Horse events are a lot of fun. You’re showing off what you and your horse can do, reaping the benefits of all your hard work, and spending time with like-minded enthusiasts. What’s not to love?
Botching a class or a run, that’s what. When you turn in a performance that’s well below what you know you and your horse are capable of, it’s painful. But should you let it ruin your fun?
Definitely not! In fact, learning from mistakes is one of the great perks of competition. Shows are a real-world test. More than any practice session, they’ll pinpoint where you need more work.
And that’s a good thing! I’m going to explain how you can not only deal with the disappointment of a botch, but also turn it into a positive for you and your horse. All it takes is a little planning and some conscious effort.
To paraphrase the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus, “It’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you respond to it.” This is fortunate, because although you can’t control what happens, you definitely can control how you respond.
First, Prepare to Succeed
By “succeed,” I don’t mean win, specifically. You may well do that, too, but this preparation is about getting ready to keep forging ahead no matter what your performance is at the event. Here’s what to do.
Fix your mindset. I tell all my customers to think of the show as just another practice. By that I mean, don’t change things up in the show pen. Ride just as you’ve been practicing. Don’t worry about the judges.
Just focus on completing each part of the class or each piece of your run correctly, the way you’ve been practicing it at home.
Make a ‘focus sheet.’ This will help you nail down that mindset. Your sheet should include two elements. The first is a list of objectives, or what you’re hoping to accomplish at this particular show. If there are parts of your performance you’re hoping to improve from your last time out, write them down.
Having stuff to fix is a good thing. It reduces your stress by giving you something to focus on other than how you place.
For example, if you’ve been having difficulty with lead changes, nailing them can be one of your objectives. Then if you accomplish that, you can feel you’ve “won” even if something else goes amiss and you don’t place.
Make sure to list several objectives, some easier than others, so that you’ll almost certainly have something to celebrate no matter what else goes wrong.
The second part of your focus sheet is a list of your and your horse’s strong points. Is your turnout extra-appealing? Write it down. Are your circles as round as a ball? Note it. Is your backup straight and marching? Put that on the list.
You may surprise yourself with how many confidence-builders you have. Writing them down cements them in your mind, giving you something positive to focus on to keep yourself from stressing.
Then, if Things Do Go Wrong…
1. Remember your goals. Your overall goal, of course, is to build a better working partnership with your horse. Competing is always a step in that direction regardless of how you do, so you’ve already accomplished that.
Plus, there are all the goals you wrote down on your focus sheet. Any that you can tick off the list will buoy your spirits.
Plus, as I always remind my customers, there are more horse shows ahead…it’s not one and done. You don’t have to “do it all” now. You’re building a bond that will last, so that when you have a big class in the future, your horse will know he can rely on you and you on him.
It’s too easy to get short-sighted, and feel that this one class matters the most. But it’s not the be-all, end-all.
2. Analyze your mistakes. If possible, review a video of your go right afterwards, ideally with your trainer or a knowledgeable friend.
This is super important, because it enables you to discover how it looks compares to how it felt to you at the time. This in turn helps you know how to make adjustments to fix whatever went wrong.
3. Use humor. Poke fun at whatever you did that wasn’t up to par. It’s amazing how making light of a flub can “de-fang” it and help you neutralize negative feelings.
Ask your trainer, “Does this mean I’m not ready for the Olympic trials?” A quick chuckle can be just what you need to get on the road to turning your botch into a valuable learning experience.
4. Correct/adjust. If you have more classes to go at this show, think about what you need to do to correct the parts of your performance that didn’t go well. Don’t over-drill your horse, but work with your trainer or a friend to figure out how best to smooth any rough edges and improve your go the next time out.
5. Look outward. Nothing takes your mind off your own problems like helping someone else with theirs. Find a barn-mate who needs a boot-swipe just before her class, or grab a cold drink for a friend coming out of her event after a less-than-perfect go.
Research has found that doing good, even in small ways, stimulates your brain in a manner that makes you feel good as well as the other person. That means “being a buddy” can speed you on your way to bouncing back.
6. Re-analyze your go. Later, perhaps at home after your emotions have completely died down, review your video again. If you have videos from past runs, watch them as well. You’ll likely prove to yourself that you are in fact doing better, even if you didn’t win or your run didn’t turn out as you’d hoped.
Take the long view and realize that you’re on a growth curve…which means, as long as you keep working on it, good things are yet to come!