Beating Competition Blues
I wonder if like our family, some of your highest, brightest moments along with some of your most disappointing and discouraging moments have happened at riding competitions. Sometimes we experience both the highs and lows of equestrian sport in a single day. Riding can be an emotional roller coaster and when we throw in the extra excitement, tension, expectation and demands of competitions, it can push us over the edge emotionally.
Have you ever arrived at a gymkhana cheerful, excited and bubbly in the morning, but on the trip home at the end of the day you felt tense, sad and snappy? I bet we all have. Those evenings we joke that the horse is for sale, the float is for sale and we’re going to take up origami, knitting or some other useless hobby, because the stress and disappointment of horse sport is just too much!
I think we’ve all been there, and we’ll probably be there again. Because when the emotions die down the truth of it is;
1. We love our horses,
2. We love our sport,
3. We don’t really want to be doing anything else!
I hope this month to give you some tips to take the dips out of the competition roller coaster. We all love the highs and as far as I’m concerned they can stay, but can we do something to minimize the lows? I think we can:
1. Set goals that don’t involve winning. The surest way to come away from a comp disappointed is to go with the goal “I want to win”. Of course you want to win and so does everyone else, but is that realistic? Can you win every time? No. Can everyone who wants to win, win? No. What about if you set a goal that has to do with what you had been working on recently. For example “I want to keep my eyes up during the showjumping and really look for the next fence as I go over each obstacle.” This is something you can control and even if you place fourth, you can end the day satisfied, “Hey we landed with the correct lead after each fence. Yay! That’s progress!”
2. Remind yourself why you ride. I don’t know any kids who took up riding because they were in love with ribbons! Isn’t it horses and riding that we love? Then why get so uptight about a piece of felt or satin that’s going to be forgotten in a week? Go to competitions to have fun with your horse, your friends and your riding, not to get hung up on a place.
3. Praise yourself and your horse for something you did right. (Thanks Jane Frankum for teaching us this at an instructor’s school.) At the end of the day don’t just think about what you have to work on, also decide on at least one thing you did right and your horse tried hard at. E.g. “I’m really happy that I rode the double nicely, I think I’m getting more secure in my two point seat,” and “Hero listened to me better today and even though we had a few rails down, he did steady when I checked him back.”
4. Think back to where you and your horse were up to a couple of years ago. I remember when my horse Denver was two, freshly broken and his ‘straight line’ was a serpentine. I said, “I will be so happy when we can just walk in a straight line!” Now if I’m frustrated with his jumping or something more advanced, I stop and think, “Hey not so long ago we couldn’t even walk a line. He’s actually doing great!”
5. Express the high points of the day on the way home. On the trip home don’t rehash all the mistakes, that’s a pretty depressing way to end a gymkhana or state event. How about sharing together the funniest moment, the bravest moment, who was the cutest little rider, the high point of your day, where your horse improved etc. Leave feedback for another time.
6. Give feed back away from the emotion of the event. Yes we all can learn from our mistakes, but no one is receptive of constructive criticism when they are tired, disappointed, and feeling vulnerable. Leave feedback until days or weeks later when the disappointment isn’t raw and the emotions have faded.
If we really want to learn the most we can from a performance, we should take the video camera along, tape the work-out /event and two weeks later watch it, when the frustration has faded. Sit down together with a hot chocolate and a positive attitude and look for positive things to recognise and praise. Then gently choose something that didn’t go so well to work on. We can’t let the negative observations drown out the positive, or our kids will get discouraged.
7. Tell your kids you love them and are proud of them. Last column we talked about the three types of love:
· I love you if,
· I love you because
· I love you anyway.
We need to make sure our children know that we love them no matter how they perform and that we are proud of them full stop! Make it clear your love and approval is not earned if they ride well, or because they are getting places, but anyway. The knowledge that they are loved unconditionally will sustain our kid’s morale much longer than success at an event ever could!
Wishing you victory over the competition blues,
Click here if you’d like to read last month’s column “Three Types of Love.”
Karen welcomes you questions and comments. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen’s previous columns are available in the publications section of this website.