Progress, Not Perfection

While trolling Facebook the other night, I came across the following quote on Motivation Today’s page:, “Strive for progress, not perfection”

Progress not perfectionSeems like a simple enough concept, but I cannot even count the number of times that I have told myself that things have to be perfect – the house perfectly clean, the refrigerator perfectly organized, the flowerbeds perfectly clear of weeds, the need to purchase the perfect gift, the need for my work to be perfect, the quest for perfectly flat abs (haha)…the list goes on and on.

Having animals in my life, especially horses, has truly helped me to let go the notion of being perfect.  The thought that I can get a 1500 pound animal to do exactly what I think it should do every single time is absurd.  The thought that I will be able to ride perfectly every single time is as far fetched as me winning Publisher’s Clearinghouse.  And now that I am working on new skills necessary to boost our scores at Second Level and then move on to Third Level means that I need to accept that I am now again a beginner and that mistakes will be made.  Whhhaaattt?!  I find it hard to explain to some of my non-riding friends that yes, even after being back in the saddle for 10 years, I am still a beginner in the world of dressage.  If I really think about it, I really know very little about the sport.  Collection is still elusive for Ike and I; throughness will depend on the day and Ike’s cooperative mood.  Medium gaits are still a crap shoot with comments of “fast, no lengthening of stride shown” still commonplace.  Turn on the haunches vexes me on a daily basis.  The thought of teaching Ike flying changes is both terrifying and exciting.

When you look at scoring for dressage tests, even if you miraculously received a 10 for a score, it only indicates excellence and not perfection.  When I first started showing, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that scores over 60% were good.  Grades like that in high school and college meant failure was imminent.  Slowly and reluctantly I have learned to accept this scoring convention.  So since perfection is not an option, progress is measured by the incremental changes in my scores.  And thankfully, we are seeing positive changes in my First Level scores, especially when you look at the marks from this time last year.  The shallow canter loops are no longer 5’s.  Circles are routinely 15 meters rather than 16, 17 or 18 meters, so those scores are better.  My rider scores have crept up over the 6 mark on a number of occasions.  Slow and steady progress.

The real progress though is not seen in my scores.  On any given day, scores can be good or bad depending on the judge, the ring conditions, and the scary boogeyman hiding behind the judge’s booth.  The real progress is seen in my ability to know when I have established a “7” trot, achieved a leg yield worthy of a 7.5, or produced a perfectly square halt.  The ability to know a very good performance from average or a bad one is most exciting.  Knowing the difference between an average trot and a show-stopping one is the true measure of my progress as a dressage rider.  As long as we are seeing progress, I can live without perfection.