‘Barn Stories’ Ep. 47: Reverse Psychology

When does learning the wrong dressage test give you a competitive edge? Find out in this episode.

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[Laurie] Welcome to the Barn Stories podcast. I’m Laurie Prinz, editor of EQUUS magazine.

[Christine] And I’m Managing Editor Christine Barakat.

[Laurie] This podcast features our favorite essays and articles published in EQUUS over the past 40 years. Although EQUUS is known for articles on horse care and veterinary research, our editorial mission has always been guided by the bond that exists between horses and people. And each issue has featured a real-life story that celebrates how horses enrich our lives and touch our hearts.

[Christine] We’ve searched our archives, chosen the stories that resonated with our readers and given them new life in this audio format. Longtime subscribers may recognize some of their favorite pieces. And if you’re new to the EQUUS community, these stories will confirm that no matter what sort of saddle you sit in, a deep emotional connection to horses is something we all share.

This episode of Barn Stories will resonate with anyone who’s had a rough day at a horse show. I personally gave up competing long ago, in no small part due to the stress of worrying about many of the things that happened to the rider featured in this essay. But she, unlike me, stuck with it and ultimately saw how those mistakes ended up contributing to her success.

[Laurie] This story reminds us that, for better or worse, horses don’t really understand human mistakes. While this means they won’t overlook our errors just to be polite, they aren’t going to dwell on them, either. So it’s best to do what this rider did; if you put a mistake behind you and look ahead, your horse will do the same.

[Christine] And let’s not overlook how sweet her parents were to try and shield her from bad news during the event. Those are some supportive horse show parents!

Let’s listen to “Reverse Psychology,” written by Ashley Tuvera and read by Taylor Autumn:

[Taylor] The morning was bright and already hot as my family’s horse trailer, aptly named “the green beast,” pulled into the Iowa Games. My 10-year-old Quarter Horse, Star, and I would be competing in the beginner-novice level combined training—a two-phase event that com- bines scores from tests in dressage and stadium jumping. Shows like these are supposed to be fun learning experiences, but my stomach was churning, and I felt sick.

Money is tight for my family. My horse is inexperienced, and because of financial constraints, our shows are few and far between. So the ones I did get to had to count (in my own mind, at least). My instructor was winding down her career, and my family and I were learning the ropes largely on our own.

Star and I had been practicing our dressage test for weeks. For a beginner novice, I felt we were doing well, and we were totally prepared. But then, as we were getting our class numbers, a show official asked us if we knew about the dressage test changes. My heart lurched. Apparently the wrong information had been posted online—I had learned the wrong test. With 20 minutes before my ride time, I had to learn a new one. Tears streamed down my face as I raced out, furious.

I spent the next 20 minutes frantically going over the new test. When we were finally called, I barely thought about how my horse looked, if we were round in our corners, if we had straight lines, if he was going to pick up the right leads; I just had to focus on remembering the test.

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[Taylor] I breathed a sigh of relief as Star and I left the arena. Not once did that dreaded whistle blow at us. To me this meant victory! As I groomed Star, I asked my parents to go check the scores. When they came back, they said that the dressage scores weren’t up. That was odd, I thought.

Over lunch, I asked my parents again, “Are you sure they didn’t post the scores? Normally they post them soon after you ride.”

They looked at each other and I knew. The scores had been posted, but the news wasn’t good: “We didn’t want to upset you, but you were in last place.”

“Last place?” I asked.

“Well, you had the lowest score out of everybody.”

Warming up for the jumping round that afternoon, I didn’t feel my usual nerves. I couldn’t do much worse than last, so I had nothing to lose. I’d been struggling with Star’s tendency to refuse. All I wanted was to go in and have a nice clean round.

True to form, Star did refuse the first jump, but then we tried again, and he went all the way around the course without knocking down a single rail. I was pleased with his performance, no matter where we placed.

As I was getting ready to head home, my parents went back to pick up my scores. I was speechless when they came back and handed me the third-place bronze medal!

Then it hit me: Of course. In dressage, higher scores are better, but in eventing, the reverse is true: The lowest dressage score is best! Star and I had been first, not last, in our division after the dressage test. Only that one refusal had dropped our overall standing to third place!

Ironically, believing I was going to fail proved to be the best cure for my nerves—I just went in and did the job I needed to do, and now I have a bronze medal to show for it.

[Christine] Thanks for listening to Barn Stories; we hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have a favorite article or essay from the EQUUS archives that you’d like us to feature in a future podcast, let us know. You can reach us at [email protected].

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The Barn Stories podcast is a production of the Equine Podcast Network, an entity of the Equine Network.