Our sport comes with a lot of highs and lows both at home, and in the show ring. In a sport where the start of many of our classes is indicated by the phrase “You are now being judged…” it’s inevitable that many of our wins and losses feel deeply personal. But horses have taught me some valuable lessons about both.
Winning is is the easy lesson. Be graceful, but be proud. A barn mate may have had a tough show and you can be both proud of your own accomplishments, and understanding about their own struggles. This may not even be a win at a show. Perhaps you really nailed all of your lead changes in a lesson, but a friend’s horse stopped at every other jump. Be excited for your win, and acknowledge the work you put in to get there. And yet, don’t forget to be a friend.
Losing is harder. When we have a bad show or a bad ride, it’s easy to be angry. It’s easy to say “if this hadn’t happened” or “if the judge only liked palominos” (I’ve said it too!) or “if only I had an easier or more flashy horse” things might have been different. It’s easy to be angry at the person who won and to say they didn’t deserve it because they don’t work as hard as you, or aren’t as correct as you, etc. And maybe those are all true. But they don’t get you any closer to a win next time.
If you need to have a little cry, or have a little temper tantrum when you get off, do it–If you aren’t a little heartbroken, you probably didn’t want it badly enough in the first place! Keeping that frustration inside can just cause it to stack up, and there’s something deeply satisfying about the sound of your crop thunking against a wall. But once that’s out of your system, it’s time to look forward. Screaming and yelling and bullying your horse during the next ride won’t fix anything, and neither will doing what you’ve always done to get to where you are.
Even though it’s sometimes tempting, beating your horse won’t make him jump better, and neither will berating your trainer for your failure. In fact, taking out your frustration on everyone and everything around you that you feel is to blame will only poison those relationships in the long term.
What I’ve learned, is that it’s ok to take a moment to be angry, or sad, or afraid. But after that? Then it’s time to be better, to do better, and to work harder. Identify why you failed, and don’t let yourself make the same mistake. I guarantee you’ll make it anyway! But each time you do, be more motivated the next time. Moving forward is the only way through a hard loss, and it’s the only way to improve.
The biggest thing I’ve learned is that there is rarely a loss you cannot come back from. It may be hard, and it may take more time and dedication and passion than you ever anticipated, but it can be done.