There have been an increasing number of incidents lately that revolve around openly admitted cheating in horse sports. There have been enough of them that I decided that I wanted to say a few things about the subject.
So, let me spin you a yarn about cheating.
I have seen the dirtiest underbelly of equine sports. I know full well what goes on behind the scenes of your average show. Lunging for hours, tying heads up high or tying heads to the horses' tails overnight, nerving tails and ears, nerving legs, shockwaving out lamenesses, the drugs - oh the drugs! - spikes in front/hind boots, poleing out in the parking lot in the dark so nobody could catch you, spikes on nosebands, giant wicked bits disguised as nice little snaffles, even shocks with cattle prods... I've seen it all. Yes, even "just a little dex before my hunter round" is cheating. And it doesn't stop there.... bribes to judges, sneaking off with prizes when you didn't get caught doing something wrong, and paying off your competitors happen at almost every show.
We're all give the opportunity to make the choice to cheat. Whether through willful action or genuine mistake, we have the choice to do the right thing or the wrong thing. Example of this: in 2009, Gogo and I were winning just about everything. Winning three recognized events in a row in Area 1 is not a small feat, and I am proud of it. Then she unceremoniously dumped me at Area Championships, and that was mortally embarassing. Not wanting to look a fool, I went to our next event with the utter determination to win no matter what. We were in first after dressage and stadium, and then boom! Another runout on XC, effectively dropping us to dead last. Tail between my legs, I slunk over to the scoreboard to see the final placings. To my amazement, they had not marked my runout! I had won! The points earned from that would surely land me squarely as the #1 Novice rider in the nation, I was so close already. BUT, I knew it was wrong even if nobody had marked it as such. Wearily, sadly, I pointed out the mistake to the office. As expected, the change in placings dropped me to dead last, with no points and no ribbons. I'd be lying to you if I told you I didn't think about how great it would be to make off with that ribbon, without anyone knowing the truth but me. But therein was the rub... *I* knew, and that was enough for me. We all knew that I had done the right thing.
Another example: over the winter, I did a couple of endurance rides. After completing a ride, and while I waited to stand for BC, I linimented my horse. This is strictly habit with me - I ALWAYS do it after a hard work. Unbeknownst to my noob self, it was illegal to do. When I wrote about it, I got loudly called out as a cheater. Was it willful cheating? Of course not, and it was a total accident, but I still felt bad enough that I emailed the ride organizer to tell them what I had done. They never got back to me about it, but I felt that I had done the right thing anyway.
So why do people cheat? For fame, prizes, money, power, to make themselves feel worthwhile? Yes. What about altruists that keep it clean, that will admit to their wrongs? I am one of those people, and I suppose I do it because I think it's just straight up the right thing to do. I don't want to look in the mirror and see a winner that got there at all costs. I want to see someone that I like, someone who does the right thing, even if the right thing sucks.
Why bother to write all this out? Perhaps I hope to appeal to the better nature of people. We're all doing this for sport, for fun! In the long run, does it remotely benefit the world if we were champions at some show somewhere? Of course not. We're not saving the world, we're not making a real difference. We're here to compete and have fun.
Oh, I know full well that I'll never change the blackest of hearts. Not by a long shot. I'm not a fool. But perhaps the good people of the world might think twice about these situations whenever they come across them, and maybe they will do the right thing if presented with the opportunity. One thing I can promise is this: nobody will remember the 10 cent ribbons you won, but EVERYBODY will remember if you're a cheater.