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A Teen's View

Dealing With Failure

April Hildebrand

The equestrian sport of combined training, or 'Eventing,' traces its origin to the days when each country depended upon the cavalry in battle and horses were a vital part of the Army. Friendly boasting at the end of a day's campaign as to the relative courage, speed, and stamina of particular horses evolved into a series of tests to prove these claims. Eventing, like in track and field's decathlon, represents the ultimate in testing the all-around skill of an athlete.

In equestrian sport, combined training is considered the ultimate test. This competition encompasses three separate tests (hence, its name): dressage, endurance, and show-jumping. Each is scored individually but added together for the final score. Unlike other sports where only the human will and body are working against the clock, in combined training, two minds and bodies have to work as one, and a true partnership between horse and rider is necessary to win.

A few weeks ago, I was eliminated at an event with my horse, Tango. I went from blue and red ribbons the previous weeks to not even in the top ten. So, first I had to discover what the problem was. Was her back hurting? Was something wrong with her? Or, was it me?

The first thing my coach said to me was, "don't worry about it." How was I not supposed to worry? The first step in handling failure for most people is to worry or make excuses. "Well, it was raining. I was cold. I was hungry. Her back could have been hurting. Tango doesn't like the rain… excuse, excuse, excuse!" So, yes, I made excuses, but who doesn't when dealing with failure? It's a natural human reaction and it's a social inhibition. And it actually helped relieve some of the stress so not all the fingers were pointed at me.

Once I was done with the excuses, I had to make a decision. Should I change something, or do I continue down the same path and hope it takes a turn for the better? I decided I needed to make a change. It was time to stop blaming everything except myself. I decided it was a psychological issue because my mind was not in the right frame and I needed determination to change my mind.

My horse was not the one with the problem. I was the one with the problem. "You didn't have the eye of the tiger," my coach said. In other words, I didn't have the mindset to get the job done. I had entered the ring with a careless attitude and didn't have any determination in my eyes. "I am no longer your riding coach. I am your psychiatrist," Mike said. He knew he needed to get me to get my head in the game, or head in the competition in this case.

The second step in handling failure is establishing or re-establishing goals and ambitions. I needed to ask myself what exactly I wanted to accomplish and why. If I didn't know why, then my heart wouldn't know why either and wouldn't have any desire to continue. The third step was recognition. Failure is temporary. I asked myself, "Am I going to get eliminated every single time from here on?" No. So, I didn't let it stress me out and drag me down on a day to day basis. For me, step four was to go back to square one. No one wants to go in reverse, but re-establishing the basic skills or knowledge was a great way to gain back lost confidence. Step five: I asked other people for help. I tried to gain some knowledge from them and listen to their advice and try it. Then, I reassured myself of all previous successes which was a great way to build back up self-esteem. I looked at it this way: I had been in four competitions in the last six months, in three of which I got first or second place. The world is not looking at me saying, "Oh my, what a horrible rider. She can't even get through the course." They are saying, "She placed every other time. Today is just not her day."

Next? Practice makes perfect! Or, better, in this case. The best way for me to overcome a failure is to practice. If I fail a test? I study harder and longer. My co-worker gets the promotion? I make myself standout above that person in other ways than I may have already tried. Once the feeling of confidence had completely returned and determination had set in my mind, I was ready to re-face the challenge. Whether it's a completely different challenge or the same one as I previously failed, my mindset should be right where it needs to be and this will allow me to be successful.

Failure is certainly not an easy obstacle to overcome. Not only does it lower our ego but it directly affects our sense of identity with the world. It makes us feel unsatisfied with who we are. But if we learn to deal with it and analyze it for ways we can improve, it will not affect our daily lifestyle. The fact is, everyone fails--maybe only once, or maybe a hundred times. Everything in life is about learning from mistakes and being happy. So don't dwell on failure, rise above it!

Read other articles by April Hildebrand