"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, September 14, 2020

Reflections on a horse show

I normally post horse stuff on Snoopy's blog, but I haven't figured out quite what to do about that, now that Snoopy is living la vida grande at the retirement home and horse shows involve my new horse, Dhani.

I feel like a traitor.

But this post is about more than just showing my horse. It's about perception and expectation and trying to see one tree when it's the forest that's in view.

I was excited to go to the Sun and Surf Circuit in Del Mar. I love Del Mar. Niki and I usually have a great time, the arenas are nice, and there's a couple of restaurants I enjoy (perhaps a little too much). Got my bags all packed by Tuesday night, loaded up Wednesday and off we went. I was showing on Thursday and Saturday, and Niki was showing on Friday.

On Thursday, Dhani was a little "on the muscle" -- that is, he wanted to GO. There were seven obstacles. Throughout each obstacle, I got him to the correct line, felt confident that we were doing well, then over the last pole, I'd hear "thunk." He hit it with his back foot. Every. Freaking. Obstacle. At the end, we had to walk through a gate, over a pole. He actually stood on the pole with one delicate hoof.

No, this does not count as an "extra." My placing and my scores reflected the go. Not good.

On Saturday, I vowed to do better. It was a horrible warm-up. I felt like my legs weren't pushing into him enough, I couldn't get him to lift his back and legs. He was clunking one pole in everything I tried. I was fighting for everything. I went into the arena on the verge of tears.

The first obstacle was my nemesis from Thursday, the gate with the pole. Dhani crept toward it, bent his body around the gate, picked his feet up oh-so-carefully, and walked on. I was heartened. For, like, 20 seconds. This time, I think he hit poles on four of the seven obstacles. The obstacle I worried about the least ended up looking sloppy because he kept taking a baby stride before going over the pole (also known as "chipping"). The obstacle that I had practiced and practiced, he acted like he'd never done before, so I ended up dragging him around it. By the time we got to the backup, he was sullen and I was teary-eyed again. We at least finished with a lovely walk over the last poles.

Niki tried to tell me that a lot of it was good, but I didn't want to hear it. She reminded me that this was my first show in the upper division, which I knew, but I discounted it. I was upset. 

"We aren't getting any better," I told her.

"Yes you are getting better," she said. "The courses are getting harder."

She reminded me of all the mistakes I used to make that I didn't make. I found my lines, I steered my horse, I was able to correct him in the moment. I kept him moving forward. I focused.

I took everything in that she was saying and thought, "Okay. Sure. But I still sucked."

Until I saw my score sheets. Yes, I was penalized for all the poles he hit, but I got a lot of plus points for doing some things well. My scores were high. I even got 3rd place from one judge!

My expectation was that, because I'd been improving at the lower level, I'd continue that trajectory when things got harder. That was incorrect. Harder means you start building again.

My perception was that I had done a horrible job on the course. That was incorrect, at least in the judges' minds. I'm always going to be more critical of my performance than anyone else is.

I was so focused on doing it PERFECTLY that I could not see past my mistakes. That was unfortunate, because I forgot to go out and have fun seeing what Dhani and I could do together.

What did I learn? That expectation is a joy-killer, perception needs time to cook properly, and you should always remind yourself of your intention before you dive into anything.

I feel better now.

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