A topic near and dear to the hearts of all competitors!
The more I compete, the more I realize that the most difficult part of competition is being "mentally flexible", or able to ride the best test you can with what you have at that moment. It means being able to deal with show management issues, bad footing, timing problems, warming up with Olympic riders, bad warm-ups, and so on and so forth. It means doing your best with what you have, and not letting yourself get rattled and distracted by other issues.
This year alone I have had (1) to ride a third level test on a young horse 20 minutes after a CDI PSG test on a different horse, (2) to deal with a CDI awards ceremony taking place in the arena next to my test, complete with the Canadian national anthem blasting in the middle of my free walk and the subsequent galloping of awards horses, (3) to ride a CDI PSG after I made the stupid mistake of carrying my whip into the test, being called up to the judges stand at C and told to drop the whip and ride my test, (4) to both precede and follow current World Cup Champion Steffen Peters in several classes, and finally (4) ride 4th level test 3 on a fairly quirky and complicated mare whom I hadn't ridden in 2 months, after only a 15 minute warm up with NO flying changes (all because I forgot to check my ride times, and didn't see that show management had changed my time from 7:37 to 7:18am!!).
In every one of these situations, I remember thinking to myself, well, here's another good test of show nerves!! How well can I ride this test? How can I make the most of this circumstance? How good a performance can I generate from these circumstances?
Whether you ride in schooling shows or CDIs, you will always have to deal with some sort of unfortunate circumstance. My spooky Arabian taught me that the circumstance was unimportant (I swear he found things to spook at, and if they weren't there, he invented them!!), it was how the rider dealt with the situation that really mattered. Because there will always be another unfortunate paper blowing across the arena, another test runner taking their job too seriously, another windy, cold day when your horse would rather be leaping and cavorting in the air than obediently performing their dressage test.
Viewed from this light, the greater the negativity and problems you have to deal with, the greater your success. It is one thing to ride a 62 percent test with a good warm-up and when you are feeling well, and a whole 'nother thing to ride a 62 percent test when you only got 5 minutes warm-up because you feel like crap and your horse kicked you when you were tacking him up.