You know that feeling you get when you are doing something right, but you still feel like you’re swimming against the current? That defines how I felt for majority of the weekend at Heart of the Continent.
Of course, there were many moments of positivity. Like when M stated that “that was the best round I’ve seen you ride in years” after one of my .85m courses, or when he followed up a .9m round with “you’re riding better then I’ve seen in a long time”. While it could lead one to question what he thought I was doing over the last few years, I’m choosing to focus on the here and now and be quite happy with how I did this weekend as a rider.
In an attempt to counter the negativity and confidence issues I’ve had this season, I set myself a goal of finding at least one positive from each ride over this five day show. The only day I didn’t find one right away was Sunday, but I’ll get to that one later. Here are the positives from each day at Heart:
Wednesday… I got a effortless ride through a two stride during warm-ups, and I’m wearing my new boots (finally).
Combinations have been a long standing issue for us, so getting a nice ride through one on warm-up day was a great boost!
Thursday…Compliments from both my coaches on how I rode and feeling effective and solid in the tack.
Our rounds weren’t perfect, but I was riding like I should be. My legs felt solid, and I was making good decisions around the courses.
Friday… our .85m round was easy and clear, Will jumped great for me and I was riding like I should be! We pinned 4th.
– both our warm-ups felt amazing, even when M set a huge oxer in prep for our .9m. Warm-ups usually only frustrate me but today they were only encouraging!
– our .9m was one of our best rounds at this height! I had a great ride through the first half of the course (flawless two-stride ) and finished with a few minor rider errors- but my horse worked for me.
Saturday…I still have cat-like reflexes in the air.
Yeah, it was a rough day. We competed in two .9m classes, a height we’ve been building confidence slowly in. Today was not the day for that. I found myself having to chase my usually eager horse to each jump, and when it came down to it.. he really wasn’t interested in his job. While he obliged over single jumps, he didn’t really agree to combinations.
He dumped me in both courses at the same spot. I’ve never had to fight with him this much through a course, and both my coaches agreed that I was doing everything I could as a rider.. he was just not with me. The second fall I landed on my feet, and managed to bruise a couple bones in my foot. Unfortunately in the same leg I broke 6 months ago. After driving myself to the hospital to get x-rays (and almost passing out from pain, oops), and bossing around some x-ray techs who not only tried to x-ray the wrong foot, but also the wrong set of bones, I still decided to get back on for the rest of Sunday’s classes, two .85m courses.
Like I mentioned before, Sunday is the day I haven’t come up with a positive for yet. Why? Well, it was a bit of a emotional roller coaster. It took a lot from me to even go back into the ring on Sunday, after having such a disheartening performance from my usually eager partner. However, I was keen to not end a show on a negative note.. so off we went.
If I was to pick a positive from Sunday, it would be something like this: The relationship that has formed between my horse and I over the past 8 years has given us great communication skills, and for these I am grateful.
Horses can’t speak, but they can definitely let us know what they’re thinking. Galloping to the first fence in our first course on Sunday, my horse told me he was finished. In a matter of strides, he made it crystal clear that his time in the jumper ring was done. He didn’t misbehave. He kept me safe. He was honest. But our interests had changed.
Riders are big talkers when it comes to how they perceive their relationship with their horses. When it comes down to it, to be serious about the sport- you have to acknowledge when it’s time to let a partnership end. Riders who plan on progressing all accept this as true… however it doesn’t make the progression any less heart breaking. To quantify what I’ve learned from my partnership with Will isn’t possible. However, I’ve never experienced a clearer message from my long-term teammate. After he slowed to a stop before the first fence, I felt a shift in our relationship. I got him over it on try number two, and got him over the second fence.. but once again he slowed to a stop before the third fence on course. As we walked out of the ring on a loose rein, he dropped his head and sighed while I struggled to keep it together.
The list of emotions I experienced in that moment went something like this: frustration, relief, confusion, sadness, and clarity. I was frustrated for obvious reasons. I felt a little let down by my horse, and more then anything wanted to just have one good round to end the weekend. I was relieved because I was tired of pressing him to fences when he wasn’t wanting to participate in the game. I was confused because I no longer felt like I was riding the horse I’d known for years. I was sad because I knew that our partnership in the show ring was ending… I felt clarity because there was no longer any hesitation behind my next steps within the sport.
As I walked out of the out gate, under the tower and looked at M (he always stands right at the gate watching his riders), his only comment was “he isn’t in there with you, is he”. I could only shake my head and get out- “I think we’re done for the day”. We scratched the rest of our day, and walked back to the barn. About the only emotion I wasn’t feeling was anger. After all, how could I be mad at such blatant honesty.
It’s easy to get discouraged after a wrap up like that. However, to look at all this horse has given to me (through true blood, sweat, and tears) is a reminder of how much he’s helped me grow as a rider. I’ve known for a long time that he can only take me so far in the sport, and while seeing him reach his limit was a tad heart breaking.. I’m glad he did it in his usual honest manner. It would be more heart breaking to see him reach those limits in a more unfortunate way (i.e., injury). Not every horse makes it so clear that they are ready for the next chapter before they have physically broken down. As it stands, Will is still a healthy, safe, honest, sound and able horse, and he will excel at being that for a number of years yet. As he has been for sale for quite a while, now seems like the perfect time to find him a new home that will give him a chance to do what he is ready to do now.. a little less competition and a little more just having fun as a riding horse. I’m so looking forward (in the most bittersweet way) to finding him that perfect home.
I, too, am ready for a little less competition and the stress that comes along with that training regime. I am slowly switching back into school mode for another year, and have been toying with the idea of taking a break from the sport (competitively) for a while, and this appears to be the perfect opportunity. Riding as a sport isn’t often one that you can put away or take many days off from, especially when you train to compete. Horses can’t just sit around for days at a time. They need constant attention. I know I’m not the only one out there who has experienced the strain and burn out that comes from balancing work, school, and sport.. so with the prospective of being done competition for a while I feel so much less stress already (mentally, physically, and financially).
My already tough season definitely ended on a tougher note. It’s not easy seeing a long-term partnership come to it’s end (although a logical one). As a close teammate once said, there comes a point where you have to choose between a horse and the sport. I’ve always known Will wouldn’t be a forever horse, but we do have a fair amount of history so it will not be an emotionless day when he goes to a new home. It’s also weird to think about me being ready to take a break from the sport I’ve held onto for so many years, but I truly feel that it is the right choice for where I’m at. After the year I’ve had within the sport, and out, I need to figure out where my goals sit. Sometimes the only way to do that is to take a step back and let time do it’s thing. So, I’m in no rush to find another horse. Instead I want to take the next year or so to finish my degree, certify as an AT, ride other people’s horses when I can and want to, do a bit of travel, and settle into a steady job so I can afford to get serious about training again if that what is still important to me.
There will always be horses to ride, so I’m not worried about not getting my saddle fix. I can’t imagine my life without this crazy sport, but I do think this year has taught me many valuable lessons and taken a lot out of me. My riding has progressed immensely, but my drive and passion for the sport has been clouded by negativity: residual fear from injuries, shaken confidence, and stress from the outside world. I have a feeling that that drive and passion will return quite quickly once I take this step back and switch my focus back to the other passion I have within the athletic therapy world.
My blog has always been about “learning one day at a time”, and that is pretty much exactly what I’m sticking to. This is just another step along the journey, and with it will come more lessons. Some tough, some cheerful, and some frustrating. That’s life, and life would be nothing if it wasn’t an adventure.