FACT: You are, at some point in your life as a competitive rider, whether an Olympic contender, a walk-trot division regular at schooling shows, or anyone in between, going to have a competition that does not go according to plan. It’s just the nature of things, and if you can’t accept that, then please find a new hobby RIGHT NOW. If you can embrace the possibility of having a train wreck ride, then here is my guide on how to deal with it when it inevitably happens.
First, you are allowed to feel bad about your performance, and even politely fume and vent your frustrations as part of processing the disaster (with certain caveats—more on that in a moment), but the amount of time you are allowed to throw a pity party is directly proportionate to the level at which you are competing and the stakes of said competition. As a dressage trainer, I’m only qualified to comment on this from a dressage perspective, but feel free to adapt to your discipline of choice:
Training through second level at a recognized show: 20 minutes.
Third and fourth levels: 30 minutes.
FEI: 45 minutes.
Qualification for any of the various national and international championships (young horse, youth divisions, NAYC, high performance): One hour.
Performance at the national championships: 12 hours.
Performance at international championships: 24 hours.
Olympics: 36 hours.
Schooling show: 30 seconds.
Caveats for riders under the age of 10: You may have an additional five minutes to be bummed unless someone offers to take you to get ice cream, in which case all pouting must IMMEDIATELY cease and desist.
Next, let’s discuss acceptable coping strategies. Feeling frustrated and venting to your coach or a close friend or family member, away from the ears of others, is acceptable. So is eating complex carbohydrates and/or drinking an adult beverage, as long as you are not going to get behind the wheel post-beverage. Venting in public is expressly prohibited. Crying in private at any volume level is appropriate (cars, trucks and horse trailer dressing rooms are perfect locations for such behavior). Crying in public is only acceptable if it is also silent and does not take place in a location that other people need easy and expedient access too (like the tack room at a show, for example, as your fellow riders need to be able to hustle and bustle about without feeling the need to console you).
At no point shall your mourning occupy your trainer’s time if she has other students at the show who require her attention. Under NO circumstances shall your frustration cause you to be curt or short with anyone, particularly your horse. Your allowed grieving time begins after your horse is calmly and quietly put away post-ride, your tack is clean, your space in the tack room at the show is appropriately tidied up, and any other chores have been achieved. At no point shall equipment be thrown. Any words that would give a movie a PG-13 rating or higher shall not be uttered within the earshot of anyone under the age of 18 or over the age of 80.
No changes to your training plan, your horse’s ownership status, your farrier or veterinary plan, or your goals shall occur within 24 hours of the competition, no matter at which level you are competing. No trainer, groom or other horse health or education provider shall lose their job before Tuesday of the following week.
Remember that ice cream and/or margaritas cure virtually everything. When in doubt, apply liberally.
And lastly, step away from Facebook for no less than 48 hours. No posts, and no reading the posts of others who’ve had a great weekend. Everything is better in the fresh light of a new day. Did I mention the ice cream?
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF Gold, Silver & Bronze Medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, her and Beverley Thomas’s Ellington, and her own Gretzky RV and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook.