What an ugly phrase. Know when to quit. Know when to give up, when to toss in the towel, wave the white flag, and just go home. I hear it all the time in horses- quit while you’re ahead, quit when you know you can’t solve the issues that are going on, quit before you screw up worse. And while it’s a genuinely important thing to know, I think the way we think about it is stopping us from utilizing this ability effectively. I think rather than telling ourselves that we need to quit, we should start thinking about it differently. I like to think of it as a strategic retreat.
My self-control and ability to retreat from a poor ride were put to the test this weekend. See, I went to a show and I went about everything in entirely the wrong way. The horse I was planning to ride was a young Thoroughbred I taught to jump over the summer, and I haven’t ridden or seen him in a little over a month. I remembered him being a very good, fantastic natural jumper, a horse I could take over everything, and I thought he would handle everything perfectly. I donated a really cool saddle pad and set of 4 polo wraps for the grand champion prize… and I wanted to win them.
Our schooling didn’t go so well the day before the show. The course was tricky, and the horse still wasn’t used to me being on him. He had been ridden by a novice jumper for the past month and wasn’t certain of his style or strides anymore. His muscles were underdeveloped for the job I was asking him to do, and I just couldn’t make anything come together. On top of that, he just was overwhelmed by the hyped show atmosphere. And I got frustrated.
I’m usually really really good about making every ride a positive experience. I’m usually the really calm, collected, “show mom” competitor, and I lost my cool at this show. I knew that after our first couple performances that the horse I was on was not the same horse I had trained over the summer, that we should’ve taken more time to reacquaint ourselves. I decided to scratch the show, but when I informed my fellow competitors, their response was “you’re quitting?”
I’m not quitting. It’s a strategic retreat.
For that horse, there was very little positive takeaway from the show. We didn’t have any good rides, we didn’t have any good moments in the warmup, it just didn’t work. The only positive experience I could give him was to walk him back to the barn, untack, brush him off, and let him loose to roll and gallop and play at his heart’s content. So I did. I retreated with the intention of ending a bad experience before it got worse.
And sometimes you can retreat after a good experience and end on a good note, sometimes you have to stop before bad goes to worse, but you should never call yourself a quitter for doing so. By making that choice, you are putting the horse before yourself and you are being a smart rider/trainer/teacher. It is not a negative thing (unless, of course, you failed to pick a good ending moment and had to instead end after being thrown or something. Then it’s a negative thing). I prefer to think of it more as being mindful of my horse’s experience. I like to think of it as a strategic retreat- like I’m a general and I want to exit a battle before my soldiers are all killed.