Did you know upper-level eventers tend to be highly competitive by nature? This should come as no surprise, but if you haven't had the opportunity to experience these humans firsthand, I apologize for the spoiler alert. The "competitive gene" that eventers have must explain why we decide to keep doing this arguably crazy sport. This attribute doesn't mean that we always win, but we sure as heck are trying.
So, when things inevitably don't go our way at some point in eventing or, let's face it, life, it can be a blow to our ego. For example, when people say things like to complete is to win, or it's better to finish with a number than a letter, it can be hard to swallow. These words are meant to make us feel better and put things into perspective, but they also can feel like something that losers say. Yes, this is harsh, but if we are being honest, you know that thought has crossed your mind.
I have certainly said similar things to my students and genuinely meant it, but when put in the position where it applies to me, I have to admit it doesn't sit well. I'm my own worst critic, and mistakes on my record can feel like proof that I'm not good enough. As deep as this seems, I'm willing to bet that you've felt similar when you've made an error. It can feel like a direct reflection on your whole being and not just on the situation. Harsh self-critiques can't be the correct answer, so we must redefine what winning means to us in order to move forward.
Competing at Badminton this year offered me a chance to explore what a "win" could look like for me. Before the competition started, I dreamed of putting in my all-time best 5* performance, finishing on my dressage score, and being in the top 20 or better. I would consider that a massive win at my and Barry's Badminton debut, and I knew deep down that it could be possible.
On dressage day, we put in a below-average dressage test (39.5) because of a few costly bobbles that took away from our very lovely moments. Of course, I wanted to score better, but I wasn't too concerned because we are used to climbing our way up the leaderboard. Despite this, I was incredibly proud that Barry kept it together in a completely different atmosphere than any he had ever seen before. I was also proud of myself for being surprisingly calm as we stepped onto the biggest stage of our career. Maybe that could be considered a win?
XC day is always stressful as you watch other riders execute the course and patiently (maybe anxiously is a better choice of words) wait your turn. The course was as tough as ever, taking its toll on the competitors, with some of the best riders in the world having issues. I was number 95, so I had a long wait which is challenging for someone who prefers to go early. Most of the U.S. riders I was stabled with were done hours before I even tacked up. This left me with a lot of time on my hands to contemplate my decisions and sanity.
When we finally got out on XC, Barry felt like he belonged there. His bravery, genuine desire to do the job and athleticism suited the course. He tried his heart out all the way around, even when I didn't give him the best ride into 17A, the Mars Equestrian Sustainability Bay. It was a massive drop into the water off a very tight turn which, in hindsight, I should have done more preparation before getting there. Anyway, being the honest horse he is, he dropped in but landed funny, which almost popped me out of the tack. I was so shocked that I almost took a swim that I couldn't react fast enough to get to 17B, which was 3 or 4 strides after the drop. The only thing left to do was circle back to it, and when I did, he jumped it without question like nothing happened. God, I love my horse!
PC - Nick Rogers
As disappointed as I was, I knew there was still a lot of work ahead, and I was determined we would finish the course. So I put that behind us and carried on through some of the most challenging questions like the LeMieux Leap, the Vicarage Vee, and the Solar Farm (with a bounce option that we took), just to name a few. We galloped back into the main arena, over the last fence, and through the finish lines with plenty of gas left in the tank. Surely that must be a win, but why could I only focus on the mistake I made and not the joy of jumping around one of the world's most demanding 5* tracks?
Obviously, I was happy that we finished the course and we were both safe and sound. However, I felt like I had let my horse, friends, family, and Team Barry supporters down. Despite many congratulations from people near and far, I still couldn't shake the feeling that I f***ed up. How messed up is that? I literally just finished Badminton XC (a lifelong dream), and that's what I was thinking. Clearly, I needed a mental reset. The competition wasn't over, and I had to ensure I was in the right headspace going into SJing. Instead of focusing on the one negative bit of an otherwise excellent round, I needed to remind myself of all the things we did right and how grateful I was to be there.
We overcame a lot of adversity to get to Badminton. With being waitlisted until only two weeks before we had to leave and me having unexpected knee surgery less than four weeks before the event started, it is a miracle that we made it this far. How amazing is that? What if that in itself is a win? I decided it was an accomplishment in my book, which would be my guiding light for the rest of the event.
Due to our mishap on XC, we were the first to go into the show jump ring on Sunday. This could've been an incredibly stressful situation considering it was my first Badminton, and I would have to be the trailblazer for the track. Luckily, I had done my work beforehand and focused on gratitude for making it this far and not the pressure of going first. With that in mind, we produced a lovely round with only one unfortunate rail at the plank jump, which was on completely flat cups that made Barry's light brushing of it come down.
PC - Libby Law Photography
Of course, I would've loved to jump clear with the announcer saying, "that's how it's done," at the end of our round. Yet, that wasn't our reality on the day. Again feeling slightly disappointed, I went back to what a win looked like for me at this moment. We made it here; we completed, had the support of people near and far, and were both happy and healthy. Sure we were technically the last place on the leaderboard (52nd out of 85 starters), but I decided to flip it to the first finishers at Badminton 2022. Now that's a win!
We are the interpreters of our reality, and don't forget it. There are things in and out of our control that affect the outcomes in sport and life. It's our job to focus on the things we can control, which is our perception of these events. You have the power to choose, full stop. No matter the goal or outcome, use your competitiveness to determine how you can win on a personal level. When you can redefine your version of success, you will always win!