A few months ago, I attended a year end medal finals with my youngest daughter. Similar to all medal finals, it’s a big deal. Riders have worked all year and are eager to display their well honed skills. Trainers are amped up too, of course. There is a lot of pressure not only because it’s the finals, but also because there is an age limit. For a lot of riders, this will be their last chance to grab this particular win. Hence, the pressure is on.
Such situations can bring out the best and the worst in us. A veteran of medal finals, I have witnessed some riders rising to the occasion to perform their very best, and others who fail to show what they can really do. Finals can bring out the very best and worst in trainers too. Trainers want a win, of course—both for their riders and their barns too.
In my recent experience, I was thrilled to witness not only a lot of great riding, but also a lot of great sportsmanship. Riders supported each other and were gracious in triumph and defeat. Trainers also were helpful, generous with information and good humored. In one notable example, a young girl who had a good but not great round on day 1 and was working toward a much better round on Day 2. That didn’t happen. She came out of the ring on day 2, clearly disappointed but still smiling. Her trainer, who had the kindest expression on her face, said “Well, it didn’t go exactly as planned, did it?” It’s impossible to convey her tone here, but it was said with the utmost respect and compassion for her young and accomplished student. My regard for this trainer tripled as I watched the interaction from afar.
In those post-round moments, that trainer’s attitude offered her student some of the most valuable lessons—lessons she likely not have received if she had gotten an 85.
Respect: The trainer clearly respected the rider’s ability—even in a moment when the rider made an error. No rider gets to the finals without big-time desire, a lot of time in the saddle and excellent overall skills. There is no doubt that that rider could tell the trainer exactly what happened on course, where she made errors and what she could fix. We’re not talking about beginners here.
Compassion: The trainer was clearly connected to the rider’s desire and disappointment and shared that moment with compassion. We are all imperfect. We all make errors. We’ve all been there.
Poise and good sportsmanship: It’s easy to be in good humor when things are going well; it’s harder to remain poised when you’re at the bottom of the pack. Following her trainer’s example, the rider accepted responsibility for her mistakes, thoughtfully considered how she could have prevented them and good naturedly vowed to ‘get it next time.’ Then she went on to cheer for her barn mates.
Riding and competing, similar to all sports, hands us a lot of life lessons. My hope for all of us, in victory and defeat, is to connect with our larger values, especially if we’re in a leadership role. The respect my trainer had for me as a young rider, both as an equestrian and as a person, remains with me today and has served as a touchstone for my own conduct.
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