The end of a horse show circuit, or a multi week show, is like the end of spring break, or summer vacay, or a study abroad: you expect that all these great movie-moment things will happen, and when they don’t, it feels…. meh? It’s been fun, but wait, what did we really do here?
For us high achievers – which come on, we’ve chosen to partner with animals for our sport so that means all of us – being able to square what we *hope* will happen with what often does happen is the holy grail of sportsmanship. (Though if you walk out of the ring angry at your mount, I’m probably not talking to you and you should probs go evaluate what made your partner so aggravated that they didn’t focus on that fence, or that lead change, or the harmlessness of that bird flying off the ring’s fence.) It’s so difficult to square all your hard work at home with coming up short at the horse show.
To set this up, let’s recap: I bought Fitz at the end of July 2015. Our two weeks in Scottsdale were our 4th show together. We moved up a division (ok, this is my doing, he was jumping so good and we felt so in sync that I totally threw the Plan out the window…). And it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t even mediocre. We pulled a couple rails and had a couple iffy distances (which means: we knocked over a few fences, and some of our take off spots were a little like watching a documentary on the first naval aircraft carrier launches). It was a positive experience for both of us; a growth opportunity on a long career ahead of us.
On course, the slightest mistake feels like the end of the world. To our trainer’s eye, it looks like a mistake that eventually we’ll correct. On video, and to our relatives who rode a horse that one time in Yellowstone, it looks positively impressive. I mean, come on. You are riding a horse around a preset order of jumps that some crazy person concocted to torture you, in boots, breeches and jacket, and most of the time it’s a decent round with maybe an unfortunate incident like a rail or a stop that had a reason behind it. That is impressive! Anyone can throw a ball around; we talk to animals. So whenever you don’t win, like the movie in your head always suggests, just remember that. I’m working on it myself.
In my head, Fitz and I went to Scottsdale and won multiple classes (or at least a classic or two), and won a championship or two. At worst, a reserve championship.
In reality, we pinned respectably. Objectively, my unreasonable expectations aside, it was a good show. Objectively, we are bringing home some good experiences, and a lot of really positive things to move forward with. We got to work with the trainer who made the horse, and who is also a class act herself. She once told me that if I wanted to be perfect, I should go be a ballerina, not an equestrian.
It’s important for us to always take a step back and really look at what it means to be an equestrian. I read an article in The Plaid Horse about adjusting your emotional state before a ride. While I don’t disagree, it’s so hard to always control that piece. If you’re having a bad day, it’s so difficult to put that away and ride like you’re having a good one. I think the most important part is watching your videos to gain a little perspective; if your trainer doesn’t always offer it up, ask for the positive pieces of your ride; and as always, look at your horse. They are our partners, and at the end of the day, their opinion is paramount to everything else. I ate it today to fence number two, and Fitzy saved my ass. And when I dismounted, that horse turned his head and put his muzzle in my hand. All was forgiven (as long as I had carrots), and even though I was so, SO mad at myself for ditching him, he was ok because we had pulled it together the rest of the course.
It’s a good thing they have short memories.
But as I was talking to my stand-in trainer about the round, it was all about the learning. I came away from these 2 weeks not with the ribbons I’d hoped for, but with the knowledge that’s going to take 6 months off my learning curve on this horse. I didn’t get to take home a stoked ego, but rather a lot (a LOT) of homework to go into the summer circuit with. And this is the joy, right? The fact that we always come home with something, be it victory, or the tools to know what we’re going to work on next time.
It took four years to walk my old jumper, Parker, into the ring and win consistently. Four years of really, really hard work, lots of sweat and tears, and lots of miles – some good, some bad, some that we got by cougar-growling around the entire course. It is unreasonable to think that anyone new in our lives can “get it” so soon into the relationship as Fitz and I. Or as early as you are with your horse, even if it’s been years.
And these are the lessons that carry over into our relationships with people (I know, I know, we do have to interact with other humans on occasion), our jobs, the boards we sit on, and the friends we have. Patience, personal responsibility, forgiveness, and improvement. It’s why sports are so important, but especially why sports with equines are the living best.
Because when you win, you earned that shit. And always pat your horse.