I Heart Winning

DSC_0027Photo credit: Tim Waite

When I look back over these blog posts, one of two things tends to happen. Sometimes, my heart grows a size or two at the responses I’ve had from those who enjoy what I’ve written. I really, really appreciate all of the kind words, and find it humbling…and about the time I feel this way, my inner fourteen year-old rolls her all knowing eyes and says “Yeah, well, you don’t sound like much of a competitor…in fact, you don’t sound like someone who even likes winning…or has ever even shown a horse, much less won”. I figure it’s time to set the record straight…or smack my inner fourteen year-old. One or the other.

I. LOVE. SHOWING. HORSES. I love everything about it…and most of all, I LOVE WINNING. (There. I said it.) There is plenty of research to suggest that kids start any sport…and stay in any sports, because it’s fun. And let’s face it ladies and gents…winning is much more fun than…not winning, so of course there is a certain level of fixation on winning. Nothing makes my heart race faster than the click of the announcer’s microphone just before the placings are read…especially when I know my horse and I had a great go. I also enjoy prizes of all kinds…jackets, ribbons, trophies, plaques, plastic cups…I even won a giant lucite paper clip once and thought it was the best thing EVER. (Truthfully, it was weird, and I still don’t know why it was a prize, but the point is I WON IT.)

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my previous post “Get Out of Your Box Stall” , I enjoyed the competition end of horse showing so much, that I became fixated on that part instead of the myriad of other things that make horse showing great…like the horses, and (most) other horse people, for example.   Sadly, at times this made me a bratty fourteen year-old in a 20 plus year old body. Not a good look. Plus when I didn’t win, showing horses stopped being fun.

Fortunately, with time, a series of hard knocks, and a Ph. D. in Sports Psychology, I changed my perspective on competition, and horses and horse shows became fun again.   Looking back, there were a few other things that sped up my trip back to horse show enjoyment.

1) Judging horse shows-The view from the center of the ring is much, much different than most people assume. By judging, I developed a new found understanding of not only the rules and specs of each class (which everyone participating should know) but the fact that sometimes the difference between first and second is only a point. Or half-a-point. Or even one unfortunate look in a particularly unfortunate time frame. While it’s important to be evaluated by others, understanding the process judges go through made it clear to me that what really IS important is your ride…

2) The ride (or go)-You’re ultimately the only one that knows your horse, and what the two of you have been through or are trying to improve upon. Once I started focusing on those little details…getting my horse to respond immediately when asked, finding the softest cue I could give to get a response, and all of the other little details that go into a great performance…achieving those things became more important than the almighty win. And interestingly, the wins actually seemed to come easier.

3) True competition-There is a book called True Competition that completely changed the way I thought about competition, and the kind of competitor I wanted to be. Trying to focus on treating my horses well, other people well, and appreciating the skill and integrity of other exhibitors when I saw it, made me truly appreciate a win when I had one. And I started to think less about beating others, and more about at least trying to make it challenging for others to beat ME whenever I could.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from perfect…and my heart still races when the microphone clicks, but now it’s about things that I can actually control. Hopefully if you beat me, you had to do your best to do it. If you did, you’re welcome to that giant lucite paperclip…you earned it.

Get Out of Your Box Stall

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A week or so ago, I rode my horse bareback, in a cornfield, for the first time in well over 20 years. I suppose I should clarify…it was the first time I’d ridden bareback in over 20 years. I’m not sure I’ve ever ridden in a cornfield.

For some of you, this is not a big deal at all, and you’re probably wondering WHY it was a big deal to me. For others, you’re wondering why I even considered doing it. To be honest, I wondered that too, so I got to sorting out why something I did all the time as a kid, has suddenly become SUCH a big deal to me. At first I thought it was the fact that I managed to haul my “not so young” self onto the back of a horse who hadn’t been ridden in 2 months give or take, and who can buck like nobody’s business on the end of a lunge line. But it wasn’t really that so much. I knew that she had been ridden bareback by her previous owner, and I also knew that she doesn’t typically buck like that with a rider. I also wore a helmet. There was a bit of physical risk, but nope. That wasn’t it.

Once I started through the turn out lots toward the field, I could sense that she was also pretty excited about venturing out of the arena. Her head was up and her ears forward, and I did nothing to change it. (THAT was new). She was marching forward like she had business to take care of, and I did nothing to change that either. Once we got into the field, we started down the edge, where there are lots of trees and lots of deer, who evidently found us a bit nerve wracking. I felt Virginia (the mare) jump, but she didn’t spook much. I laughed and we kept going. (UNHEARD OF.) No one was watching, or evaluating our performance except deer…so what did it matter that she spooked? It didn’t.

You’re probably starting to understand what I eventually came to realize. For the past 30 plus years, I’ve been showing horses…typically western horses. With showing, comes competition and evaluation, which I also enjoy quite a bit. What I think I eventually forgot to enjoy though, was the horses themselves, and how amazing it is that we are athletic enough to ride them and they are kind enough to let us do all sorts of ridiculous things they wouldn’t do on their own. That is part of what makes judging so enjoyable…you get to watch people and horses do amazing things, from getting around the arena in one piece, to knocking out a flawless pattern.

This little “spin” through the cornfield reminded me of why I love horses in the first place. But there was a little more to it. I think that sometimes when we show horses (or compete in anything) seriously, and for a long time, the competition actually becomes the focus, rather than the experience of it. I know I went through a phase where I could scarcely imagine doing anything with a horse other than compete. (Probably not my finest hour, but it’s true. And kind of sad, frankly.) This experience also got me thinking about other things I’ve neglected to try for fear of not doing them well…things like cooking, for example. Yikes. Cupcake Wars would be the one of the scariest things I can imagine, to be honest. (And how did we get to the point where even cupcakes have to be a contest?!)

If you look at the header for this blog, you see the quote “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” When I started Out of the Boxstall, I wanted to share thoughts and ideas about the horse industry, judging, and horse shows, and I’ll definitely keep doing that. When your life revolves around those topics, it’s kind of hard not to. But I really wanted to encourage people (myself included) to do some “out of the box stall” thinking in other ways as well. One of my New Year’s Intentions (Not resolutions. Those are the kiss of death) is to write more regular blog posts…if you like them, great, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. That’s probably one of the most important things I learned from riding bareback in a cornfield…sometimes the experience of doing it is much more important than the ribbons, points, numbers of “Likes” or any other external reward. I really think 2015 is going to be a great year…and I hope it is for you, too.

What will you do this year that gets you “out of YOUR box stall?”

Get out of your box stall