A Trialing Attitude

I was at a trial when a friend I haven’t seen in awhile came up to talk. We touched on the subject of how she was not enjoying trialing and was looking for some “input”. I told her perhaps she was trying too hard and with that not handling her dogs the way she use to. She seemed to be listening and open to what I was saying. I wanted to make sure she knew that I wasn’t making a “judgment call” but only trying to help “sort through her problem”. We talked for quite a while and after the talk I felt she had understood what I said and hadn’t taken it personally.

This got me thinking of trials and the differences in people that trial. Why do some people seem to enjoy them selves and others are almost always miserable. I started reflecting on the different stages I went though in trialing. I can remember when I first started in novice I was overwhelmed at everything. What I remember most about “this time” was the people that were helpful to me. It was all so new to me I felt I was learning with each outing and even though I was apprehensive about the unknown – it was always exciting and fun. I have always enjoyed learning new things and this was how I approached my early trialing. The mistakes I made (and there were plenty) only meant that I needed to go home and work on that problem. Although winning was not my driving force it was always appreciated. I shortly moved up to Pro-Novice and did well enough that I felt confident to move up to open. This was my enlightening time! I crashed and burned … big time. Open is so much more difficult Than PN it’s hard to imagine until you get there. I tried to keep a good attitude most of the time. I worked long hard hours figuring out why I wasn’t doing well. Then spend many more hours working on the areas I was having trouble in. I remember when my goal was just to FINISH an open course. Eventually I not only finished but started placing and then winning. When I did win it meant a lot to me because – I felt I had paid my dues. I don’t think anyone really values winning if they haven’t worked for it.

However, winning is nothing more than recognition for those hours of work – NOT a statement of a person’s worth. Wining doesn’t always mean first place – sometimes it’s just walking off the course knowing you and your dog worked together as a team. I have come in second at trials and kept a vivid recollection of the run. The reason being that “second place run” best personified a working relationship between myself and my dog. I like to remind people they are the same person whether they win or lose. I believe a lot of bad sportsmanship comes “to play” when people gauge their own worth on winning or losing, thereby feel worthless if they don’t win.

My most difficult time came when I had won a few large trials and was placing fairly regularly. I felt people were expecting me to do well every time I went to the post. Since I still wasn’t that sure why I had been winning I began feeling tremendous pressure. I was taking losing personally which made me try harder and of course that only compounded the problem … a lose-lose situation. The harder I tried the worse I ran – becoming a vicious circle. Thank heavens due to the fact that I enjoyed trialing more than winning it didn’t last long but was painful! I soon went back into my “trials are like tests” mode – “in other words” did I do my homework correctly? When you are in the right “frame of mind” trials can give you a goal as to what you need to work on instead of where you have failed. It was this attitude that kept me trialing and prompted me to improve.

I “stumbled” through this detrimental state and was more than ready for the next. I wanted to stretch my dogs, myself and my abilities. At the time I was only attending local trials. However, I knew that if I wanted to improve my skills the only way to achieve this was to go to as many places as I could. So, I started traveling around the country in order to learn how to work different courses and sheep. Since, I went with the attitude that I was “broadening my horizons” I enjoyed most all of the trials. Don’t get me wrong: I had a “drive” to do well and worked long hard hours trying to accomplish that. There were times I got upset and wondered why I ever got into this and other times I wanted to give up. I think everyone who competes feels this on occasion.

The point I’m trying to make is my overall attitude was: I wasn’t there to “just win” but to do the best of my ability. It was looked at as a time to learn all I could about trialing and dogs. I would sit at the fence and watch the good handlers in order to learn. I didn’t do it to complain they received better treatment than I but to find out what made them good. How was it they seemed to finish a course when most were not? How they might not win every trial but they were in the top 10 most of the time. I wanted to improve and this was what I was aiming for – to be consistent. It wasn’t to win every trial I entered but to handle consistently. My dogs and I improved and did it with enjoyment. I didn’t resent anyone else’s wins because I didn’t feel they had taken something away from me. So, beyond the wins I was enjoying the traveling, trialing and visiting with all the people. I met people that I would have never known if not for the trials. If I only enjoyed the winning the rest (which I can assure you take most of your time) would have meant nothing. I would have lost a LOT. I met so many enjoyable people that even if I hadn’t been “following my passion” I would still look back on “that time” with fond memories. I went places that I would have never normally gone. I’m the type of person that always has to justify travel and this was a great one! Go dog trialing and see our country. In my travels I visited, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, Canada and many other really captivating places. I relished every location for its own special charm. However, even more important were all the people that went “out of their way” making their trials memorable and comfortable for the contestants. I can’t begin to name all the people that have picked me up from airports giving me a room or bath. It was always appreciated and remembered.

Some people seem to go to trials with a totally different attitude. I’ve been to trials where for the entire two days there is nothing but tension. Some competitors seem to thrive on turmoil and spend all their spare time stirring things up. Unfortunately there are ramifications to this type of behavior. The most damaging being the host of the trials will get tired of all the hassle and just stop putting on trials. Not to mention the judges that are doing their best when all they get is grief. Our sport is subjective not a timed event needing no judging. If you don’t like the judging – don’t go back.

The main point of this article is to get people just starting and others that are at a “crossroad” WINNING is NOT the most important reason to trial. You always do the best you can and the rest you have no control over. You can complain and be miserable or you can work hard and enjoy the dogs. I get upset when I see things that aren’t fair and I can complain with the best of them. I know there are times when we should speak out to “right a wrong”. I also know watching every run with the thought of finding something wrong with it won’t do anything except make you miserable! If you go to the trial with the attitude you must win and IF you don’t you aren’t a good handler you will not enjoy trialing. If your attitude is to run your dog as well as the circumstances allows – your “overall” approach to trialing will be better.

I would like to end with the fact that I received a very nice note from the person I talked to at the trial thanking me. Made me feel good that maybe I had helped a friend regain her enjoyment of trialing. So, novice people – enjoy your trialing: it’s a SPORT … not a “life or death” situation.


Candy Kennedy