How Showing Horses Has Made Me a Better Parent

Horse showing provides many opportunities to parent and raise a healthy teenager. My best listening opportunities occur when my daughter and I travel to and from horse shows. We're both feeling nervous anticipation on the trip out each morning, but I've discovered it's an ideal time to find out what's uppermost in my daughters mind. Surprisingly during this time, what she's thinking about often has little to do with horse showing. In fact, most times it has to do with school or friend situations. More recently, her mind is occupied with thoughts about her relationship with her boyfriend.

The trip home after the show can be a little trickier depending on how the show day has gone. Whether she's feeling the thrill of having done very well and is satisfied with her accomplishments or whether she's disappointed at having missed a distance or a lead change that ruined a class, my listening skills at this juncture need to be more fine-tuned than ever. I usually end up serving as her sounding board, helping her celebrate her wins, or helping her work through her own disappointment at what she did poorly or incorrectly. I also try to bolster her confidence by reminding her that tomorrow is another day with more chances to improve her riding.

When things don't go as we hope, I want her to know that losing is a part of life and that hard work is an important part of competition. Teachable moments happen all the time. We may observe how someone treats a groom early in the morning or watch when a family pays a name trainer to stand at the gate at a national horse show.

Whether we believe the judging to be fair and good or fair yet difficult, both situations provide great conversation starters about the fairness of life and doing your best. We've observed that drugging seems rampant back in the show tents, and it makes us wonder what price someone will pay to win a competition. What about a situation we've all seen -- when parents blast a trainer at the gate when their rider does not perform well? Or, what about the role of money and financial abundance and how wealth is displayed or flaunted at a show? Being witness to these types of situations gives my daughter and me the opportunity for a frank discussion back at the barn or on the trip home. Last year we went to the National Horse Show in West Palm Beach and had a series of experiences that left us with many conversation starters, especially when she was awarded a reserve that was then taken away a month later. Communicating our family's values has become an essential priority for my husband and me.

We've communicated our thoughts about ethics, sportsmanship, and the value of competition in an effort to help our daughter keep perspective. Think of a typical weekend with all of the situations you observe and conversations you overhear in the show tents, the schooling area, and in front of the show ring. The challenge when witnessing these situations is to take them and turn them into learning experiences for our children. Adult behavior is not always at its best at a horse show.

How many of us board in barns where petty gossip and hurtful comments are made? It is not always easy to hold a conversation with a teen, especially one facing competition. Appropriate timing is essential. Seek out those rare moments of when they're open and ready to listen, as this mindset will make all the difference in the success of the conversation. Age is also a determining factor, as a conversation with a 13-year old is very different than one with a 17-year old. Each child develops and matures at her own pace, so it becomes our job as parents to find age-appropriate ways to communicate with her.

Participating in sports has shown to be a good thing for adolescent girls and boys. Athletic events provide a playing field for learning a number of important lessons like learning to win and lose, managing defeat, working with a team, and the responsibility of hard work. Horse showing with our daughters provides us with the opportunity to transform sports situations into real life lessons. Copyright (c) 2007 Kathy Keeley.

Veteran show mom Kathy Keeley is founder of, the first online community created especially for horseshow mothers and daughters who want to learn how to successfully navigate the horseshow circuit and maintain a great mother-daughter relationship. Sign up for our free email newsletter, The Savvy Show Mom, at .

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