Why do we compete our horses?
As the 2021 season gets going, the prospect of further relaxation of lock-down rules brings promise to the many equestrians desperate to return to the competitive arena.. I am sure the light at the end of the lock-down tunnel comes as a great relief to many who are desperate to get back out to competitions.
The British Equestrian Trade Association’s National Equestrian Survey 2019 values the UK equestrian sector at £4.7 billion of consumer spending across a wide range of goods and services each year with 27 million people in Britain with an interest in the equestrian industry. The number of regular riders is 1.8 million with 374,000 horse-owning households in Britain and the estimated horse population in Britain stands at 847,000. I do not know what portion of these statistics relate to equestrian competition, but I am sure it is a significant amount.
So, there are a lot of us with horses… and if my experience stands for anything, we love taking them to competitions of all shapes and sizes.. but why? One observation stands out to me; you go to a competition and don’t do very well, how do you react to that? We often find excuses, blame a flapping banner, a loose dog or the poor judging….. It can be very disappointing to have a bad day out competing. However, once we have recovered from the crushing disappointment, pulled ourselves together and seen sense, we promised ourselves we will do better next time and vow to return to try again and do better. In fact, we can barely wait for the next opportunity to try again..
Alternatively, we have a great day, everything falls into place and we manage to pull it out of the bag and win. What a fantastic feeling, this is what dreams are made of, winning with our Pegasus the wonder-horse. What next? We won, so that’s it isn’t it? Oh no, not for the average equestrian competitor, you are barely back at the horse box from the prize-giving and you are planning the next one, where can you go to try to win again?
So, it seems that win or lose, there is one thing that is common among competitors. We are always looking for the next outing, the next opportunity to try again for that coveted red frilly. Even getting placed is quickly forgotten, as improving on the placing becomes the goal..
In nature, animals compete to survive as individuals and compete to breed to survive as a species. Competitiveness has a valid place in survival, but life is relatively easy for those of us who live in prosperous and peaceful nations. We can nip to the supermarket for food and the opportunities to meet a mate are there. So, we need an outlet for our natural competitive instinct – this is where sport steps in. Some of us are lucky enough to have found horses and become life-long obsessives for this magnificent creature.
Consider this though; Is what you are doing liberating or stifling your life? Are you driven by results or performance? How do you rate your performance? There is always another competition but today will never be repeated, today is a one-off, so are you going to enjoy it or become controlled, pressurised and ultimately limited by it? Do you enjoy performing in a competitive environment, or is competing a debilitating effort, a chore that hinders performance? Be sure you are there to achieve your training goals and do not allow competitive results to hinder and diminish the process.
In his interview on the High Performance Podcast, Johnny Wilkinson said about winning the rugby world cup “….the immensity, the ecstasy of that moment is incredible, but within three or four seconds it is on the decline, there is no lasting nature to it….” This sounds a bit negative as a stand-alone statement, but Wilkinson is talking about the importance of enjoying the journey to, and beyond, that winning moment and remaining passionate about your chosen sport.
If you take the time to enjoy the training and stay passionate about the journey with your horse you will realise that competition days are just another part of your equestrian curiosity. You are there to find out if your horse is willing to perform in the way you have trained him at home when you present him on the competitive stage. Is your training solid enough for him to trust you when you ask him to perform in your chosen discipline? That is the question we are asking; we are curious about how he will react to the situation we put him in.
I believe that if you see this as the reason to compete, not the winning, then you will enjoy the competition more and perform better. Take your support crew on that journey with you and competition days will become something to relish and look forward to. Whatever happens, be realistic about your expectations for your performance and if, on that day, your performance is the best one there, then that rosette is yours. But remember, If your horse has stepped up and behaved and performed as well as expected you cannot be unhappy. You have no right to be disappointed, you have explored another day with your horse and found out one more thing about him. This is another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is training horses.
I appreciate there are many additional considerations when choosing a competitive program for our horses, there may be employment or commercial pressures for results. This is a whole new angle and I could go on for a long time, but I do believe that an open and honest training program involving the whole team will lead to less pressure and better results. Focus on the training and the results will follow.
Whatever your goal this season, have fun, stay curious and be safe.