The Savvy Station

Is Competing with Horses Really That Bad?

by Pat Parelli on Nov 15, 2023

Is Competing with Horses Really That Bad?

By Pat Parelli

In case you didn't know, I'm a very competitive person. I came from a family of boxers, dancers, bowlers, and golfers. Every one of us was fairly competitive but always in a very principled way. I rodeoed for 14 years, riding broncs until my brains came in. I remember talking to my mom one day, saying, "I just can't believe how crooked the judges were." And she said, "Pat, you are principled. I have the same fault. We believe everyone else is just like us. There are givers, and there are takers." That hit me right between the eyes because I thought all rodeo people were wonderful, nice people like my mom. 


There are many great people in the world with great intentions. I discovered that ambition is great as long as it is tempered by principles, patience, and sequence. I think we've all heard the expression "healthy competition." That is what we strive for to be the best me I can be. Often, I have seen that people want to win for these three reasons: praise, recognition, and material things. And that brings the predator out in people, winning at all costs, even at the expense of the horse, good friends, or sometimes even their family.


I've taken several groups of students to competitions with me, and after the competition was over, a few said, "Don't you think you should have placed higher?" And I said, "Well, my job is to train and show the horse. The judge's job is to score the horse and the ride. We didn't win everything today, but we won everyone's respect because of the principled way we went about things.”  Everyone sees the way we treat horses. They see it not only at the competitions but also in the horse's eyes: the bonding, the obedience, and the exuberance. When you have those three things, they shine like a beacon. I've often said, "For the love of winning is the root of all evil when it comes to animals and children." Whether it's a soccer mom or dad, a dance recital, a beauty pageant, a dog show, or a horse show, we've all seen the worst come out in people just to win a ribbon, a prize, or a title.


The principles of horsemanship are simple: put the relationship first, foundation before specialization, never-ending self-improvement, and the fact that principles, purpose, and time are the tools of teaching.  Principles are the horse, the purpose is the cart, and time is the driver.  Time is what horses need in their foundation to find out what their specialization will be. If we understand that just because an event is on a specific date, four months from now, the horse may not be ready, and we may knock the special out of him by trying to get there. But give him another year and four months, he might just be the best me he can be. Again, principles, purpose, and time are the tools of teaching. Ambition is a great thing as long as it is tempered by principles, patience, and sequence.


  • Mary Moe
    Dec 01, 2023 at 09:51

    Wow, this hit home today. Thank you!


  • Anett
    Dec 01, 2023 at 09:51

    I absolutely love everything that’s written, talked about and taught by you for the benefit of the horse!! Having lived my life in the dance world, I’m very much aware of the good and really awful sides of competition. So this article really touches my heart and soul besides everything else, anyway. Thank you, Pat Parelli, for making this world for horses and people a better place!!! It is more appreciated than I will ever be able to tell!!!


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