Leaving the Ring

At every horse show, I call my parents after every class to let them know how it went. They’re both fantastic sports about this- they’re not quite sure where they failed as parents, but they’ve learned to roll with the crazy. They’re also contractually obligated to love me and have to put up with me saying “Francis was a very good boy” 2087 different ways over and over and over again.

So after Zones, I called my mom on my way home. I told her how we had a great warmup, then got buzzed out of the ring in our first class because I didn’t help my horse out through the combo. She patiently listened to me describe what happened, then asked:

“How did you feel when you left the ring?”

Which really made me think hard- I’m so focused on the physical fitness aspect of this sport, the mental toughness of lasting a whole long weekend, the planning and strategy of how to best ride the course. I’ve often thought about how I feel when I walk into the ring- am I nervous? Do I remember my course? Crap, what’s my jumpoff?!

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Sometimes I enter the ring giggling because I love riding my horse so dang much

I don’t often consider how I feel when walking out of the ring.

The short answer: I felt fine. I always feel fine.

Do I feel freakin’ fantastic and leave the ring with a giant smile when things go well? Obviously. I love when the pieces come together and I’m always thrilled when Frankie goes out there and struts his stuff like a total pro.

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Leaving the ring, spazzing out with happiness

But my options aren’t happy vs. sad/mad/frustrated. My two options are happy vs. focused. I can’t remember the last time I walked out of the ring without patting Frankie and telling him what a good boy he is and taking a deep breath for myself. And that’s for a couple reasons.

Nine times out of ten, any trouble we run into on course is my fault. On the odd occasion that he pulls a rail and it isn’t due to rider interference, it’s because he’s tired- and his fitness is my responsibility. So scratch that: legit 100% of the time that something goes wrong, it’s my own fault and not his. He’s a very hard worker and wants to do a good job, and will perform as well as I enable him to. So that’s why I never get frustrated with Frankie- I am beyond lucky to have a literal unicorn as my trusty steed.

But I don’t really get frustrated or flustered with myself, either. Do I wish I could do better? Yes. Absolutely 100% yes, it’s why I pour every piece of my soul into this sport. But I can’t go back and change that round by regretting the fact that I tried to add a stride when I should have left it out. All I can do is go back and practice and try again later. All of my energy is focused on making my next round better- I have the energy to understand what I did wrong in my last round so I can fix it, but I don’t have the energy to harp on it.

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Sometimes I collapse on my horse when I leave the ring

When I left the ring after getting buzzed out in disgrace, I was already thinking about how I could fix that combo next time. I was already talking to my trainer about what I wanted to try differently, what we could do in our warmup to set us up for success, all that jazz.

How did I feel? I didn’t feel. I wasn’t happy or sad or embarrassed or any of that- I was focused on making the next round better.

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Sometimes I look miserable when we leave the ring, but really I’m just sweaty as I pat my pony

So when we left the ring after our next round, with some sticky spots and rails, I smiled and said to my trainer, “we fixed the combo!”  My horse continued to work hard to do his job, and I was able to help him out a bit more than I did before. That met my criteria for being happy about a successful round- I don’t need perfection to be satisfied, but I do need progress.

After all, every time I exit the ring still on my horse’s back means I can check at least one thing off the to-do list. It’s all about having reasonable expectations, right?

How do you feel when leaving the ring after a good round? A bad one? 

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