Competitions are a great place to measure our training progress. They can give you insight into what needs improving and how you stack up against others. However, before you head to a competition I believe it’s important to set your own goals and outcomes that you can achieve and be proud of. You see when you solely rely on a score and a ribbon as your measure you may end up dishearted if that was your only measure of success.
You see Dressage is made up of a variety of different people, those that are doing it for a living and those that do it to the best of their abilities while juggling other life commitments. Then there are those that have purpose bred horses to those that have bought their trusty hacking stead into the dressage world. So when you enter a competition and you only care about your placing, you can often let all your hard work be overshadowed by those who do it as a profession.
Every result is an opportunity to learn, the good, bad and the ugly. Often when we have a bad show we can have our best learning experience and our biggest breakthroughs in our training. It’s our failures that make us grow and it’s the failures that help us succeed. Every successful rider will have their share of stories to tell you about their bad days and their epic fails, the horses that they learned the most on and the horses that were easier rides. You have to go through all the experiences to get the successes on the other side.
On my hot spicy mare, she can enter a test and achieve 8’s and 9’s and then very quickly get tense and have those followed by 4’s and 5’s, if I only focused on her final score I would be forever annoyed with our progress. However, within a test there are moments I am so proud of her improvements and the way she has coped with the experience and how far she/we have come. She teaches me every day to be a better rider and I am forever grateful for what she teaches me and our own journey together. It’s our journey together and it’s always about focusing on a positive experience and our relationship together and not neccesarily the final score.
Then when it comes to my young 4 year gelding, it’s all about getting out and about with no pressure at this stage. So lots of low key days, to help build his confidence and experience and build our trust together. I have no expectations. Everything from the trip there, the test and the trip home is an experience and my goal from each experience is that it’s positive for him and he is happy. You see every horse is different and when we expect things we can create disappointment.
If you don’t have expectations you’ll never be disappointed, (this applies to life in general by the way, not just horses) have standards instead and create goals and milestones that are achievable to you and your journey. Don’t expect things to go smoothly or perfectly. Instead, focus measurable milestones that are appropriate to you and your horse and daily actions that help you achieve them. It is then that you will start to see shifts in your life and in your training and have much more enjoyable experiences when out competing and see the progress you are making.
By setting your own benchmarks and milestones, you can create experiences you can enjoy no matter the outcome. Then when you find yourself in a field of the best riders, be grateful as this will be a great measure of where you are at in your training and your standards will improve because of the experience, not because of the placing and if you place, well even better!
Make it a priority that each and every show you celebrate not only your achievements but others too. If you aren’t ready for the big shows, enter the ribbon days and fun day outs, go hacking and aim to build your confidence and mileage with your horse. Every experience is a place to grow, not just competing and if competing isn’t your thing, that’s great. Find what is and just enjoy it. No expectations.
The truth is every successful journey has a story of hard work and obstacles they have had to overcome. You are no different. Persevere and set goals that are achievable to you, create experiences for you and your horse that have positive outcomes and experiences for you both. It’s with this approach that will help you get to where you want to be and enjoy the journey there.