Saturday, August 30, 2014

What are you trying to do?

Spending time with these lovely ladies is a huge "win".
Before I headed down to Tennessee this week for the Celebration, my husband had asked me why?  Why are you going?  What are you trying to accomplish?  I think the question stemmed from the fact that Halo wasn't really "ready."  And by "ready," I specifically mean ready to win the blue ribbon - to be extremely competitive.  But, no one knows what may happen in the ring, or who else will show up to compete.  And, while anyone who enters could win a class, its pretty absolute that you definitely cannot win if you don't go into the ring.  But Halo was certainly behind due to the fracture, and other two year olds more than likely had been worked all summer versus standing in a stall on the mend.  So, I had to think about that question. REALLY think about that question  What exactly was I trying to do?  Why was I doing this?  Scott offered me some choices. Do you want to win?  Just ride in the show?  Be with other people and socialize?  Or dress up in all your pretty outfits and ride on a pretty horse?

As I started to think about it, I guess at some level it was a little bit of all those choices - and a few more reasons too. But I took the question to heart and tried to do a little soul searching about it during my trip. I also took the trip as an opportunity to discover why other people are doing this too; going to the extreme of competing at the highest level at the Celebration.  It's not cheap. It's not easy. It's also not always fact as far as ribbons or more precisely BLUE ribbons or floral rings are concerned, there aren't many of them. In fact, per class there is a 1 in 10 chance that you will get a first place ribbon - and the stat goes down if there are more than 10 horses in your class.  And then there is politics and other dynamics, real, imaginary or otherwise.

Rachel puts a WC title on Eye on the Title
with proud dad here!  EOTT goes on to win
WGC with Krysta later in the week.
So, as my Celebration wrap up I'm going to share some things I observed and learned this week related to this topic. Spoiler alert, I'm not sure I've completely answered this question on a personal basis. However I found the exploration and thought process mesmerizing.

During the week I met many faces of competition. There is the cool, calm and confident. The one who is fairly strategic and has a master plan on how to win. How to pick and put the best horse(s) in the ring. Is connected, is knowledgable and has the resources and network to make it all happen. This really could be the most enviable position.  It seems so purposeful and for the most part very productive when it comes to blue ribbons and victory laps.

The opposite of this is the hopeful.  Many times it is someone new to the game. The type that is happy to be there, is learning, and believes anything could happen. Being part of it just may be more important than the win.  Each experience is exciting and brings the accomplishment of another goal or may mean another 'bucket list' item can be tick marked.

In between, you'll find the appreciative, the surprised, the happy go lucky, the just in it for fun, the I'm not playing, the hard worker, the in it for the love of the horse, the supporter, the frustrated, the disappointed, and so many more faces.

But that doesn't really answer the question of 'why.'  For why, we have to dig deeper, look for it more, and listen harder.  Here is a compilation of what I heard and learned as I searched for answers.

Katie "wins" the challenge
of carrying our entire dinner
order back herself!
Winning is an obvious reason. Who doesn't want to have the top horse?  I heard many stories. You get to pull out of the line up and go to the winners circle. You get the blue ribbon, the floral ring, or the trophy and all the accolades and honor that goes with it. Photos are taken and you ride the victory lap. Everyone notices the first place horse. Applause applause applause.  (Channeling Lady Gaga here…) But there is more than what we see on the surface of winning. It is the payoff for months, years or decades of hard work.  It means for many the accomplishment of specific goals.  There is pride that what you personally believe is a good horse with lots of talent, is a belief validated by others - judges, the audience, trainers, family, friends or foes. There is also a personal feeling of accomplishment of having a good ride or being a good rider.  Communicating well with your mount and being in harmony during your ride.  Or of being a good trainer. One so good that the horse performs flawlessly and delivers a max performance, and makes your amateur rider look good and feel good with the winning.  This week I looked into the eyes of a winner. She glowed. She smiled. She floated around for hours and days afterwards. She was in disbelief and said it wasn't real yet and hadn't sunk in.  A whirlwind.  A dream. Yes, it feels good to win. It can tickle you pink. Make you yell, scream, run, hug, cry, or throw a party.  If you expect it or are totally surprised by the wonderful turn of events that got you the top spot, it is
Mary is the "boss" of carrying
back her dinner too!
exhilarating. And you don't have to be the one handling or riding, I saw the delight by owners whose trainers were the ones in the ring and collected the blue.  And by trainers who celebrated the success of their clients. Pride and smiles of grooms who never even saw the ride.  In fact it reminded me again that it is a team that wins - owners, riders, trainers, grooms, parents, a whole bunch of supporters.  A whole group celebrates and jumps into the winners circle to get their photos taken or to pile on the congratulations on Facebook.

Now, while winning feels good is seems it comes with baggage. I heard winners lament. Huh?  Yep it seems there is a downside to being the winner. Fear of staying there and not losing that spot. Pressure to do not just good but exceptional - not to let anyone else down (that whole team is counting on you - you are counting on you.). Expectations and pressure to keep it up.  Defend your title, keep the tradition, don't let the competition catch up.   In some cases it means you lose something, like your novice status. One person shared a secret desire for second place. Then they keep their novice status and can continue to compete  little longer with riders more at their level than the higher level group. Winning can also mean a fear of going back into the ring. As a return means a chance you don't win again - that maybe that win was lucky - but won't stick.   So holding onto the glory of the win as long as possible can motivate decisions of when to show again. Winning can also be expensive - there is pressure to advertise, to invest in another horse to stay in that spot, to keep up with the Joneses. Or it can have an uglier side - where competitors rally head to head, or go in to beat someone else specifically.  Even feelings of being the "target" was mentioned - everyone is out to beat you.  Well of course - YOU'RE the one to beat!  The bar that has been set for all - even for yourself.
Carlan and Lil' Wayne win their class and step into
the Winners Circle with Bobby and Emily.

So winning is definitely a reason for "why"people do this.  But it was interesting to see so many angles and definitions of winning. And, what I think I learned most - is that everyone pretty universally has fears and insecurities and hopes and dreams as they go into the ring, send someone into the ring, watch a loved one from the stands, or view it from whatever their perspective is on the "team."  And, many expressed that the most healthy attitude was to do their best, and let the (judges) cards fall where they may.  Personal goals and objectives seems to be the best, healthiest approach to winning.  Each person has to find success from within - by making winning self defined.   Winning can take many forms, besides a blue ribbon.  A move up the ribbons, a safe ride or staying in the saddle, no mistakes, doing a ride never done before - such as riding at the Celebration or in the big oval for the first time, or just getting in the ring to ride and overcome the fear of doing it in the first place.  So, you can get the lowest ribbon or no ribbon and still win?  Yep, apparently so - and it is true for so many I spoke to this past week. 
Jean!  Her dream is to ride until she
is 100!  What a win that will be.

So, besides winning (blue ribbons), other popular reasons of "why" that I encountered fell into these general categories:
- Love of horses and specifically the walking horse
- Overcoming fears (like speaking in public)
- Fun - as in enjoyment, happiness, laughter, doing something you LOVE to do
- Excitement - like getting a high…like jumping out of a plane
- People - meeting new people, making new (lifelong) friends, seeing old friends, socializing
- Learning - how to be a better rider, trainer, person - learning about the TWH, skills/techniques
- Challenging yourself - raising the bar, pushing yourself, upping the game
- Bling - yep, dressing up, shopping - all the encroutements and turning out perfectly in the ring or in the audience or as a ribbon bearer
- Belonging - feeling part of a bigger something, and being with others who like the same thing
- Making a living - from trainers/vendors, a job you love means never having to work a day in your life

For me, I think the topic is absolutely fascinating - and I would love to hear from you, what is your reason for showing - and most specifically for doing a big show like the Celebration?  What is your purpose, motivation and/or desires.    Feel free to email me, text me, or stop and chat with me about it the next time you see me.  

My take away is that maybe it IS all about "winning."  But, HOW you DEFINE winning is what matters.  Anything on the list above can be a win - from a blue ribbon, to doing what you love, to meeting people, to making a difference.   What's your definition?  

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