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ISO Internal Validation

woman putting saddle on
Written by Andrea Parker

The weekend before last I competed in the Queensland State Dressage Championships at medium level. This in itself is an achievement and something that should have left me feeling proud. So why then did I walk away from the comp feeling more than a bit deflated?

An article I read a few days later provided the missing puzzle piece. It was written by Tanya Mitton and explored the concept of internal vs external validation. And that was when the other shoe dropped, I had been seeking validation in the wrong place.

But before I dive into that here is how the day actually went. Despite my 2.30pm start time I arrived early to help out my friend (and coach Nancy Baretta) who had travelled from North Queensland.

It was so lovely to be able to watch her ride, and reminded me how nice it is to be able to help others out.

What I hadn’t planned for, wass how hot the weather would be and how drained I would feel by the time my tun rolled around. Add in some nerves and not enough to eat and I felt less than stellar as I was getting Nonie ready.

I’ve talked a bit this year about the resurgence of my competition nerves. Although they were there this weekend they were much better than in the lead up to my last big comp – the CDI. It’s been interesting to see how the nerves show up a little differently now – a general sense of discomfort in my body and the urge to faff around in the warm-up rather than following my tried and true plan.

I forced myself to stick to the plan and by the time we got to the ring she was feeling fairly good. As we presented to the judges a second wave of nerves rose in my chest, so I started singing my mantra, ‘this is just a dress rehearsal’, over and over to myself under my breath. The first sign that Nonie wasn’t as on my aids as she have perhaps been, came as we neared C on the first centreline. Nonie suddenly thought that the judges box looked a bit scary.

One thing I am really proud of is my ability to correct this sort of thing in a test without being ruffled. Something that a few years ago would have seen me crumble. As she started to shy away from C, my legs came on (VERY strongly) and we got around the corner. We got around the test, albeit a little tensely. I don’t know what score we got as our test paper mysteriously vanished. And in reality it doesn’t matter. I know what went well and what didn’t.

After a very quick break I was back on board for the second test. I felt much more relaxed through the warm-up and we managed to ride a respectable test for a 62%, although a few costly mistakes pulled our score down and kept us out of the ribbons.

I actually felt really happy after the second test. A huge challenge over the last few months has been that Nonie wants me to carry her head around – recent lessons with Gary Lung and a bit change (to the Bomber Bits DC Morgan Dressage Happy Tounge) has made her much lighter and more rideable. And we kept that in the second test!

That should have been the end of that. My evaluation of the test should have been enough validation for me. The problem is that I really want to be a competitive rider. And so when I saw my placing I was disappointed. I’m embarrassed to admit that let myself linger in that feeling for 24hours. The itty bitty shitty committee (thank you Jane Pike aka ‘Confident Rider’ for the brilliant name for those nasty inner thoughts) pipped in with its two cents worth, ‘well this just proves that you weren’t good enough to be riding here’ and ‘you won’t be doing big competitions again will you’. But fortunately my stubbornness kicked in pretty swiftly and I knew I’d be back at a big competition sometime next year.

Of course, we’ve all heard the saying, ‘you’re competing against yourself’, but the article about internal vs external validation that was a real turning point in my thinking about this competition. It made me realise that I have been focusing on the wrong thing. I’ve been focusing on the very end result, and not the one that really matters.

Because what I actually want is to be an FEI rider, a Grand Prix rider. And I am determined that one day this will happen. But more than that what I love about riding, what pushes me to get back in the saddle day after day, even when we are going through a challenging time is the harmony and power that comes when Nonie and I are in sync – riding Grand Prix would just be an expression of this. 

And I know when Nonie and I are in harmony, I can feel the power. I can judge our progress. Sure sometimes I will need outside input to help me develop my feel, but I can provide validation for myself. 

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About the author


Andrea Parker

Andrea is an Adult Amateur dressage rider who competes at medium level on her 13-year-old mare Mon Ami. Andrea shares her journey through the equestrian world on her blog The Sand Arena Ballerina and is working on an equestrian podcast called Equestrian Pulse.