The importance of good sportsmanship

Sportsmanship – an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors.

Three days ago, I was lying on a half-deflated air mattress in my horse trailer at six in the morning, watching my breath steam up the cold air and scrolling through Facebook on my phone. My heart thumped heavily as I sought out the information I desperately needed…had the New Zealand All Blacks, our national rugby team, beaten the South African Springboks in the Rugby World Cup semi-final, which had finished just minutes earlier? A few agonising moments, and then a wave of relief.

Yes. 20 points to 18, a win by the narrowest of margins, and by all accounts a heart-stopper of a game. But we had won, we had done it and we were on our way to the final. Satisfied and feeling well pleased, I extracted myself from my sleeping bag, changed out of my pyjamas, and went to fetch JJ from his yard so I could start plaiting his mane for the day ahead.

New Zealand is fanatical as a country about our ‘national sport’ – rugby union. It has long been a huge part of our culture, and the All Blacks are one of the most successful sporting teams of all time, with a historical 77% winning record; in fact, only five other teams have ever beaten the All Blacks. We eat, sleep and breathe Black, and when I watched the news report that evening, the entire first segment (8 minutes) was dedicated solely to recapping the semi-final match.

To be an All Black is not just about sporting prowess. Talent will only get you so far, but hard work, perseverance and humility are an equal part of what makes the All Blacks such a mighty team. This ethos is literally in their handbook, which states that: Better people make better All Blacks. The All Blacks are role models, and they take that very, very seriously.

Success in sport is about knowing how to win, but it’s also about being able to lose. To quote from the current All Blacks’ coach, Steve Hansen:

When you play really well and get beaten you have to accept it,” Hansen says. “You can’t change it – it has happened, you have had your chance and you have to do that with the same humbleness that you do winning. We have got to respect the way we want to be respected ourselves and there is nothing worse than seeing a winner gloating or a team that loses sulking. It is okay to hurt but you don’t have to be arrogant and I think rugby is a great game in teaching you some core values of being grateful and being humble.” [Read more here, it’s a great article.]

There was a great example of this ethos at the conclusion of the semi-final match, when South African centre Jesse Kriel sank to the ground next to the goal posts after the final whistle blew. While the stadium erupted with jubilant fans, and many of the All Blacks players celebrated their victory, the dejected Springboks players were taking the loss hard. The Rugby World Cup only comes around every four years, and it has been 20 years since South Africa were able to lift the trophy. It was a tight game, both teams played well, but the All Blacks were the victors on the night.LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24:  Jesse Kriel of South Africa sits dejected by the post pads at the end of the match during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Semi Final match between South Africa and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on October 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 24: Jesse Kriel of South Africa sits dejected by the post pads at the end of the match during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Semi Final match between South Africa and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium on October 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

As Kriel sat there, his dreams of World Cup glory disappearing before his eyes, All Blacks centre Sonny Bill Williams approached him. They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, so I will let you see for yourself what happened next.

SONNY BILL WILLIAMS: “I just told him ‘Nothing but respect bro, you’ve had a massive tournament and I’m sure you will be around for years to come’.”
SBW: “It was 20-18. It could have gone either way. We could have been sitting on the ground there knowing that four years of hard work was over.”
SBW later tweeted: “2 great teams battled it out tonight, in my eyes we are all winners.”

That same day, only hours after the above had happened, I was sitting on a folding chair in the back of my horse trailer, looking out across the show grounds and watching riders warm up for the 1.30m class that was being held in the main ring at the time. One of the great things about equestrian sport is that men and women of all ages compete on equal footing. I was watching one of our most experienced Grand Prix competitors warm up his horse, a blingy chestnut, and at the same time was keeping an eye on one of our youngest Grand Prix riders, who is only fifteen and was riding a huge, powerful Warmblood mare. I soon realised that I wasn’t the only one with an eye on her, as when she had a couple of glitches at the warm-up fence, this experienced competitor took time out from his own warm-up to help her. He is not her trainer, but he saw that she needed help, and so he provided it. I could hear him calling out advice to her from my seat across the field, and watched as, under his guidance, she jumped the fence smoothly a couple of times, thanked him and headed out to compete.

Later that afternoon, I rode in my Equitation class. I’m still new to the registered circuit, and don’t know many of the faces of regular competitors. I warmed up, went into the ring and jumped my round – and I did a pretty good job, with no major glitches. Feeling good, I walked JJ out of the ring on a long rein and met another rider coming in. She smiled at me and said “That was a really nice round!” I smiled back and thanked her, feeling even more pleased. It didn’t cost her anything to say that, and she could’ve ridden straight past me without a word, but she didn’t. She took the time to congratulate me, and I really appreciated it.

Sportsmanship. Discover it, embrace it, embody it. Because at the end of the day, it’s what sport is all about.

Read more:

The All Blacks’ Guide to Being Successful Off the Field


JJ vs the world

As a teenager I used to keep a horse diary, recording every ride I had and how it went. When it seemed as though I was making no progress, it was nice to be able to look back and realise that even baby steps really are steps. Somewhere in my closet is also a diary I kept when JJ was younger, although I was never very diligent about keeping it up.

One thing I do like writing about is my show experiences, so if you are interested at all in what it’s like to start out competing on the registered Show Hunter circuit in New Zealand, feel free to have a look at JJ vs the World, my new blog that explores just that. There are posts from two shows so far, Central Districts SJ & SH Championship and Wairarapa Premier 3*, with plenty more to come. I’ve also got a schedule of shows I’m planning to attend, a photo album of some of JJ’s highlights, and hopefully some videos to come!


Dare To Dream · Dream On

Two more paragraphs…

The pinto pony butted Marley with his nose, and she gave him a chunk of carrot to crunch on before wrapping her arms around his neck and leaning her cheek against his thick coat, closing her eyes and breathing in his warm scent. The events that had brought them together, torn them apart and then seen them – miraculously, Marley still felt – reunited all lay behind her in a haze. She had her pony back, and every morning that she could get out of bed and find him in her paddock, waiting for her, was one to be savoured. She would never, ever let him leave her side again.

And Cruise was equally dedicated to Marley, always pleased to see her, always calling out to say hello whenever he spotted her anywhere on the farm. He never missed an opportunity to remind her of his presence, a habit which had caused her considerable agony only a few months ago when he’d been at shows with his new owner. Every time Cruise had seen Marley, he had whinnied out a welcome, and had seemed disappointed when she’d been unable to bring herself to stop and speak with him. Seeing him belong to someone else had just been too hard for her, but those days were behind them now, because Cruise was back to stay. And this time, when the talented pony went out competing, Marley would be the one loading him onto her truck. She would get to ride him, feed him and muck him out every day; she would be the one grooming him and saddling him and screwing in his studs, warming him up and cooling him down, hosing him off, wrapping his legs and rugging him up; lying on her stomach on the warm, dry grass and watching him graze peacefully nearby at the end of a long, exhilarating show day. She couldn’t wait – but she would have to. The show season was behind her, and months of cold, wet weather lay ahead as winter settled in across the country.


As if there was any doubt…

If you read yesterday’s post and thought “is this…can it be?” but weren’t quite sure, well you can rest easy. All of your concerns are about to be laid to rest, because here is the third paragraph of what is quite clearly book 3 – looks like “Dare to Dream” is going to be a trilogy.

Marley’s paddock boots were battered and cracked, and the short walk from the house to the hill paddock had already left her with wet feet. She hadn’t bothered putting socks on – what was the point, when they’d only have to be wrung out and rewashed when she went back inside? Her smallest toes rubbed irritably against the edges of her boots, but calluses had built up years ago to provide for this. And it wasn’t as though she noticed. She only had eyes for the pony ahead of her, nickering a greeting as he picked his way down the steep hill, trotted a few paces at the bottom, and halted in front of her with his ears pricked.

She smiled. “Morning, Cruise.”

Stay tuned for a couple more paragraphs and more details over the next few days, and feel free to comment below (or on Facebook) who your favourite character is from my books and why.


Second paragraph…

So today’s ‘chore’ to earn the next paragraph was to get me to 460 likes on my NZPonyWriter Facebook page. We didn’t quite make it but 458 likes is pretty good, so I’ll take it. (Hint: if you’re reading this and you haven’t liked my Facebook page just yet, please pop over there and do so! I will be posting daily ‘chores’ to earn the next paragraph of this opening scene over the rest of the week, with the book’s title to be revealed at the end!)

And now, on with the story…

A call came from the gate at the bottom of the hill, and the ponies woke up. The dapple grey pony raised his head halfway, looked vaguely towards the gate, then lay back down, preferring to lie-in. But the pinto pony with the splash of white on his nose and the lightning-bolt shaped scar between his eyes was alert, and he whinnied a warm welcome to the teenage girl striding towards him across the grass, before making his way down to meet her.


I’m back…with something to share!

It’s been a long month, with changes and challenges, trials and tribulations – one of the least of which was my laptop’s apparent sudden death. Fortunately it has survived, having apparently just fallen into ‘Sleep mode’ and being unable to be woken without a trip to the computer hospital. But it’s back, I’m back, and to celebrate, here’s the opening paragraph of a scene I just wrote…

Dawn was breaking, sending shimmers of golden light across the hills and through the dripping trees, watching the world come awake. Amid the morning chorus of native birdsong, at the top of a hill in a paddock that lay close enough to the ocean that the smell of salt lingered in the damp air, a pinto pony was dozing. His eyes were half-closed, his head held low and he stood hip-shot, resting a hind leg. Another pony lay nearby, flat out on his side and fast asleep, his round dapple grey belly flecked with mud. Sparrows hopped across the soggy winter ground between the pair, seeking out worms raised by last night’s heavy rain, which still dripped in gathering droplets from trees and surrounding wire fences.

What does this mean? Does this mean what you think it means? Maybe. I wrote the scene because it came into my head and I liked it. It might only ever be a scene, or a short story, or it might, it just might, turn itself into a novel. Who knows? Not even me. But I thought you might like it anyway.

And yes, there’s more. I’ll post the next paragraph once my next Facebook challenge is met… 10 comments on a post got you this far, visit http://www.facebook.com/NZPonyWriter/ to find out how to get the next few lines!