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February 17, 2015: The Nature of Competition

This dispatch is going in the direction that I’ve been heading in the past few days, but hadn’t yet got there. Actually, though I’m at the writerly helm, it’s sort of serendipitous and sort of not serendipitous. What I’ve been subconsciously working on in my head is my feelings about the nature of competition. Own horses and eventually you will have to deal with this. And whoa unto you, if you like me, are to any degree introspective.

This morning the results of the On-line agility competition were posted. Raudi and I came in sixth in the pony starter division. Claudia Sihler came in first in the same, and her husband Frank came in fourth.

The questions that this first came to my mind were, how come Raudi and I didn’t do better? And what did Claudia and Frank do that got them the better scores? The answer in part is that Claudia was adept in transferring her knowledge of dog agility to horse agility. (She’s a dog trainer.) And Frank, by virtue of being Claudia’s husband, most likely got some good coaching.

I would like to have done better. I would be lying if I said otherwise. On the other hand, I am very, very pleased with how Raudi and I did. We have come a long ways together. There was a time when I could not even lead Raudi, much less take her over, under, or around an obstacle. To do something like this ten years ago would have been unthinkable. Additionally, Raudi and I had a good time practicing – and Pete and I had a good time putting the course together. Yes, I’am very proud of what I consider to be a collective accomplishment.

I am actually also pleased with how Claudia and Frank are doing with agility. They purchased these two older mares and have done a wonderful job with them – caring for both, exercising them, and working with them in doing agility. Few people would put this much time into their animals.

I am most pleased with the big picture on the home front. I now have this figured out – I do agility and will do dressage and jumping – not for competition’s sake, but because doing these things make me and my horse better trail partners. I most like long distance trekking, but short distance trekking has its own rewards.

I’m not a competitive trail rider. I do enjoy doing the once a year state-wide competitive trail ride. But I don’t live to do it. Days like today are (without being competitive) blue ribbon days. For instance, this morning I took Tinni for a ride. On this, a beautiful sunny morning, Raudi and I saw three moose running across the log strewn flats. She froze. The dogs did a half-hearted chase. We then continued. We then saw this Japanese guy – we’d seen him before – he was pulling a sled with a covered load and a pole. Again, Raudi froze. Like before, she stood still, like a statue, head up, ears forward. Neither time did she bolt. The sled could have scared her, but sleds around our place are just the same old same old. And so I got what I want in a horse, which is one who keeps her wits together when out on the trail.

Later, I took Tinni out on a group ride with J and Claudia. Again, we took eight dogs, two mares, one gelding, and one four month old foal. Tinni did very well, was upbeat and chipper, but did not consider bolting, not even when the foal got out in front of him and refused to move.

After Saturday’s trail trials, Vickie remarked that because she was jittery (she drank too much coffee) that she “let Hunar down.” I think this is a nonsensical statement because it implies that Hunar had trail related goals and that Vickie didn’t do right by him. Horses don’t think this way. An example – a horse walks up to an arena bridge and stops. He gets penalized by the judges for hesitating. It very well might be that the horse does this because the rider is nervous and he or she then feels unsafe. Or the horse does this because it feels unsafe. After, the horse doesn’t feel bad because it knows it could have done better. No, horses just move on to the next obstacle.

Yes, horses can reason, limitedly. And they do have feelings and emotions. But no, horses do not have goals or aspirations.

I do not feel as though Raudi and my sixth place score is indicative of the fact that I let Raudi down. Sure, I was tired when we made our video. Sure, I wasn’t in synch going over all the obstacles. Sure, I cut some corners. Sure, there were a few bobbles. But we did better this time than the last time. What we are doing – it’s just plain fun.

The whole concept of competition is (to me) really odd. I used to run competitively – was never good enough to be top ranked runner, so I didn’t stick with it. However, I was responsible only to myself, which was a good thing. When animals are involved – this is an entirely different matter. There is a real danger in it that animals often suffer the physical and mental consequences, particularly when people see this a defining element in their lives. Winning for the sake of winning sucks. And at the same time, friendships often take a beating. Claudia and Frank are my riding buddies – in fact (as I noted above) Claudia came over today and we went riding. Having her and Frank and J to ride with – this is icing on the cake. I dreamed of having Icelandic horses – but was not able to foresee that I’d someday have other Icelandic horse owners to ride with.

I am glad that I wrote about this because this enabled me to put it into a realistic perspective. Otherwise, I might have groused some. I am not going to grouse now. I have no reason to do that.

Raudi and I did not get enough points in doing the January agility course to advance to the next level, so we will remain in the starter pony division. This is fine with me. I want to feel confident and self-assured before going on to the next level. I reiterate what I said in previous dispatches -- I am lucky to have such a good partner, such good horses, and such good friends. All this means more to me than a single blue ribbon.

Next: 49. 2/18/15: The Fourth Pony

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