Learning How to Win

I grew up watching trainers and competitors do their thing. I would spend hours upon hours trying to wrap my head around a few things. The last few weeks, I’ve come to the realization that not only have I wrapped my head around these things I’m about to share – – I myself am doing them!

I remember watching my mentors (I have been very blessed to have several incredible horsemen and women cross my path and be willing to teach me) and wondering how, after making an incredible run, they weren’t visibly ready to explode with excitement. They simply smiled as they pulled up, thanked their horse, and away they went. I was in awe of this! At that time, I was struggling with just getting down the alley without wanting to puke and couldn’t even tell you half the time what happened between the time I crossed the start line and the finish line. These women… They were so poised! Weren’t they nervous? And if they weren’t, they needed to share their secrets!

I began asking questions. How do you get rid of the nerves? How do you think your way through a run? Why is it so hard? Looking back, there was never an answer that really stood out as a game changer. Mostly I was told repeatedly that it would get easier with time. That’s true to an extent I suppose.

As the years went by and I became more comfortable in the competition arena, I too slowly became a fierce competitor. The nerves slowed. The ability to think through my entire run started to grace me, and I began to become consistent. But – – I wasn’t winning.

It wasn’t until last August that the game completely changed for me. Most of my readers probably know by now what that game changer was. The first round of the ABRA finals. I had spent a week prior to the finals riding with my mentor. She had been grinding her gears for months about my riding and why I just couldn’t seem to take that leap from being pretty solid middle to bottom of the 1D to winning. Then it hit her. We were at a futurity/derby in Manitoba. The first round hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped and I was feeling a little beat up. My horse had been finishing top 10 (in at least a round) at every derby we entered and we had just come off a 3rd place average cheque at the Peace Country Derby. Anyway, she looked at me and said “stop riding everything like it’s never been around a barrel before. Get up out of that saddle and send him.” So I did. And we pulled it together to make it back to the short round of that derby.

OK, so back to the game changer as far as my mental game. The 2018 ABRA finals. That week will forever be etched in my brain. Because it changed my life. I was 311 out of 792. I had sent Famous to Coulee Equine for two weeks leading up to the finals and the day before our first run he’d been fresh enough to wanna try n buck me off. So I wasn’t sure what to expect. He was cruising a solid 17.8 in this pen, so I figured that’d be a good goal. I remembered the words of my mentor “don’t ride him like a colt. Send him.” So I did. And he thanked me in a big way. Famous knocked both his and my personal best on a standard set out of the water with a 17.310. And, as if that wasn’t enough, it held to win the round. Can you say surreal?? There were instant tears. I was elated. I looked like I was ready to explode with excitement… Because I was! I rode that high for the next two days. Then I remembered round 2. And the dread set in.

You see, one of the things I had been struggling with, even before the finals, was keeping it together after a great run. And the finals was even worse for me! I had this perception that every single person in that arena would be watching me. Expecting me to win again. At that time I didn’t have the confidence to feel like I could. I still kind of felt like round 1 may have been a bit of a fluke. I mean really… This horse ran a half second faster than he ever had before….

So anyway, I run up the alleyway for the second round. The announcer announces “keep an eye on this duo, they turned in the fastest time of round 1!” Well, that was enough pressure for me to completely lose it. I can say with conviction, Famous and I don’t hit a lot of barrels. I work hard to keep him tuned and he doesn’t really like getting in trouble. We creamed second barrel. Killed it. Going in. So had to take the scenic route to third. Can you say devastating.

Ironically, I learned that night, the only person it was devastating for was me. No one else cared. And, the girls who I looked up to most… The ones I consider to be winners, those girls understood it better than anyone. “It happens to everyone,” that was the response I got when I told one of these girls how my run went when she asked. She likely didn’t know then, probably still doesn’t know now, how important that phrase was to me. It literally changed the game for me. I even remember where we were standing when the conversation happened. The reality is, knocking that barrel was the best thing I could have asked for. Because (and this is going to sound crazy) it taught me how to win.

I obviously do not mean literally because I clearly didn’t win anything with that run. But knocking that barrel showed me that everyone wins and everyone loses. Our losses do not take away from our wins. THIS is the secret I’d been searching for all these years!!! The reason those girls I’d grown up watching could go down the alleyway looking so poised, and come out looking so calm, was because they knew that we are not defined by our best runs or our worst. But how we present ourselves between. The work we do to get there. And the kind of person we choose to be.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Famous spent 6 weeks turned out this winter before I brought him back. I started entering him the beginning of March and had two runs on him before loading up to head to Ponoka. I wasn’t nervous going down the alleyway because when Famous and I do our thing, it’s easy. We’re so in tune to each other than making runs is the easiest thing in the world. That being said, I was surprised to see the clock stop at 17.3 seconds. Not because I didn’t think we could do it… I know we can, but because I hadn’t expected us to be that tough so early in the season. About an hour later I realized I hadn’t cried. I hadn’t jumped up and down with elation. I hadn’t screamed and I hadn’t outwardly come across as someone who was going to explode with excitement. I just gave a small smile, thanked my horse, and went on my way.

****Remember at the beginning of this post I said there were a FEW things I had worked hard to wrap my mind around? Stay tuned for my next post 😉

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