I’m not sure if I should blame it on my Asian upbringing or my big brothers or what, but I am, deep inside, a fiercely competitive person. Throughout my swimming “career” I loved racking up the ribbons, and even more appreciated moving up time divisions (that was a cleverly devised scheme to get people competing in more appropriate speed brackets as well as encouraging progress). Once, at a fifth grade swim carnival (that’s what swim meets are called in Australia, swimming “carnivals”, it’s so much more festive) I came up from behind in a race to shockingly beat the older, bigger girls in my group, and that night my mother heard me sleep talking to myself repeating over and over, “yeah, I won.”
So it’s been interesting to see how my naturally competitive nature meshes with riding, where not only am I an amateur even among amateurs, but a creature with its own mind and set of opinions comes into play. Luckily for me, I have happily embraced the collaborative and cooperative aspects of riding — helping one another out, good sportsmanship, etc. — as well as the mentality that the only person I’m competing against is myself. I truly believe that, too. Every show I go to I aim to do better than I did last time; to have cleaner, more balanced turns or crisper, quieter transitions. To not get eliminated for horse abuse.
There’s just this one tiny problem with that.
I’ve been rewarded a few too many times — emotionally and literally — for doing better than the people around me for placings to truly mean nothing to me.
Additionally, and even more importantly, the kid and I have been working hard on our dressage. And through a lifetime of doing it off and on, I’ve kinda learned that hard work pays. It pays in cleaner, more balanced turns and it pays off in crisper, quieter transitions. But it also pays off in better rides, better scores, higher placings, and the
emotional cache happiness that comes with knowing you finished on your dressage score at your first rated show succeeding in knocking several goals off the list at once and proving to the haterz that Murray is a badass. (He has no haters, I’m his only hater.)
I deeply respect the slow work lifestyle. I respect it in SB (recent BAMF at a dressage show near you), Jenn (working hard to be the best partner possible for her horse), and Lauren (kicking ass and taking names in the 2’9″) among many others. I respect it in the friends I have in the real world and in myself. But accepting and embracing slow progress does not mean I do not have expectations. And it does not mean those expectations don’t get a little, uh, out of hand sometimes.
You see, like another tiny person much more famous than I, I seem to have these rather grandiose hopes.
LOL new fave pic of this guy.
You know, I hope that we can look a little bit more like this.
Aaaand less like this.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I basically hope that we can perform at least 75% as well as we typically do at home. And honestly, is that really too much to ask?
I think not. But I let my expectations run away with me. One advantage of photographing shows it that I get to watch a lot of dressage tests, and thanks to things like StartBox Scoring I know what low scoring tests look like. I know that if we could ride in a test like we ride at home (on a good day) we could easily blow our current scores out of the water, as well as much of the competition I’ve seen at our level. Yes, I’m bragging, because I am absurdly proud of the work we have done. When he wants to, Murray can dressage like a mofo. At home, my horse can be an absolute dressage beast.
Unfortunately, he can be an absolute actual beast as well. The kind that doesn’t like it when you try to touch the rose in his secret attic and gets all hulked out when the villagers come to burn down his mansion that’s probably super flammable due to all the wood lacquer. The kind that says “bitch can’t tell me what to do” in the second half of the left canter circle, bucks and switches to the right lead, then gets super upset and confused that someone made him switch to the right lead and is now forcing him to counter canter and discombobulatedly falls into a trot only to scream in horror when asked to finish his left canter circle. The kind that convinces dressage judges he’s mightily abused and that someone ought to be more sympathetic with her aids.
This dichotomy means that I have to be pretty careful in managing my expectations. Sure, we could perform just as well as we do at home. And that would be amazing!!! But more likely, we will put in a conservative, workman-like test that is nothing spectacular but doesn’t result in elimination. Shit, who am I kidding. A workman-like test where we can maintain some semblance of steadiness without any tantrums in it would be a spectacular showing for us. Much more likely we will put in a strategically under-ridden, mediocre test where Murray insists on noodling his way up all the long sides. Quite possibly we will perform a test where Murray’s Beast Mode emerges and I could very well get eliminated in the first phase, or be happy about my fave score — the one that reads the same whether you do eventing dressage or dressage dressage — again.
Some of these options do not live up to my short-man syndrome expectations. And for three out of four of these options I will cry over my test, either due to extreme happiness or the let down of not being able to perform as well as I know we can.
It’s extremely helpful to remember that this is just a step in the careful, long-term plan I have for this pony (thanks RBF for this reminder!). On my budget, I can’t quite afford to get him oot and aboot enough to really make showing feel like schooling at home, so I must play the hand that is dealt when I get to the show grounds. Regardless of whether Murray shows up willing or unwilling to play the game, the show must go on. It will be a learning experience for both of us: I will learn how far I can push Murray, and Murray will learn, once more, that
pushing my buttons in the dressage court means he gets away with anything he can throw at me we are doing this, regardless of what he throws down. Unless the thing he throws down is literally his body, in which case we may be fucked.
And it’s just a show, right? There will be many more in our future, and every time we have a chance to fix what we didn’t do right last time. Maybe one day we won’t change leads or kick out at some point in the left canter circle. One day soon we’ll get through the walk-trot transition without some kind of passive-aggressive bulging abdominal muscles and snake-eyed avoidance. In my dreams I ride a horse that piaffes on command not because he is spooking at a piece of grass.
But I can’t help but hope.
I mean, I’ll essentially be dressed like this anyway….
So I will continue to prepare for my great expectations. There’s literally no point in preparing for a bad test, except mentally. I will warm up as I have planned to and hope to get Murray to the sweet spot of settled but not overworked and pissed. I will trot down the centerline with a smile on my face, leave all my expectations at A, and ride like I have nothing to lose. Because I don’t.