Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Art of Respect

Respect is an interesting thing.  Its easy to respect a great rider, an inspirational musician, a talented athlete, or people who have beaten the odds and done extraordinary things with their lives.  And by extraordinary things, I'm not just referring to Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi levels of extraordinary, but those everyday hero types.  The person who recovered from an addiction, or the one who helped them get there.  Someone who sheltered the poor, or fed the weak.  There are people every day who go above and beyond to levels that most will never achieve, who deserve both our respect and our recognition.  But I digress.  What I was originally getting at is that the humility and respect for others that the top riders in both our sport (eventing, that is) and other equestrian disciplines possess never ceases to amaze me.
I am a perfectionist, and a rather competitive perfectionist as well.  Neither of these traits have ever impeded my riding (riding seems to be the one place where I can turn that off a bit, because its not just about me.   My desire to do right by my equestrian partners trumps all, and affords me perspective and a sense of unhurried contentment that the rest of my life often lacks) but has instead provided me with a drive and work ethic that has, I believe, allowed me to be a more successful rider.  However, I have a few bad habits, the most prevalent and frustrating being that I constantly compare myself to others, something that I never do in 'real life' but can never seem to avoid when it comes to riding.  In my mind, its all a competition... that sounds far worse on paper than it is in reality, but I really can't come up with another way to express it.  It's a friendly competition, and if I'm on the losing end of the battle I think no less of others or myself... I just can't help but compare myself to them.  Hopefully that's a little clearer.
So why am I writing all this?  Today I saw a video.  It was a simple interview with Karen O'Connor who was discussing her win on Mandiba, and her plans for her stadium round with Mr. Medicott.  However, it wasn't anything about her previous or upcoming rides that struck me (other than her humility, that is) but it was rather the fact that she not only discussed some of the things she personally has been working on improving as a rider, but also stated how much Marilyn Little-Meredith has helped Karen and Mandi improve ther show jumping.  Her obvious respect for this relative newcomer to the sport of eventing (highly successful show jumping career aside) really struck me.  Coming from someone who rode around her first four star at what was it, 18 or something... the fact that Karen not only nonchalantly discussed the things she needed to improve upon (in an interview about her win no less) but was but was happy to discuss the improvements that working with Marilyn had allowed her and her horses to make, really impressed me.  People as a whole (and I firmly include myself in this category) have a tendency to flaunt their strengths, while tucking their weaknesses away in a neat little package to hide away.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Karen however, was incredibly forthright about their issues,  and happy to discuss some of the issues that they've overcome thanks to the help of MLM.  At least that's what I saw when I watched the video.
It got me thinking and reminded me of a dinner I shared with my coahc, two other students of hers, and one of my coaches good friends.  At the time, my coach's friend and her horse were pretty much guaranteed a flight to London for this summer based on their previous years performance (intentionally leaving out the details of the rider, discipline, etc. for the sake of anonymity) and yet when the conversation was on horses, this lady was not only willing to listen to, acknowledge, and consider the views and opinions of the (far) lesser riders present but was so down to earth and humble about her own achievements and life that it literally blew me away.  Both of these riders (Karen and my coach's friend) had a lot of respect for both the other top athletes that they're surrounded by, but also for the people who participate in every level of their various equestrian pursuits.  From the non-riders who make the wheels turn, to the ammies, to the rising stars.  And while all may not be perfectly equal in their eyes, from the glimpses that I've had, the idea that they were above anyone or that anyone would be 'unworthy' had never even entered into these riders minds.
I think a part of it is that these riders are not only comfortable and secure in their abilities, but they have developed perspective, but it really made me think.  Would I be able to extend the same level of respect to my fellow low-level equestrians, regardless of their equestrian achievements?  Could I develop a level of comfort with my riding and myself that would allow me to openly flaunt both my strengths AND my weaknesses for all the world to see?  (Though I'll admit, I'm not much for flaunting...) More than anything, its forced me to take a look at how I treat other people.  I have a habit of forcing things into categories.  Black and white, good and bad, wrong and right, etc. but life isn't that easy.  Maybe if I can not only try to find the good in others, but try to respect them for the good they've been able to achieve, then one day I can conduct myself with the poise and decorum of these women.  And if I try really hard, and get really lucky, then maybe just maybe one day I'll get to become half the people they have proven themselves to be.

For those interested, for the video I spoke of go check out Eventing Nation.

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