Apr 29 2013

When the going gets tough – a rejoinder

Published by at 4:03 pm under Europe,Opinion,People,Top Stories

Many years ago I wrote about the high regard I have for people who “get going when the going gets tough”. Then I mentioned I get goose bumps every time I observe someone “getting going” when he has to.

For what I mean with “getting going when the going gets tough”, read my first post.

Yesterday I had another one of those goose-bump moments. This time my 12-year old daughter was responsible. I thought I should honor her achievement by shortly relating the story.  

After a few years of going to horse-riding classes she had finally arrived at the point where she could ride her first competition. She would compete in two disciplines – dressage and jumping. Early in the morning we set off to the town on the Schwäbische Alb where the tournament would take place – six or seven cars behind the lorry carrying the six riding school horses the young riders have selected for the day, with the experienced trainer, who is also owner of the horse-riding school, behind the wheel.

It was cold and rainy, but the spirits were high. As were the expectations. My daughter asked for the umpteenth time who gets trophies. And we said for the umpteenth time it was not about winning, but about taking part. It was a first time for everything – the first time she could wear her black/white uniform with the tight, knee-high boots, the first time with her friends at a competition. She could hardly sit still in the back of the car.

But, it was quickly clear who she was up against. In the first discipline, the dressage, my daughter was placed 8th in a field of eight. So, she started her “riding career” with a “stone last”. Disappointment and bewilderment was written all over her face. The parents did their best to hide their disappointment, the “it’s-about-taking-part” mantra long forgotten.

Then came the jumping. The riders would be called into the hall one by one to show the judges and audience what they could do over the 6-hurdle course. Outside, the sandy square was a mad hive of activity, with horses and riders warming up for the jumps.

Trainers shouted, horses danced nervously. Overambitious parents who had invested thousands in horses that are so highly bred that they looked like things from another planet shouted last instructions. One parent shouted to his 12-year old, “Sit up straight, you’re not on holiday, you’re here to win!”

Minutes before she had to go into the hall my daughter got her chance to do a warm-up jump. That’s when things went horribly wrong. Her horse refused to jump. They came hurdling in twice, only for the horse to refuse on the last meter. On the second attempt my daughter flew over the horse’s head and landed with her back on the wooden structure, before sliding onto the muddy floor. I got a minor heart attack. She got up all right. I could see she was fighting hard not to cry in front of the other riders. Suddenly her knees buckled and I thought, “o-no, wheelchair here we come”. But, she steadied herself; her white riding pants mudstained and wet.

The trainer asked if she was OK and whether she wanted to go ahead. She said yes to the first and no to the second. For this short moment the dream was finally, and completely shattered. Tears ran freely.

I think the trainer also sensed this might be the end of the horse-riding road for my daughter, if he didn’t pull something out of the hat. And that’s what he did. He ran to the desk of the organizers and got their permission for a last-minute switch of horses. As he ran back, my daughter’s name was called. From a distance he ORDERED her on the replacement horse. My daughter was still crying as she went into the hall on the horse she had never jumped with before. I was very sad for her. I felt things could only go from bad to worse in the next few minutes.

Then, in the 60 seconds it took her to cover the 50 meters to the front of the hall where the judges were waiting, she did what I have never been able to do: perform when the chips are down. She swallowed her tears, sat up proud, focused on the task ahead and forced everything else out of her head.

When the bell rang, the mud-stained rider was composed and set off on a faultless round that turned out to be the best she had ever done. Later it turned out to be the best of all rounds on the day and she was placed first and received a fat trophy. A first place in her first competition. From tears to happy smiles in a few, short minutes. Just because she got going when the going got tough.

I take my hat off, my dear Kira.

One response so far

One Response to “When the going gets tough – a rejoinder”

  1. Cobus Besteron 25 May 2013 at 7:55 pm

    As parents, we lay foundations and hope. When character comes shining through, as in your child’s case, we know that somewhere, somehow, we didn’t do too bad a job. Groete.

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