The Ego

In the past three weeks, more than $6 million has been given out in the reining and cutting horse industries at two major events – the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity and the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity. When you add in the nearly $1 million that the National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) gave away at its Snaffle Bit Futurity, you wind up with three shows paying out nearly $7 million. That’s a lot of money!

We should consider ourselves blessed to have the opportunity to compete for such lucrative purses. If showing horses is your hobby, you already know it’s an expensive one. The chance to have your hobby pay for itself is rare outside of the horse industry. If the horse business is your livelihood, you know it’s a tough way to make a living. But the chance to win big money at horse shows, not just the big three futurities, but at regional and affiliate events year-round, makes it all that much easier to make ends meet.

The total amount of money up for grabs in the Western performance horse industry is staggering, and we are blessed to have it. But, it has also been blamed for many of the problems in our industry – everything from horse abuse to why a trainer won’t return your phone call. 

After all, money is the root of all evil, right? Technically, that Biblical phrase states that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And no doubt, there are plenty who would love to win $200,000 for a few minutes of work. Admittedly, there are probably even those who have resorted to various forms of “evil” to try to get it done: pushing a horse past its limits, mentally and physically; resorting to pharmaceutical solutions for training problems; even showing lame or injured horses that should have never entered the show pen in the first place.

Sure, there are definitely times when the love of money can cause a person to make a bad choice in the horse industry. But I propose to you that money is not the only reason for our problems. Many times, it’s a simple matter of ego.

There are plenty of horse associations and disciplines that do not enjoy the same money and prizes we do. Yet, they still have the same problems, or worse, to overcome. Why is that, if it’s not about the money? Again, I say ego.

At its most basic level, the ego is what makes you conscious of your own identity. It is your sense of self. When the ego takes over and runs through life unchecked, it can result in an inflated feeling of self-importance, pride and superiority over others. If you want a good example of an over-inflated ego, just take a look at many of today’s professional athletes. It always amazes me how an athlete who plays a team sport boldly boasts about how great he is and how his individual performance was the reason for the team’s success. On the flip side of the coin, after a good run I am always pleased to hear trainers credit the horse and the other human members of the team that got them to the top. It takes a village.

This attitude of superiority over others, this ego, also extends to horses. When winning comes at any cost, especially at a high cost to the horse, it’s no longer about the money. It’s about your ego.

I recently read one rider’s blog about showing and ego. She contended that far too many people are fully consumed by their ego while riding, especially at shows. Some of the signs of this ego, she wrote, are: showing off when others come in the arena, talking to or about their horses as if they are the enemy, spurring and whipping their horses violently, taking their horses’ behavior personally, being impatient with their horses, showing their horses “who the boss is,” etc. I hate to say it, but I saw examples of most of those behaviors in the loping pen, as trainers were warming horses up and even in the show pen. Did you see it? Did you see the loper who was a little too interested in what she looked like, while ignoring what her horse was doing? Did you see the trainer who jerked too hard and spurred too much just before showing, changing his horse’s expression from one of willing interest to fearful submission? Think about it. Did you see the ego?

Human beings are naturally competitive creatures. If we didn’t have a competitive streak, we probably wouldn’t be showing horses in the first place. I have friends who like nothing better than to trail ride. Me? I’m the world’s worst trail rider. I find it boring. If I don’t have a goal to work toward, I don’t see the point. The bottom line is: We all like to win.

Ask any reiner what they hope to achieve in the industry and the majority will tell you they want to win the NRHA Futurity. The people who don’t say that are the ones who have already won it…and they still want to win it again.

Winning is fun, and can be quite lucrative. Aside from the purses, a big win can make a name for a trainer and bring in more clients, make a mare’s offspring worth more for the breeder and result in a higher sale price should the owner decide to sell the horse.

People will probably never stop blaming money for all of the problems in our industry. After all, money does make the world go around. But placing all the blame on money results in a problem with no solution. Instead, I challenge you to open your eyes to the problem you can solve, that of ego.