When you get your confidence shaken, it can send you into a downward spiral that’s difficult to escape–trust me, I know ALL about it.
Perhaps you’ve heard the social adage, “Never be the first to arrive at a party or the last to go home, and never, ever be both.”
Me, I’m famously guilty of the latter. I’ll be the first party-goer to walk through the door, and yet long after the last guest has departed I’ll still be hanging around, pouring myself another drink, polishing off the snack mix, putting another song on the stereo, oblivious to the fact that I’ve overstayed my welcome.
Pity parties are no different. I’ve spent the last week-and-a-half wallowing in my own sorrow after the last event I attended, Southern Pines II, didn’t go my way.
It was supposed to be our big move-up event, a shining zenith after months of hard work. But the cross-country course was a stiff one, and I knew we were in over our heads by about fence #3.
Like a deer in the headlights of a 18-wheeler, my mind and body froze. We fumbled onward for a few fences with varying degrees of success, losing a little more momentum with each successive obstacle. By fence #9, another big trakehner, we were put-a-fork-in-it done. I pulled up and gave a little wave to the fence judge, signaling our withdrawal. We did the walk of shame back to the barn and I fought back the tears. I’d let my horse down. I’d let myself down. I’d had a goal, and I’d failed.
It was a long seven-hour drive back to Tennessee. I spent a great deal of it replaying the course over and over, analyzing where we’d gone wrong. After that I started going back over our last few months, searching out the holes in our training. By the time I pulled into the barn at around 1:30 a.m., my head was tired and my eyes were bloodshot.
Then I woke up the next morning and started doing it all over again. For days, I beat myself up. I gave Esprit a couple days off and then, deciding it was time to rally, scheduled a jump lesson. Gotta get back at it, right? Perhaps, but it was immediately evident that my horse and I were both still in train-wreck mode.
My horse, in hindsight probably still sore from the competition, was sucking back at the fences and stalling out at takeoff. I was visibly shaken and becoming more so with every deteriorating effort. Eventually we crashed, and I fell off my horse for the first time in the four years that I’ve owned him. I popped him over another couple fences the next day and things were even worse.
I was officially devastated. As my Bad Eventer friend Laura would say, “We took a lot of money out of the confidence bank,” and at that moment I had no idea how I was ever going to replenish the debt.
Fast forward a week into our downward spiral. As I was setting up a small grid in the ring at home, my riding buddy Jocelyn walked down to say hi. “How are things going?” she made the mistake of asking, and I immediately dissolved into a whimpering mess, relating to her the story of our past 10 days and my new theory about how I’d ruined my horse forever.
As if to illustrate, my horse, who never says “no,” tried to stop at a cross-rail. But then, suddenly, something back snapped into place. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I sat up and spanked his bottom–just like the “old me” would have: “Stopping is not an option!” Esprit leaped forward and galloped off, shaking his head a little as I pulled him up. We jumped something else, and the lesson seemed to have stuck. Jocelyn set the jumps higher and higher, and my horse just kept pulling me toward them, no big deal.
Do I think all our problems are solved? No way. We’ll still bump down a level for the next event to reestablish confidence, and because he is still uncharacteristically standing off from the fences (often an indicator that it’s uncomfortable to push off the hocks), Esprit is getting a tune-up from the vet on Friday.
But I also think we just needed a kick in the pants, so to speak. Dwelling on mistakes doesn’t get you anywhere. Staying too long at the pity party is just… sort of pitiful.
Just like you can’t ride backward to a fence, you can’t take a backward attitude toward life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bum horse show or a crappy childhood or a painful breakup or whatever–at some point you’ve just got to say, “That was that, and this is now, and now we’re moving forward in a positive way.”