The Beast

If you can’t embrace failure, or the possibility of failure, then there is no chance for success.

What makes successful people the success they are—the competitors they are—is because they not only embrace and welcome the fear we all experience, but they use it to their advantage. We all face fear in some manner, but it is how we react to it that shapes us. This past weekend was always meant to serve as practice—practice in a highly charged environment, practice on a different stage, practice for what comes next. But that in itself, may have been when my error was first made.

It wasn’t practice.

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I took away some important things from Westminster, and yet again I’ve been reminded of how awesome the people around me are. The crowd at Pier 94 had grown exponentially from when we first arrived at 5AM. When we hit the line at nearly noon, there were hoards of people around the ring gating, it was loud, it was electric. Bolt held his start line, unfazed by the throngs of people we had to rush through, by the thunderous clapping and screaming, by the cameras. He was unshakable—he was incredible. Our first run in standard started off fantastically well: he was fast, and responsive and I felt myself getting caught up in the energy of the place. Out of the tunnel it was a straight shot up an incredibly fast dogwalk. I took off. I didn’t look back and collect him, I disconnected. I heard collective gasps as I saw him leap from the top of the walk from the corner of my eye, unable to catch his balance and hold on. Thankfully he was fine, it was a good dismount all things considered. Immediately I kicked myself. The first rule of this sport is connection, it’s something I always remind my students of, and yet I had broken it.

The Q wasn’t what mattered here. What was so disheartening was that I didn’t feel like I used that standard run the way I wanted. It hadn’t been used as practice for Nationals. But now, looking back, I’ve had the wrong mindset all along. Competition can never be practice– at least not in the way I used to believe. Competition is separate; it is what our practices lead to. Competition is the only place where adrenaline and stress and fear and excitement collide. To do well in competition is to compete consistently, and to compete with a consistent mindset. Just thinking, or saying that a run “doesn’t matter” because it’s a “practice” for something else will never work. We cannot fool ourselves into truly believing that, and we certainly will never fool our dogs. There is a fundamental difference in our behavior, and in our psyche. What we must learn is to keep this change in check. To not let excitement, or stress, or adrenaline or especially fear take over. As someone whose input means much to me explained: there is a beast with you at every show—it is part of your team, and you have to control it until after the run is through. The Beast is fear, it is adrenaline, it is excitement, and it is our own expectations and want for results. The skills are there– the ability is there. Once we get a handle on it, everything else will fall into place.

I did my best to take that mindset with me into the jumpers round. It was a considerably a better run. The crowd had grown even more, each ring exploding with applause after nearly every run. I wanted the chance to attack the course like I knew we could– but push it more than usual. We had the opportunity to go for it, so I embraced that. It was an awesome experience, even with the one bar. Bolt’s time was very competitive among a group of talented dogs and handlers. While it wasn’t how I envisioned the day going, it was a much better note to leave it on.

So maybe not as much of a failure as I first thought. Maybe not one really at all. Moving forward I will continue to take this with me. I will not just compete as practice, but rather compete with the intent to be a competitor. I will train with the intent to be a better competitor. The Beast will become a fully fledged member of our team– it’s already been there all along, after all.

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Our jumpers round: