Five Ways to Win in Dressage Competition

Published in Articles, RMDS

By Sally O’Dwyer, Dressage Amateur

 “Winning and losing isn’t everything; sometimes, the journey is just as important as the outcome.” – Alex Morgan

Winning means success, offering fulfillment and validation of our riding. Winning motivates us to improve and helps us to move beyond ourselves, which is thrilling. Competition is a great way to measure progress, get valuable feedback, to develop and learn. 

At the same time, riding to win causes tremendous stress, discouragement, and a loss of joy and perspective. Far too many riders think how they fair in the ring is their single measure of proficiency. Trying to win feels becomes all or nothing, with everything on the line. Fear of losing keeps riders from entering the ring at all.  Riding to win is too heavy a burden for anyone.  It derails us, makes us miserable, and brings out the worst in our riding. We become overwhelmed as our nerves get the best of us because we just have too much invested in the outcome.  

Sadly, society rewards winning above all else. Even second place is viewed as losing. Fourth place in the Olympics is horrendous. We forget that everyone loses, and that losing is not a big deal. Win or not, we are still the same person in the end.  While we all want our medals, we need to heed Surya Bonaly, Olympic ice skater, who said that medals are just that–made of metal.

Ways to Win Every Time!

  1. See a Competition as a Learning Opportunity. Every time you enter the ring, win or lose, you gain valuable information about how you can improve. If we learn, then losing will not be forever, but temporary. Losing gives us wisdom, humility, and compassion. Losing helps us to become more self-aware, begs us to look in the mirror and hone our skills. Sometimes truth hurts, but we need the truth to learn. Progress is not linear. Sometimes we feel like our riding is falling apart, and other times we bound ahead.
  • Be a Winner in YOUR Story. Re-frame what winning means to you and create your own goals. Give yourself credit for how far you have come, what you have learned and the terrific horse you have. Perhaps winning to you can mean performing a solid test, riding a counter canter, picking up the correct lead, or remembering your test. Celebrate the gains no matter how small! 
  • Keep Your Sense of Humor.  Try not to take yourself too seriously. It’s easy to lose perspective with competition. My friend always makes me laugh even after I don’t perform well by telling me that I am a winner because I beat out all the others who wanted to come to the show but did not make it. They did not get all the paperwork and cash sent in. They did not trailer in at the crack of dawn, set up a stall, haul feed, bedding and more to the show, groom and braid their horses. They did not clean their tack and boots, put their lipstick on and shimmy into their white pants. They did not battle crazy weather and all the other fun and unexpected show happenings.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others—it’s impossible anyway, you and your horse together make a unique, one-of-a-kind pair.   Comparison is bad for your mental health.  If you find yourself envious of another rider, then use that power for good. Channel and emulate them. Focus on being the best you can be. Since we all receive our individual scores, you can compete against the fiercest competition out there: You!  Understand that the real journey is with yourself and your unrealized potential.
  • Never, Ever Quit. There is magic is perseverance. Winners are tenacious. They do not let losing get in their way and they don’t shy away from competition. They just keep doing their best, give 100% and feel positive in that.  Winners are optimistic and believe it is possible. They are patient and know that to be a great competitor, they will have to go down centerline many times. They know that eventually, they win!