When I was growing up, there were winners and losers, and not everybody made the team. Nowadays, the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality has taken over. Kids make the team whether they are good enough or not. The winners get trophies. The losers get trophies. And it’s all in the name of self-esteem.
I don’t know about you, but my self-esteem survived the good ol’ days just fine. If I didn’t make the team, I either worked harder or found a different sport. My sport of choice was softball and, admittedly, I wasn’t very good. I was stuck in the outfield, a place that didn’t see much action in slow-pitch girls’ softball.
The games got more competitive as we got older and prepared to move into the fast-pitch league. My dad, who had coached my older siblings’ teams, must have known I would spend a lot of time on the bench the next year unless something changed. So that summer, he rigged up an old tire behind the garage and taught me to pitch. I threw balls into that tire until my arm hurt. Then I tried out for the fast-pitch team as a pitcher, and I made it. I don’t remember much about my years in the outfield, but I know I had a whole lot of fun during the years I pitched. We won some games, we lost some games, and we even got a trophy once – for winning.
Because of my upbringing, I don’t understand the “nobody loses” concept. It’s a competition. Somebody has to lose, and there will be a winner.
In horse sports, when it comes to winning and losing, it sometimes seems as though we are drifting uncomfortably close to giving everyone a trophy. When competitors complain they can’t win, associations add more classes and divisions to make it easier for everyone to get a prize. If you didn’t win your class, don’t worry, you might still get a buckle simply because of your age or your gender (yes, the National Reined Cow Horse Association [NRCHA] still recognizes a Ladies Champion at its Snaffle Bit Futurity).
Then, as if there aren’t already enough classes and divisions for people to win, some associations don’t even split ties. They award co-champions. It happened in 2012 at the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity.
Perhaps because of my early love of softball that carried over to being a baseball fan, I’m not big on ties. I’m also competitive myself. Go extra innings. Play it out. Determine a winner. Break the tie.
The NRCHA has the easiest solution in tie situations – the higher fence score wins. Their three-event discipline makes it easy to set a tie-breaker that works. In the rare instance of tied fence scores, the competitors are offered the opportunity for a fence-work run-off.
The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) also has a rule that addresses ties. It states: “All ties for first place will be worked off if the tied exhibitors agree to participate in a run-off. Tied exhibitors have the alternate option of agreeing not to run-off and to be named co-champions, but must determine the winner of the awards by a flip of a coin. If they do not agree, the exhibitor(s) who does not want to run-off will forfeit first place to the other(s).”
The rule was amended in 1989 to specify that only one run-off will take place; if the entrants are still tied after the run-off, they will be named co-champions. In 2012, the first NRHA Futurity Non-Pro Co-Champions were named, when Mandy McCutcheon and Jesse Asmussen tied at 218.5 in the finals, and then again at 216 in the run-off. When asked afterward how many times she had won the Futurity Non-Pro, McCutcheon quipped, “I guess I’ve won the Futurity six and a half times.”
That was the same year that Tarin and Ronnie Rice tied at the NCHA Futurity. But there was no work-off. They weren’t given the option. Because in cutting, the waters get even murkier when ties happen. There is no NCHA rule about ties. At NCHA Triple Crown events, the precedent has been to split the championship and the money. At other cutting aged events, each show producer is left to determine their own rules as they relate to ties and co-championships.
Personally, I like the way the NRHA handles ties. They let the people involved decide. If neither want to run-off, they split the title. If one person wants to run-off and the other doesn’t, the person who declines to run-off gives up the title and takes second. If both agree to a run-off, it’s a one-run-take-all finale.
When Jordan Larson and Franco Bertolani tied for the Level 4 Open win at the Cactus Reining Classic, CFR Centenario Wimpy’s owner, Domenico Lomuto, told Bertolani to request a run-off. He did, and walked away with the title. Afterward, Bertolani said, “Monday morning after the show, Jordan and I talked about how good that moment was for reining. A lot of people are going to remember that run-off because if was really, really nice to watch.”
It’s true, run-offs can electrify an arena. The excitement that builds during a good run is exhilarating, and the resulting announcement of a tied score can feel like a letdown, especially in front of a big crowd. The people want to see a winner. They want a champion, not a tie.
Of course, the arguments against run-offs are many, but usually focus on horses that are unable, for whatever reason, to make another run. I would argue that the best horse should be the champion, and if a horse isn’t able to return for one more run in a work-off situation, perhaps he isn’t the best horse on that day.
Giving out co-championships dilutes the prestige of the award, especially at the sport’s biggest shows. Offer a run-off, even if it’s only one, or break a tie with the highest semifinals score. However you do it, determine a winner. Break the tie. Not everybody can win.