A classic, but anonymous quote describes the sport of dressage the following way: the passionate pursuit of perfection by the obsessively imperfect.
It’s a tongue in cheek definition, but informative. The dressage rider is an artist in the world of horse sport. An individual who seeks to create perfection and beauty, a goal which is never quite satisfied.
In some sports, huge errors can be committed and still not make or break a winning outcome. We have all seen hockey teams surge back from no score to high score to definitive win. But in the sport of dressage small details are important, and especially at the higher levels can mean the difference between winning and losing. This is likely why the sport attracts people who love attention to detail and creating subtle changes toward excellence.
As you can imagine, this is easy breeding ground for the perfectionist. For some reason, I sense a lot of nodding happening by the readers of this article. Not to worry, you are in good company!
If you want to be a successful dressage rider, you will need to contain those aspects of perfectionism which can damage your performance potential while still working diligently at your craft.
The perfectionist trap is this: first you set impossibly high goals, feel badly because you’re not reaching any of them, berate yourself and then set some more goals and tell yourself to try harder. It can mean becoming demoralized, feeling like giving up and even depression. The wise rider must first accept that perfection is an unreasonable goal as it is impossible to define. It is better to work with the idea of excellence, which may be defined as high quality. Setting goals that are under your control that will ultimately improve your skills and your horse’s movements.
Take care to set goals which reflect quality, and understand that “detail” does not always mean exact. It means “sharpening” and refining, and finding joy in the process. This way your sport esteem stays intact, as you enable yourself to keep striving but allow for the kind of satisfaction that will keep you loving your sport for years to come.
April Clay is a Calgary-based psychologist and a former competitive rider. She specializes in sport psychology services for riders. April’s approach has proven popular with various kinds of riders, from hunters and jumpers to barrel racers and dressage. She offers individual consultation as well as group services, clinics and online courses. April has been a featured speaker at such events as Equine Affaire and EqWest and is a regular contributor to numerous publications both locally and abroad. You can reach her at email@example.com.