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The Lessons In the Losses

By  May 1, 2016
Riding.
The most frustrating, infuriating, devastating, expensive, terrifying, mortifying sport.
So why do we do it?
Because with the frustration, infuriation, devastation, expenses, terror, and mortification comes the greatest reward.
Recently, I overheard an interesting conversation between a trainer and rider that got me thinking about this sport, my role in this sport, and why the heck I still do this sport. Because, if I were even partially sane, I would have quit a long time ago.
To fully understand where we are coming from, we need to go back to my pony days.
2009
I am 11/12 years old. I am showing constantly. I am doing the Large Ponies and the pony equitation on my pony, Stuart Little, I am doing the Children’s hunters on a client’s horse, the Children’s Jumpers on Joker, and I am catch riding anything and everything from pony hunters to children’s jumpers. I ride all day, everyday when I am not in school. When I am in school, I am riding everyday after school for hours. On breaks I go and train with other trainers to gain perspective and experience riding other horses. I am a successful junior rider ready to break into the more competitive Junior Hunters and Modified Junior Jumpers.
2010
I am 13/14 years old. I am barely showing. I am catch riding off-the-track thoroughbreds (still not sure how I survived some of them). I get Junior back this year. He is wild, out of control, and I am back down to cross rails. I begin working and riding at Cottonwood Farms.
2013
I am 15/16 years old. I am back to showing consistently. I go to Spruce. I am catch riding again. Again, am again, ready to move up. This is the year I moved to Colorado. Junior has his first bout of soundness issues in the fall.
2014
I am working as a groom and working student. I am catch riding a little bit. Junior and I are moved back down to the 1 meter jumpers. I am watching many of my friends from the California circuit, whose ponies I catch rode and schooled when we were kids, move up into the high juniors and Grand Prixes. I continue waking up at 5 am to lunge horses and clean tack and cry in a stall when I realize my horse and I are going nowhere no matter how well I groom the next horse or how many hours I put in at the barn. I end the summer season with a lame horse and a blistering sunburn.
2015
Junior starts the year back strong in the 1.15m and I still have hope my last junior year won’t be a disaster. My trainer moves to California and I go to work with someone new. I am rarely catch riding and Junior never settles into his new home. The first week of the summer circuit we can’t get around the 1.10m. I am told it is because I am not a tough enough rider. We go on to not be able to get around the .90m. I know my horse is hurting but instead I am handed a crop and told to get him over at all cost. I pull Junior from the show when he persists to feel off and give up on my last junior year. I find myself waking up at 5 am to lunge horses from the crack of dawn into mid morning only to then go and get on my hands and knees to clean the barn’s drains after a big rain storm. As I am scrubbing these drains, physically picking mud and manure out of them with my bare hands, I think to myself , “Six years ago, I was being told I’d be in the Grand Prix ring. Now I am scrubbing drains and all I have is a lame horse and no success.” Shortly after this, Junior went to California and I went to college.
I thought my riding career was over. I thought I had lost.
I thought I would never have a chance at Young Riders or the Grand Prix ring.
My riding career went from looking like a story on the front page of Heels Down to a joke in a matter of months.
Then I got a second chance.
I rebuilt my relationship with my mom. I realized that my riding career was not a joke. I was not a joke. I was a good rider. I could not let myself believe what all those people had said. I was tough enough. Hell, I was too tough. One of my biggest faults is I often ride too defensively. I was a good enough rider. I was a good enough person. I was worth more than cleaning storm drains. I’d had a string of bad luck and some major obstacles that looked insurmountable. Luckily, I do a sport where the whole point is jumping over obstacles.
This sport has the ability to completely wreck us. It has the ability to make us feel worthless. But, it has the ability to empower us. To push us to become not only better riders, but better human beings. Setbacks are part of this sport. We participate in something that has so many external factors that are out of our control, that we cannot expect to win every single time. Horses get hurt. They max out. They get scared. They have bad days. They fight with us. They give up. We can’t. If we gave up every time we lost, no one would do this sport. We don’t participate in a sport like auto racing. Our horses are not machines that we can always rely on to take us into first place.
That is why this sport is not just about winning. You can’t do this sport for the sole purpose to win and not be disappointed. If I did this sport to win every time, I would have given up on the day I was on my hands and knees, in the mud. Hell, I would have given up when I was 13 and at Onondarka Medal Finals with Karen Healey, schooling in the Equidome on a green horse at 3:30am during a thunder storm trying desperately to not cry as I was dragged around the arena in front of all of the top equitation riders and trainers on the West Coast. But here I am at almost 19 years old. I’ve been busting my ass in this sport for nearly 14 years and I am just now starting to see it pay off. I am still not winning consistently.
Week IV of Thermal was the week that truly taught me what success looked like in this sport. It was my first week of doing the USEF Talent Search on Joker. I was riding with Hap Hansen, an idol of mine, and let me say, it was a disaster. I suppose that is dramatic but I didn’t ride anything like myself. I was timid, indecisive, and frantic. I went into the ring and I froze. I didn’t place, or even get called back for the flat phase. The picture above, is of me speaking to my mom after fighting tears of frustration. In that moment, I had lost. But then I began to walk back to the barn and I ran into Samantha, our Southern California Voltaire rep. She told me that I couldn’t expect to walk in the ring, top of the order, at 7:30 in the morning, into a solid 1.20m course, in a ring I’d never been in and expect to be perfect. She told me I needed miles. I needed confidence. This was not a loss. It was a learning experience. So, I took Joker back, found my mom, and told her I needed to do another class. If you read my post about week IV, you know that I won that next medal class. My success Week IV had nothing to do with winning the CPHA. It had everything to do with doing the CPHA. And that was the day my mom said she knew my goal of the Grand Prix ring was attainable. But not because I won, but because I didn’t lose my determination to succeed.
I have pulled thousands of rails. I have gone off course hundreds of times. I have fallen off more than I can count. I have put down more bad rounds than good. I have missed hundreds of thousands of distances. I have been trusted to get a horse sold with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line and completely blown it more times than I care to admit. I have given horses bad habits. I have crashed, burned, and seen my life flash before my eyes. But those are not the moments we can let define us as riders. It’s getting back on, going back in the ring, going back to the basics of flatwork, it is waking up again tomorrow and trying again. Those are the moments that define the kind of riders we are. Those are the moments that define us as people.
That is what you have to have to be competitive in this sport. More unwavering determination than you know what to do with. Have so much “fire and fight” that you terrify people. That is the only way to get over the losses. We have to remember that we do this sport for the horses. We will have setbacks but if we find a supportive, positive, ethical team and never lose the determination that got us into this insane world, success is always attainable. But with that, when we achieve that winning, we must remember it is temporary. Winning is enjoyable and important to appreciate but then we must go back and reassess. Winning is not success. They are not synonymous in this sport and you are going to be disappointed if that is what you believe. We must remember to keep improving because winning will always come to an end but your team will always be there, your horses will always be there. We all have to take a step back sometimes. We have to accept the reality that we will never be perfect. We will never master this sport. The best riders in the world have disastrous classes but terrible shows. This sport is hard. It’s more than hard, it is nearly impossible. Yet, somehow, thousands of us wake up every morning and head out to the barn. We drop our stirrups. We ride all day. We work until we can’t see straight, we’re so exhausted. We do this and we still pull rails. We still fall off, and we always will.
That’s why it takes a special kind of person to do it. That’s why we are all a little crazy.
In this sport we must focus on progression not ribbons. Ribbons are temporary. It is the moment we mistake the transience of the win for permanence of the determination, that we lose.
The most important thing I have learned about showing is we must never lose the lesson no matter how many times we lose the class.
Like a very successful trainer said recently, “Winning is the icing on the cake.” Funny thing is, I enjoy the cake more than the icing.
Sincerely,
BPR

The cake…

46 Comments

  • Now that is an article to live by xo

  • Utterly speechless in how much this hits home. So many times in the moment of despair and loss, we feel like we are the only ones that have battled those emotions. When it seems like everyone else is winning, we are the only ones losing. But truth be told, in this sport, we’ve all been there. You were able to capture the emotion–both high and low–so wonderfully. This is an article I will be sharing with my 11 1/2 year old daughter who has been riding for 5 years and has probably experienced more losses than wins but needs to know it’s about the cake, not the icing. As a horse show mother and a competitor myself, this was a phenomenal read. Thank you!

    • I appreciate your kind words and am so glad you enjoyed this article. I am also thrilled this is something you want to share with your daughter. That is why I started this blog, to reach out to other riders, especially young riders, with the goal of helping them overcome the many hurdles we must face in this sport by reminding them of the unparalleled reward we are fortunate enough to eventually experience, regardless of our ribbons.

      Best of luck to you and your daughter!

      BPR

    • I am just amazed on how much this touched me. I am a 38 year old rider. My daughter is 15 and also rides. In light of our recent riding setbacks (soft tissue injury/financial) this could not have come at a better time. It’s not only an amazing commentary on riding, but on life in general. I will be sharing it with my daughter after school. Bravo!

      P.S. I cried. In a good way :)

      • I am so happy you enjoyed this. I love hearing the positive effect my writing can have on others. I am sorry to hear about the setbacks but wish you and your daughter the best of luck in overcoming them!

        Thank you for the support!

        BPR

  • Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and life lessons! Beautifully written!

  • Jane W Thomas May 2, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    so Junior went off to CA…what happened to him ?

    • I sent him to be rehabilitated with my mom, who trains out of California, since I was going to college. I knew I could not take Junior with me and I knew he needed to be taken care of. He is too important to me to simply give away and there is no one I trust more with the care of a horse than my mom. She got him, identified his issues with the help of our veterinarian, and rehabilitated him. He is now healthy; I am playing polo on him and showing him occasionally.

      BPR

      • Hi I really enjoyed ur artical. I love 2 ride and have had horses most of my life. I never showed in jumping but did western riding. I won my 1st ribbon in western equitation and western pleasure. 5th place in both out of 14 in 1st class and 18 in 2nd. A friend of mine who had ridden for years lost to me and was very upset. I thank my trainer Judy for all of her hard work. I also had an awesome horse. I can no longer ride due to very bad fall from my horse. Don’t know how many out there know about S I Joints but they r important. I can’t get in a saddle. I still own horses as they r my therapy. Thank u so much for sharing your story. It’s hard in any horse showing but I think show jumping and three day is very hard. I have 1 horse in her med 40’s. She act like a teen.

        • Wow thank you for sharing! I am glad you enjoyed the article. That is wonderful you still have your horses. They truly are such wonderful companions and can teach us so much even when we are not riding.

          BPR

  • Robin Compston May 3, 2016 at 2:19 am

    This is written perfectly! So honest and true! Love, love love!!!!!

  • Wonderful read

  • Lynda Varada May 3, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    “It is the moment we mistake the transience of the win for permanence of the determination, that we lose.”

    Bryce, I’m saving this quote everywhere so I see it again regularly. This is what I needed to hear today. Your story really touched me. Thank you!

  • Laura A Lonergan May 3, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    Read this to my daughter….& her immediate reply was ‘save that’. I am. And I am making several print copies to place in show box, in car, by bed, & at the barn. As others have said, you put it so perfectly – all the ups & downs of riding. It is so very comforting to see the trials and tribulations of this sport put into words & knowing we are not alone ~ it happens to us all. But we need to do it for the love of it, not the success of it. And as you learned, the success comes, later than we would like, but don’t give up. But the real success is the kind of human being we are on the other end, and what we do with what we learn. And SO happy to hear Joker is well & you are back as a team tackling a new adventure!

    • Wow, it is truly inspiring for me to hear that my writing had such a positive effect on you and your daughter! I love to know what I am saying is being heard. This was a very special post for me, by far my favorite I have written. Thank you so much for the support!

      BPR

  • Jordan Belanger May 3, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    I have been getting down on myself for working hard for the past 5 years, doing everything, i can to get my name out there, and you have inspired me to keep trying! I loved this article

  • Bryce, you have a unique ability to express yourself in the written word. Keep writing. What comes from the heart, touches the heart.

    I started riding as a middle aged adult, which was quire frustrating at times because I was used to being good at stuff and in riding you’ve got to be bad (in public!) before you can get good. There’s no way around it. I identified with your bad distances, off-course whistles, unintentional dismounts, more than I can easily count, but like you I kept at it.

    I had more than my share of bad luck with soundness and other health issues but things ultimately fell together and we had a few really good seasons in lower level eventing, and ultimately, jumpers. I’m not going to a Spruce Meadows, or even the Hampton Classic (which is right in our backyard) on “local day”. In fact I am not even competing actively anymore, most of my effort is now with retraining my OTTB mare and teaching my grandson about the joy of horses. But I got to experience from the “driver’s seat” what I consider to be the one of the most beautiful things on earth: an alert and willing horse executing a course of jumps in harmony with his rider.

    A good ride is fun and gratifying and I love the feeling but I learned much more from the bad rides than I did the good ones. I also grew to appreciate the support of a trainer who held me accountable yet remained positive no matter how badly I messed up.

    In the whole universe of things that cause us setbacks in our riding, the one thing that remains under our control always, is our attitude. It sounds like you have the attitude of a champion; good luck to you!

    • Thank you for your kind words and sharing your experiences. It is a truly difficult sport but definitely worth it! I hope your grandson will grow to love it as you clearly do!

      BPR

  • This article speaks directly to my heart and soul. I’m 33 and the iterations of up, down, forward, backward, and sideways has been the only true constant in my 3 decade long equestrian career! Every setback has proven to threaten any stability and confidence I thought I’d had. On the other side though I’ve always come out knowing more, growing more, doing better and BEING better because of it. I’ve always envisioned my personal success in this sport. Along the way I’ve achieved certain levels of that but I know all too well that heart-wrenching, near devastating feeling of being SO close then to feel it slip away. Thank you for reminding me that even the hardest times needn’t be the end time. That even in the most trying times, there is always a lesson and as you said we must never lose the lesson no matter how many times we lose the class. THANK YOU!

    • I am so pleased to hear you were able to relate! I cannot express how much this sport has made me grow. I appreciate your kind words, I love hearing how my writing and experiences affect others!

      BPR

  • Tears. In a good way. Always love your horse. Always appreciate your horse. They can literally kill you and choose not to, and they give you everything they have. Appreciate the small things. Never give up.

  • Dear Bryce – I’m a lady rider in her 50’s that at last has the time and resources to explore the things you’ve worked through in this article (albeit at a lesser level in terms of heights, widths & show level). But, today in my ride — just a hack down a country lane — I learned a million things and put to rest some lifelong fears in the saddle. I’ll never know for sure why I love it – but you’ve articulated a whole bunch of it right here. A lovely blog article (and I will say I’m a librarian by profession, so I know what good writing looks like :) ; feel proud of it.

    • Thank you so much, I absolutely love writing. I truly appreciate the feedback! I love connecting with others through our love of riding!

      BPR

      • I precisely needed to thank you so much once more. I’m not certain what I might have created in the absence of those aspects shown by you concerning that field. It was before an absolute hard concern in my cismecrtancus, but viewing your well-written approach you treated it forced me to leap for gladness. Now i am thankful for this help and hope that you are aware of a powerful job you were providing educating the others with the aid of a web site. More than likely you have never got to know all of us.

  • Your article is totally awesome. I am 68 years old and have been having an awful time with my horse. We just can’t get thru training level in dressage. Others in the barn have passed us by with ease. I have been feeling really inept. But lately I have remembered that this is supposed to be fun and that we have improved in our own right. I have also come to realize that he has a conformation issue that makes on the bit difficult for him. Thank you for the story of what happened to you. I have been sad, disheartened, frustrated etc. All a part of this life with horses. But such a wonderful life, none the less. ( your words made me feel better. Thanks!)

    • Horses can be so difficult sometimes but you are absolutely right! Horses grow and develop in their own ways which do not always manifest in blue ribbons. I am so happy for you and that you remembered this is supposed to be fun because so many people forget that and lose their love of the sport. Best of luck to you! I am glad my words could help!

      BPR

  • I am so proud of my wonderful daughter and what a fabulous person she has become! I love you Bryce!

  • Caroline McCoy May 6, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Loved reading this after showing a green, spooky, uptight horse in the children’s hunters for the very first time against kids who show their expensive horses throughout the year. Although I did not win, I didn’t even place, I connected with my mare in a way I hadn’t before. Learning to deal with her behavior 2 more hands above the ground (I had been riding my pony the last 3 years) was life changing. Previously, I had been so focused on getting first every time, making everything perfect, and stressing about who was watching and how I could impress people. This mindset only made my showing experience worse. Going in to my recent show, I set very low expectations because I had only been riding the horse for two or three months. I learned a whole bunch, including riding in my first derby and getting her over a course of 9 jumps without her stopping (she had been serverly stopping and refusing with her last leaser). The show was a victory, a grand champion ribbon, a silver platter. I now go into the next show in a few weeks with a positive outlook and only focusing on my horse and how to have a great time. Your articles are amazing and I have read (I think) every one! Looking forward to more! xo, Caroline (14)

    • That is fantastic! I am so happy that you were able to accomplish what you did. I truly believe the attitude you have taken with your horse and the growth you achieved from that show is worth far more than a blue ribbon. As I said, blue ribbons are temporary but the lessons we learn will carry us on forever. With that mindset you can grow as a rider, while helping your mare grow, as well. It is so admirable that you are aware of the importance of a positive attitude. I wish I could have reached such clarity at 14!

      Best of luck with your show! I would truly LOVE to hear how it goes! My email is bryce@thelongspot.com or you can DM The Long Spot’s instagram, @takingthelongspot or message me on tumblr (same handle as the instagram). I just would love to hear how it goes!

      Thank you for the support I appreciate it! More articles to come very soon! xo

      BPR

  • This info is priceless. How can I find out more?

  • Thank you so much – I needed to read this today.

  • Actually, I need to read this every day.

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