A while back I had a client enter a show at a big level, her debut at that level, and her first show after a long competitive gap. Her horse is an amazing creature, a phenomenal athlete with an equally incredible mind, who’s also had a long history of health issues, including trying very hard to die on her twice, fortunately to no avail. She’s done the lion’s share of the training herself, and he’d spent a month with me to finish up one last piece of the test. Was she ready to do this level? Mostly. Was it going to be incredible? Certainly not.
But I talked her into entering anyway, and here’s why. First, on her best day, she was close enough. Second, the show was close, and we—my students and I—were going already. This client doesn’t live nearby, so it was a great opportunity for me to be there with her to talk her through it. And last but not least, horses are horses, and she’s been thisclose to this level for two years, marred by an annoying injury in the middle.
Screw it, I told her. Life is short. Carpe diem. Get in the ring.
It did not go as planned. This student, bless her, who has been out of the show ring for years and, as such, had a very atrophied Horse Show Muscle, went in there and had it pretty much all fall apart. She knew it sucked, and I knew it sucked, and there’s no way to sugar coat that. I told her something that was both encouraging and also true: there’s nowhere to go from here but up. Tomorrow will be better. And we put a beer in her hands.
We’ve all been there, right? It sucks to have it all go to hell in a handcart in public, but sometimes them’s the breaks.
But that’s not what this blog is about. What this blog is about was my horror to learn that another rider pulled my student aside later and told her that she, this rider, wished my student had saluted out in the middle of her test.
Those who know me know that I’m rarely at a loss for words, but this struck me dumb. Because who among us hasn’t blown it big? Who among us hasn’t learned the hard way that experience is the thing you get 30 seconds after you needed it? Who among us hasn’t risen from the ashes of disaster to do better the next time? And who among us hasn’t spent a night tossing and turning and self-flagellating after said disaster has occurred?
How often do you meet people who need help beating themselves up after a calamity? My friends, my customers, my family and, without a doubt, myself are all perfectly capable of kicking ourselves when we’re down. We don’t need assistance.
As a citizen of the social media world, I’ve had my own incidents with oh-so-helpful internet comments reminding me of my own failures. Some have eaten at me and some I’ve been able to mostly shrug-off, though they all smart a little. It’s taught me to have a thicker skin. But I signed up for this. By opening the door to my life and my world, I’m inviting those comments.
And I suppose the case could be made that, by going to a horse show, whether it’s a local dressage show or one of the biggest events in the world that’s live streamed all over the planet in real-time, you’re opening yourself up to that same scrutiny.
But it is, apparently, so easy for so many to forget that we learn by doing, and usually by doing wrong. We hope the majority of our tough lessons are learned at home, away from the public eye, but that’s sometimes not the case. And of course we always, always hope that our tough lessons are not learned at the expense of our equine partners, but sometimes that isn’t the case either.
When things go desperately, direly sideways, we should kick our own asses. We should live with the shame. But we shouldn’t get help, particularly from others who’ve walked in our shoes, who’ve been in the ring to feel the ride getting further and further out of our hands.
I know of no top riders who would have kicked my student while she was down. None. Not one. Maybe they’re out there, but I don’t know them, and they’re certainly not friends of mine.
And by the way, my student came back swinging the next day, improved her score by 10 percent, and continues to rise, and I’m so proud of her I could just explode. Because we learn by screwing up. The road to success is paved with a million tiny failures, but usually more than a few big, whopping ones. And sometimes those are even in public.
I hope that, when I inevitably have my next experience with sucking royally, those who might have something nasty to say remember that I’m a human, and that they are, too; that any one of us are capable of any level of human error at any given moment; that none of us are infallible; that kindness and compassion are both completely free; and that we’re all in this together.