It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

—Theodore Roosevelt

I did not grow up showing much; just a little during a couple summers on a friend’s horses that she wasn’t riding. You could never paint us with any discipline brush because we entered as many classes as we could, English or Western, including any sort of Gymkhana classes. Then, a little showing again in college on the equestrian team. I don’t remember any great successes, but I really enjoyed the process of showing, similar to the way I enjoy horses.

I love every part of horses. Hauling hay, cleaning stalls, their smell, the way they move and talk to each other, grooming, caring for and riding them—just being a part of their world. With showing, I love the show preparation of packing, laundering pads and show clothes, cleaning tack, bathing the horses, getting up super early and spending the entire day/s immersed in ‘horse.’

Looking back on the last nine years that I have been showing, I have learned many lessons about myself and my horses. My horses seem to enjoy getting out and they are different at a show. More engaged. Sometimes, the engagement comes out in underlying tension and nerves. You learn your horses. They may need less time to warm up or more time. They may need time to just walk around and let it all soak in. Shows are a great way to bond with your horse and rely on each other. They learn to be around lots of other horses, cars, people, signs and loudspeakers. They see new arenas, new scenery and new obstacles. Although I learn the most about me. Being the “doer of deeds” and at most shows, my face is definitely “marred by dust, sweat and blood.” There were times I did it for the color of the ribbon. But just wait—partnering with a large animal with its own brain will fix your ego. Then, there is the liability of my brain: doing the wrong pattern, forgetting the rules, going off course, “because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.” I don’t take much for granted anymore. The most important lesson I have learned is that it is never the horse’s fault.

Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat; it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.

—Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”


I want to be “all in” for my horses. It is really all about them and they are without question a “worthy cause.” We, horses and people, were created to partner and be a team.  We work with them to do what they were made to do, but in a certain sequence. We add value to who they are in their life with people by exposing them to new environments and by partnering with them to reach their potential as well as ours.

Now I show partly because it gives me goals and a reason to “actually strive to do the deeds.” Life is busy and I have to have something I have invested in coming on the calendar to make me get out, ride and improve myself. I owe it to the horses to continue to better myself through time riding, lessons and by showing to get evaluated on my progress and goals. I want to ride at the best of my ability in order to show my horse to the best of its ability. You will rarely be ready or prepared, but go anyway. Show day is not a day to fix anything. Don’t worry about the judge/s; do your best in that moment. It is just a horse show. Whatever happens, happens. I guarantee that you will both learn, grow and many times surprise yourself. Most importantly, have fun and make it a great experience for your horse.

Competition does not have to be a horse show or a race against another horse.  Competition can be a set of standards by which we measure ourselves. Your standards have great influence on your perceived results. Choose them carefully. It is not about the blue ribbon. It is about evaluating the direction of our work and establishing deadlines for reaching goals… I will always compete, as I need to be challenged and held to an honest evaluation of my progress. I don’t have to win the blue ribbon, but I need to know if I’m as good as I think I am.

—Trainer Aaron Ralston in “Ride Up: Live Your Adventure.” Cowritten with Edgell Franklin Pyles, Ph.D.

Set goals, challenge, push and stretch yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t just do what’s necessary; do what’s possible.  Be relentless, because it is not how you start something, but how you continue. Expect to fail. Success does not come without failure.  Then, accept your failures. After all, we connect with each other through our flaws.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

—Martin Luther King Jr.


As we navigate the odd and sparse show season during COVID-19, I encourage riders to set some goals for next year, to find a couple shows or trail rides or team events to participate in, possibly this fall and next year.  If participating seems too intimidating at first, start by volunteering and see what it’s like.  There is a kind of horse sport, competition or group for everyone, with any shape or size of horse that you will enjoy and to meet new horse people along the way. Encourage each other and the strangers you will meet along the way who will become your friends. You will see new places and know victories “and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Feel free to contact me at if I can be of any assistance in helping you find a challenge or to share your horse story.

Heather McWilliams © 2020.