and you all were so good at it. As the years went on, I grew to be friends and most of those insecurities vanished. I am often told often how intimidating I can be to approach and it is something I have stayed conscious to and made attempts at changing. I love to help others, and even more to see my friends succeed and grow to love the sport I do. Great thoughts and a wonderful read :)

  3. Pam Dolden

    Wonderfully written! Such an awesome article! Love it!!! :)

  4. Vonny

    What a great blog, thank you !!!

  5. John Bour

    Very well thought out I love the line “Great cowboys are made, not born” I try my hardest to stay neutral and bit my tongue and give pointers here and there. But even Switzerland has to take a side and stand up for what they is right. Why do something half a.. The first time when you know it bite you in the butt in the long run..

  6. Mike Davis

    Very well written. Introduced to the world of hay burners at age 35 after our neighbor gave my family a mustang yearling he didn’t have time for. The mystique and mystery involved in even tacking up a horse was daunting in the beginning. I’ve had a lot of help, some good, some not so good BUT well intentioned. Now i’m 43, team rope, trail ride, work cattle horseback and started raising Foundation QH x Racing lines. Its frustrating and intimidating because there are still a LOT of people in the equine industry with a LOT of knowledge who are complete A-holes. They like to show us who are ignorant we will never be worthy and we should just keep out of “their” industry. Well folks let me tell you something, the equine industry is getting smaller and smaller the more people migrate to urban areas. Without recruiting new blood into this world, you are going to be priced out of it or legislated out of it. Finance and political matters I am NOT ignorant about. There are fewer and fewer ranches for cowboys to be raised on. There are fewer and fewer Westerns played on tv or movie theaters for young people to WANT to be cowboys. You can either help introduce the next generation of youth and/or adults who are interested, or you can close the door to them, and thin the already small population of equine enthusiasts.

    1. Alyssa Barnes
      Alyssa Barnes

      Well said, Mike. I agree 1000%!!! It is up to those who know the traditions and the ways to pass them along or the lifestyle really will vanish.

  7. Sandy

    Everything you said is ‘spot on’ – I’ve experienced all the same lessons you shared in this article. It’s coaching that needs to be shared from time to time so all the beginners and amateurs don’t lose heart. It’s all about hanging in there, continuing to learn, celebrating every accomplishment and keeping your goals in the front of your mind. Every champion started at ‘square one’ just like the rest of us, and they all put their jeans on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. They get a bad draw, have to run on bad ground, or otherwise have a bad day just like the rest of us. But consistent correct practice, well cared for horses who are fit and healthy, and staying aggressive in a run gets us all to the pay window. I, too, have shared these things along the way and made friends. I’m glad that you’re reaching so many people with great advice.

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