Oh, Dressage.

What a great Saturday we had at St. Georg Dressage in Sonoita last weekend.  It was a beautiful (dare I say) autumn day and all the horses and riders behaved themselves.  Everyone kept their heads about them as they performed Eventing or Dressage tests in front of judge Susan Parrish.   Thank you to Scarlett Fahrenson for hosting us at her lovely facility.

Riding and coaching at this little show caused me to evaluate some of the trials we face when we trot up centerline in front of a judge, asking, literally, to be judged.

In life, we try not to judge others and being judgmental is often considered a bad trait.  Yet, we have created an entire horse sport centered around judgement as the path to improvement and success.  It makes us feel vulnerable and pressured and as one student put it, “It takes me back to school days where tests brought on sweating and lost sleep for fear of failing the class or looking stupid.”  In other words, a lot of emotion goes into our dressage tests.

But, if we can keep in perspective the fact that the consequences are very small for poorly performing our dressage test.  We will still walk out of the ring, pat our pony, load up and go home to feed the horse and ourselves and get some sleep.  This is not life or death.  In a days time, the sting of a bad score or a tough comment from the judge will have faded and we’ll be back to the work of improving our connection to our horse.

You see, regardless of the horse sport we have chosen, it’s the process of getting there that we are all addicted to.  We have the luxury of working with these incredible animals and co-create with them to find joyful experiences.  The contrast of barn work to the feeling of flying as your horse clears a fence or performs a change of lead effortlessly is what draws us in.  The same moment where we are searching for finesse, we are also trying to ‘get ‘er done’.  The better we become at blending these ideas, the more clear the responses from our horses.

So, why compete?  I find myself asking this question a lot.  Equestrian sports are not inexpensive, they require time and commitment and a lot of weekends away from your family.  But, it gives us focus.  It gives us a goal to work toward and allows us to take a snapshot of our progress and the fluidity between our mind and our horses’ minds.  But it is only that.  Three to six minutes does not explain where you have come from or where you are going to the complete stranger seated at C.

If I focus on what we have accomplished and the satisfaction I feel about being there at all, my score and the judges comments can be taken lightly, without the weight of our entire existence.

I think we all rationally know this, but our ego is loud and proud.  It feels the pressure of this situation and says fight? or flight?  Thank you, Ego, but your panic is unwarranted.  I will survive and even enjoy today because I know that it has no bearing on tomorrow, unless I let it.  Thank you to Dressage for exposing the holes in our armor and causing us to look inside to find answers.  Phew!  We will make it!

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