Shannon Dueck: How to Survive Mistakes in the Dressage Ring (Oops)

(Photo: ShowChic Dressage)
(Photo: ShowChic Dressage)

I just had the experience of having a major brain fart in the warm up of a CDI. It was the last qualifier for the Pan American Games for the Canadian Team, and therefore a really important competition for me and Cantaris (the amazing Chester) and I was ready to show the judges our very best work. And then I got mixed up about the timing, and was still walking on a long rein when the competitor before me went down centerline. As she and her horse cantered in at A, I had my "Holy C*#p!" Moment and finally picked up the reins to warm up. With five minutes to go I was starting my rising trot. As I rode by my coach (I was lucky to have Lars Peterson at the side of the ring) I told him that that I had less than 5 minutes, and as I rode by my groom (the wonderful Lorne Dueck had made it up to Ottawa for the show) I told him that when he stopped he had to be really quick at getting the boots off of Chester. And then I tried to figure out what I absolutely needed to do in the 4 minutes I had left before going down the centerline

It all worked out fine-Lorne zoomed around Chester to get boots off like he was pit crew at a Nascar race. Lars helped me stay calm and focused, and as I left the warm up I took a deep breath and told Chester that I could do this, we could do this. Chester stepped up to the plate and we had a lovely test, one small mistake in the two tempis, and our rein back could have been better. This stressful situation came about because I made a silly mistake, but somehow we managed to salvage the day. I have thought about why it ended up being a positive test, and I came up with three things that helped me out.

First and foremost-I was able to quell my desire to panic at the moment. I realized my mistake. High emotion always gets in the way of making good decisions, so becoming calm and focusing on how best to react was really important. Decisions in sport (and sometimes in life) have to be made almost instantly, and calmness helps both your brain and body react in the best possible way. It was a bonus that the people I had helping me were completely calm and collected while dealing with the situation-they definitely helped me remain cool.

The second part was being able to instantly forget the mistake. It was done, and thinking about it or beating myself up about it would never undo that. Mistakes always happen(even Charlotte and Valegro can't quite get to 100%)! When in competition we are showing off our long hours of training, but we need to stay completely in the moment to be able to show it off best. That means letting mistakes go right away, and focusing on how best to ride what we are doing now, and what we are doing next.

The third and most important part is good training and preparation. This is a great example of the why we always say to compete at a level below what we train. Chester is training all the Grand Prix movements, and the intermediate 1 movements are very well established. Because of this I knew that we could probably perform everything quite well even without warm up, and that gave me the ability to remain positive in my ride. I also use a lot of positive visualization before getting on for any competitive ride, so my preparation off the horse was good - apparently good enough to make up for very inadequate preparation on the horse!

Although this example of a big mistake was in the warm up and not in the test, getting good at these three skills will help every rider cope with competition mistakes in the most positive way possible.The best in the world make mistakes; the difference between the best and the rest is how they react to them.

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