To compete is for many of us to compare ourselves to others. It can be inspiring to see how good other riders are. And it can encourage you to get better when you have to compete against others. That is part of the reason why we missed competitions during the corona lockdown. But comparing yourself with others can also do the opposite. You get upset and discouraged. Rider and high school teacher Lene Paulsen has some valid thoughts about when the comparison is toxic for you and your horse, and what you can do to avoid it.
LIKE GIVING GRADES IN SCHOOL
When I am not sitting on a horse, I am a teacher. Part of my job is to give yearly grades. It is not a part of the job that I love, but it needs to be done. It also happens that a student gets upset by the grade I have given.
“Why did I get C when Frederik got B? I know I have done more than him ?! ” I hear that a lot. It is not that, that the student does not want Frederik to get a B, but she feels that it is an injustice that she got B. If I talk to her about her own tasks and achievements, then she realizes, that a C is okay, and she understands how to get to a B next time. She is fine with it, and it is only by comparison with Frederik that she gets upset.
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COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS AT A COMPETITION
The same goes for equestrian events. As riders we should keep our noses to ourselves. But we tend to compare ourselves too much to others, and that can hurt quite a bit. Like when the inexperienced rider with the young horse beats you by over 5%. It happens even though your horse is older and did really well – and you have sweated your way through many more training sessions than she has.
It is not because you do not want her to win and be happy, but it makes you a little discouraged and a little embarrassed. Everyone can see on the digital scoreboard and see your percentages compared to hers. And everyone can see on Instagram how she shines with her victory photo at the dressage arena. Also, if you scroll further down in your feed, you see more of the same. You think to yourself that you will never get to post such a picture. Because you are not good enough. You never get a handle on your nerves, the counter gallop, the line-up or “the lion” that always lurks in the corner by P.
That is what the comparison can do to us. Even though we all know that even good riders have bad days, that Instagram photos are just lucky snapshots and so on. It still happens that we get discouraged. And it will continue to happen until we decide that we do not want to let it control us anymore.
BE PROUD AND HAPPY DESPITE
I try to teach myself to stay in the bubble where I find my riding joy and my pride. Yes, my horse is 9 years old, and I still have not gotten very far in the dressage training. But it does not matter. Because you know what? I love to ride my horse and we make a good team. I want to ride that test in a way that makes me proud. Even if no one at the venue or on Instagram can see that it is a small miracle that I am able to even do this.
Despite the fact, that I am a single mother full time, and despite the fact, that I have trained my horse myself, even though I have never had a young horse before, I show up. Even though, I have been sick with stress and have only recently recovered. And despite the fact, that I am a middle-aged lady who does not have a lot of strength, I think it is fun.
Also by the way: What other dressage horses in this test can also do a 26 km endurance test and still get 7 for gaits and indulgence? How many of the fine long-legged horses can give a ride in the terrain without losing their head? And how many of them are standing and pushing on the stall door out of eagerness to get out and train when they hear the sound of their owner’s footsteps? And finally: Is there a horse as cute and beautiful as mine? I do not think so.
IT CREATES COURAGE TO CONTINUE
Truth is, we all have a list of things we can be proud of and happy about. And we all have our despite off-list. We need to bring those things to the competition so that we do not get poisoned by comparing ourselves to others. If we instead see our results in the light of our own development and not others. Then it all makes much more sense – and gives you much more courage to continue.
The article was originally published on Lene Paulsen’s blog.