Saturday the 28th, we arrived in the hustle and bustle of London, a welcomed contrast to the serene countryside. We hit the ground running, getting to our first event Sunday morning, Eventing Dressage. I have been an equestrian almost my entire life (3rd generation in my family) so attending an Olympic Equestrian event is something that I have dreamed about ever since 1984. My equestrian discipline is show jumping which is still to come. The equestrian events take place in Greenwich Park, with Queen Elizabeth’s home overlooking the venue. My second Royal encounter happened while walking through Greenwich Village. We were stopped on a corner while an entourage of police passed by with a black Range Rover following behind. There she is again, Princess Anne!
Greenwich Park was an exciting place to be! There were people from so many different countries there to support their countrymen and women. The Dutch happened to settle right in front of us. Orange shirts, pants, shoes, handbags and, of course, orange cowboy hats. If you’ve ever been to a major sporting event where the Dutch are involved, you cannot miss their orange pride. So through the sea of orange, I do manage to have a great view of the arena. Certainly one of the most pristine dressage courts I’ve ever seen.
A little fact for you, equestrian sports are the only sports where men and women compete directly against each other. And, while the horse is often regarded as the athlete in equestrian sports, believe me when I tell you that riders are top-notch athletes themselves. The art of equestrian sports is making it look easy. It’s not.
Dressage is a sport of precision and elegance. Horse and rider must perform a standard test on which they are scored by 3 judges and those scores are averaged. This is only the first day score, as this is 3-Day Eventing. Day 2 is the very tough Cross-Country and day 3 is the Show Jumping phase. Eventing is the horse-rider equivalent of a triathlon.
The ride of the day was easy for me to choose. I am always trying to find mental toughness in action. Not too hard to do at the Olympics. However, I still want to see someone’s performance that stands above the rest. And not just because they earned the best score, but because they competed exceptionally well. That ride, in my opinion, was by Kristina Cooke of Great Brittan and her horse, Frolic. What made her ride stand out? It was the conditions under which she had to test. While the beginning of the day was blue skies, light wind and comfortably warm, when Kristina and Frolic entered the arena, black clouds, thunder, wind and driving rain, suddenly appeared. However, this is the Olympics and the show must go on. While I was tempted to run for cover myself to escape the cold and rain (I was in shorts!!) I reminded myself that she was competing in the Olympics. This was her moment. If she could compete in these conditions, surely I could sit and watch. And, now I’m very curious to see how she and Frolic will handle this very British weather. Had she practiced and planned for driving rain, wind and flying plastic shields in the court? Could she stay composed and keep her horses attention on the test? Would she become distracted by the poor weather conditions that seemed to greet her the moment she stepped into the arena? NOT ONE LITTLE BIT! She rode with focus, precision and grace. In equestrian sports, the horses behavior is often is a strong indicator of what the rider is thinking and feeling. Frolic had every reason to spook (or run away …horses have very strong ‘flight’ instincts) yet he stayed focused on his job, performing the movements very well, responding to her aids without hesitation. And, because they are a GB team members, you could feel the tension in the air as the crowd held their collective breath, hoping for the best. Following their final halt, the crowd BURST into a roar of excitement!! Frolic pranced off…horses know when they have done a good job. Both horse and rider swelled with pride!!
The weather, in any outdoor sport, is the ultimate uncontrollable. Heat, cold, wind, rain, hail. You simply must play through. Your attitude about the weather will have a lot to do with how well you cope with bad conditions. You could argue the Kristina and Frolic had the ‘home field advantage’ in yesterdays competition. They are British, after all. Are they used to these conditions? Have they practiced in driving down pours and wind swept arenas? I don’t know. In practice you often have a choice; Do you stay and work on getting comfortable in uncomfortable conditions or do you wait it out and hope in 20 minutes the sun will be out and you can practice more comfortably then? It certainly looks as thought Kristina and Frolic have trained well, they were ready for anything.
Often times when we show up to compete, we think we are battling the other team or other competitor. We practice our test, our offense, or our defense. Too often we forget that we need to practice for uncontrollables, and it’s often those who are prepared to face any conditions that can rise above the rest. Mental toughness is often about excelling despite uncontrollables and not wishing for the “easy” route.
.Homework – What weather conditions might your face in your next competition? How can you prepare for those? Be ready for anything.