By: Jessica Wright
Sometimes people say, “Oh well, you can’t win all the time,” to which I’ve always silently replied, “Who says?” I want to walk into the show pen believing it is possible to win every time. Otherwise, why show up? Now, I can do this, for two reasons: one, I’ve learned how to lose. Two, I’ve figured out the real definition of winning.
In order to be capable of winning, you might first have to learn how to lose well. “Oh come on, Jessie,” you might say, “Learn how to lose? Doesn’t losing come naturally?” Yes, it does. We all start out falling short of the knowledge it takes to navigate the show pen. It’s a nuanced task; no matter how much one prepares outside the actual competitive environment, there are things you cannot learn except by paying your entry fee and doing it. So what’s this about learning how to lose? Anyone can lose. To lose well, however- to figure out how to make the most of the experience, that’s what we aim for. The most important part of this is to get over the tendency to resist the lesson losing teaches you. We don’t like to focus on that. Instead, we get distracted with self-condemnation, anger, or blame. When we fall into this trap, we have wasted a good opportunity for feedback and learning.
If we get bowed up in self-condemnation when we fail to win, it is because we have somehow attached our concept of self worth to the result of the horse show class, as if our identity depends upon the placing. Doesn’t it sound silly when I say it like that? Yet we do it. Do you act as if your name changes when you fail to live up to some self-imposed standard? Do you then try to deflect the horrible feelings of condemnation by getting angry or blaming someone else for the poor outcome? It is easy to fall into this temptation, and it may be satisfying to give vent to the emotions, but you pay a price. It is impossible to learn from the experience if we choose to focus on anger or condemnation, resisting the outcome.
Only with acceptance of the idea that we fell short, or missed our mark, can we turn our focus to the feedback each experience produces. Can we look at that feedback for what it is- feedback- not a value judgment about us as a person, and learn from it? Each opportunity to go in the show pen holds learning for us. A true champion learns how to lose well by making the most of every trip into the arena. Every misstep holds the key to what makes up a flawless run. Take the self-condemnation out of the picture and decide you will accept the lessons from the loss. Analyze the feedback and resolve to integrate the learning into your next run. This is how to lose well. Make it count.
If your definition of “winning” is like Reese Bobby’s, “Hey kid, if you ain’t first, you’re last,” you’re going to be easily discouraged. I like to think of winning as a more fluid concept than that. On a young horse that isn’t ready to win first place in the class, I can walk in to the show pen and show that horse and try to do my best, aiming at winning. Maybe winning for that horse that day means getting through a clean run, or perhaps having just one thing go right for a few seconds. Maybe winning for me that day is being able to do something a little bit better than I did the last time. If you make it a practice of aiming for a win every time, the right kind of win, I mean, then when the money is on the line, things have a way of falling into place. You can also derive much joy out of every experience, even the losses.
What are your goals when showing your horse? If it is just “winning the first place check,” even if you do that, the satisfaction is short lived. Horse sports take so much time and energy, if you don’t see a win in other places, you will spend a lot of time frustrated. What about expanding your goal a little to include learning how to communicate with your horse like a champion? What about learning how to attend to small details with a spirit of excellence? Learning how to have the follow-through necessary to excel. Learning how to dispense with fear and anxiety and embrace faith and joy. How to appreciate each horse for the unique creature God made him. How about learning to exist peacefully with the others at the show, learning to celebrate the friendships that cement the people at the show into a community of like-minded people? This is just a sample. There is so much more. Any time you can focus on expanding your experience of life, saturated with grace and gratitude, that is a win. This is why we ride. Sure, we like the thrill of the winning run, the paycheck, the accolades, but that’s just one facet of this journey called horse showing. God gifted us with the ability to enjoy our experiences, whether “winning” or “losing.” It’s our choice whether we receive and use the gift. God bless, and happy riding!
Jessica Wright, wife of cutting and cowhorse trainer Don Wright, is an author, AACC Certified Christian life coach, performance horse rider, and lover of all things equine. Reach her at www.thegreat-exchange.com