This is a story of a mother’s frustration at how unfairly people, not just horse show judges, can treat children who are tall for their age.
Maybe this will cause someone, someday, to stop and ask herself, “How old is this kid? Let me actually look at this child and see her for herself and not judge her by some preset size standard.” Maybe someone will make a small adjustment and cause a little less hurt because of it. Also allow me to preface my complaints by saying I understand that in the world of problems, a child whose braids are too long for the taste of one horse show judge is miniscule, but since this is my blog and the post is about my child, I’m going to talk about it a little bit.
You see, Martina shows in a class designed for kids 10 and under. She is 9. In most of the divisions she rides in, she is the largest child in the class. Generally she is in the middle of the pack age-wise, but she is always the tallest and because she’s so tall some of the judges treat her differently, as if her height has some deeper soul-meaning. As if, because she is tall, she is also smarter, more capable, more competent than other children of the same chronological age. I remember going through exactly this with my 24 year old son. It made me angry then, too.
This post is also about honoring the girl’s ability to ride a green pony into a ring full of other ponies ridden by other inexperienced riders. I want to tell the world that she works about five times as hard as any other rider out there because her pony is young and has little idea what he’s doing and so she has to be the voice of experience for him while learning what’s going on herself. As a team the two of them really are amazing, even when this doesn’t show in the ribbons they win.
After a recent show, our trainer spoke to the judge and found out that the judge for the Walk Trot Equitation’s main reason for marking my daughter down was because of her braids. She doesn’t seem to believe that this 9 year old child should be wearing them because she’s TOO BIG and it makes her look like a poser*. Only in this case, it’s a kid being just exactly what she is: a little kid riding her pony in a class designed for little kids and ponies.
The judge also had other things to say, like that the pony was too forward (and I agree that he was for the first two classes of the division) and that my daughter’s position is beautiful and that she did everything she should have and did it quite well. Good feedback and some positive, which is always nice.
I told Martina some of what was said. She knew I took the call, she eavesdropped the entire time and she was the subject of conversation. Her decision is to continue to wear braids. She has no desire to put her hair into a hair net just yet. My advice to her was that we set goals independent of winning ribbons and focus on those goals, with any ribbons being bonuses. She agrees that she will try that approach, even though letting go of her deeply competitive nature is going to be difficult.
We’ll see how it goes. This is an opportunity for growth for us, in the way we focus our attention at shows as well as how petty we allow ourselves to become when she doesn’t place as well as we think she should have. We are growing and evolving and trying really hard but sometimes my protective mama bear nature gets the best of me, especially in situations where my child is being treated unfairly. We were only disheartened for a little while though. Now we are determined to work harder, be more committed and to remember that this is, above all, supposed to be fun.
*my word, not hers
Note: In English (Hunt Seat) equitation classes, little girls typically wear braids with bows, jodhpurs and paddock boots until they are 12 or 13 years old. This is what is right and proper. I guess it’s only actually true of petite children (apologies, I do tend to use the descriptive ‘girl’ though this applies to boys as well.) Though a boy would probably not be so proper in braids and bows in the English show ring.