It seems like it’s every rider’s dream to go to the Congress and win, but it’s really about how bad you actually want it — make your actions match your expectations.
Every time I get a new client and horse in training, I will sit down and have a discussion with them about their goals and expectations of what they’re hoping to accomplish by sending their horse out. It seems like nearly all of the time, everybody’s answer is pretty standard: I want to win. What people don’t realize, however, when they say that, is that what they’re really having to say is this: I want to work harder than my competition.
When you compare your desire to win versus other people’s, the problem gets much clearer to solve– are you willing to work harder, put in more time, and take it more seriously than other people? Are you willing to take criticism to get better, to open your mind to new styles and ideas to improve where you currently are? Are you laying it all out on the line every single lesson, or are you half in?
It’s a lesson I give quite frequently as soon as my clients discuss the possibility of going to a national-level show, and often something that I’m guilty of costing myself a lot of business as a result. Anybody who’s ever trained with me will attest to the following: I will always be honest with you about where I think you will end up at a national level show, and I will always be 110% during our lessons if that’s your goal. With that being said, if you don’t stand a chance at a national level competition, I will not take you. I spend my clients’ money as if it were my own, and because of that, I have a track record of taking very novice clients to Congress and coming home at least top 10 every single year I’ve ever gone there.
I think what people don’t realize about the Congress is that you must be able to, at any given weekend horse show, place in the top 3 in order to make it out of your split reliably. Some exceptions do exist: the western pleasure in Ohio, for example, has a reputation for being very tough– a lot of talented pleasure trainers show in Ohio, so if you can hang there at all, there’s a good chance you’ll be fine when you go to Congress. At Congress, in most classes, they only take 3 or 4 out of each split, so if you’re sitting 7th or 8th at a normal weekend show, you will most likely not make a cut at Congress. I’m sorry if that’s some tough love, but I see so many people go down there on a hope and prayer that the best ride of their life will be at the Congress and somehow, miraculously, they will do better than they’ve ever done at that show, on that particular day, and it just doesn’t happen that way. Often, what I tell my clients is that you have to be able to be in the top 3 consistently with a bad ride/pattern, because most likely your pattern at Congress due to nerves, lack of sleep, Congress crud, or whatever else might get in your way mentally will cause your pattern to not be the best you’ve ever laid out.
The good news about that? You’ll be showing against 100+ other people that are in the same boat. There will be a top 10% of exhibitors that are able to clear their mind and come in with the mental toughness required to preform at their best on the big stage: those will be your top 15, I promise. As show season kicks off, I challenge each one of you to evaluate your mental state as you go through the weekends: are you focused and giving it 110% effort, or are you back at the stalls thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch or complaining about how your feet hurt so you can’t run for showmanship practice? You are in charge of your results — put your game face on and push through!