Without thinking

I had one of those lessons today where things went from amazing to stressful in about 30 seconds.

Maybe stressful isn’t the right word. Challenging? Thought provoking?

Riding is a sport where things can change pretty quick. As most sports are. However, this sport adds in the wild card of being seated on a 1200lb creature with a mind of it’s own, pointing it at a fence and saying lets get there and over it while keeping a steady pace, leaving from the exact right spot, and making a tight turn afterwards. As a rider you have to  be able to react in a hundred different ways over a span of a few strides between jumps. You have to keep that balance between aiding your horse enough, but not so much that signals get mixed.

I’ve written about the role of trust before. The last time I wrote about it I was exercising steeplechasers in Napier, NZ.

Every muscle in my body is sore and tired, and I’m way past the point of exhaustion. But I’m still saying yes to another ride out and smiling as the horse races up the hill on the way to the work out trail. In this kind if situation you have to be able to build the trust quickly. You don’t have months or years to build a relationship. You have seconds, maybe minutes, to trust the horse you’re on and establish a confidence.

Click here for more from that post.. 

Over the course of this competition season, Willard will be moving into the jumper ring more. This has been a long time goal for me, and I’m very excited for the new challenge.

I’ve been working with M&C for a few years now, and have very high trust in their abilities as coaches. Tonight was one of those nights where things may not have gone as well if that trust wasn’t there. Lots of new challenges are being thrown my way this year, both within the sport and outside, and while I take them all on as best I can- I would not be able to do it alone. Will is a fantastic horse, with loads of potential- but right now he is still in that excitable spring thoroughbred phase that I’m pretty sure most horses that got 6 months off are in right now. You ask him to do a roll-back to a tiny oxer and he assumes we are in the jump off of the CN International. Drama queen.

Through the exercises I worked on tonight with M&C, the issue of trust kept floating through my mind. For some reason there was a small communication issue at times between Will and I. Where he wanted to rush towards jump, I was saying hold on. Where he was saying lets make this turn tighter, I was saying lets go out one stride more. Where I was saying relax, he was saying “this is so exciting!!!!!!!!!!!”. These are all little things. In no way was any of this a disaster. Just a little less graceful then it could have been. However, it took a lot of trust between me and my coaches, and me and myself to not get overwhelmed and frustrated. I had to keep reminding myself that I knew what I was doing. To stay calm, be patient. If I’m not confident in my abilities as a rider, what right do I have to ask my horse to do what he’s doing? The trust I have in M&C was also a huge part in being able to remind myself that I was okay. I knew all along that they would never ask me to do something that they didn’t think I could do. Knowing that helped keep me confident that things were going to be okay.

As athletes we do so many things without thinking. We’ve done these things so many times that our brains run on autopilot. Not to say its easy- having the ability to not only do these things without thinking about them and also the confidence and trust in the other factors like the unpredictable animal you’re on, yourself, and that person telling you to point that animal at, and jump over, an object it is traditionally supposed to stay on one side of.. is not an easy thing to do all the time. But, imagine if we as riders had to consciously think about every thing we do on course? Riding up to a jump would go something like this…

…shoulders back, hips forward, eyes up, inside leg/hand with slight pressure to control bend, outside leg/hand slight pressure for speed, balancing horse, slight squeeze on outside rein before jump, both legs positioned approximately at girth line, heels down, flex in elbows, appropriate contact on horses mouth, keeping pace steady, finding the right distance, using leg pressure to keep that distance, waiting for horse to jump to you, hands follow horses mouth over jump, shoulders still back, slightly closed hip angle, eyes looking towards next jump, middle of arc opening hips bringing shoulders up and back preparing to land, legs maintaining pressure at girth line, bringing hands out of release (all while maintaining steady contact on reins), open shoulders, balance horse, slight squeeze with fingers on inside, steady contact on outside, looking for line to next jump still, turning and balancing with legs and hands, maintaining steady pace, present horse to next jump, repeat…

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That’s all happening in about 5 seconds. I guarantee I’ve missed about a hundred other tiny things. These are habits that are automatic for us, made that way by years of practice. Experiences good and bad teaching us that even though all common sense says you are crazy, find a saner hobby, this is what we love doing- and while that is bound to come with some doubt occasionally, trust is what gets you trough. Some of those things we still may think about- but for the most part, I know for me anyway, my head is pretty quiet while I’m riding a course. Quiet of those thoughts anyway. At times, like tonight, I am reminding myself that I have trust in my horse, my coaches, and myself. That is the only thought I need to get the job done. Everything else follows.

“Just do what you do best.”

I don’t know if any of that made any sense. So good luck figuring that out, I’m too exhausted from that 90 minutes of course work to make much sense of anything right now.

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From the pages..

The internet here has been very slow- that’s why I haven’t posted anything in a while. I want to post some pictures of the beach and my wanderings the past week and bit, but the low speed internet won’t permit that. So I figured I’d put a little bit on from my journal- just kind of a reflection piece I guess- most of you have probably heard all these stories from me before. If so, the other point of this post is to let all you out there know I’m still alive! Yay! Pictures will come soon, I promise! For now, here’s some thoughts from the pages of.. me? There’s news at the bottom of this post. I give you permission to skip down to that if you don’t feel like reading  a novel first :). You’re welcome.

Nov 23- Change. It effects us all. Where were you 5 years ago? I was in 9th grade. A shy, reserved kid who dreamed of going to college in Alberta to study equine science. I played volleyball at school, but didn’t plan on playing many other sports- especially not basketball. I was bff’s with somebody who I never thought would leave my life, we were inseparable. Thinking back, this year had a few life changing moments I didn’t see coming. The first; Mr. Martin approaching me, asking (telling) me to come to JV basketball practice. After much convincing, I agreed to go. After all, Erica did it and I idolized her as the big sister I never had- and, if I hated it- I could quite anyway, right? Wrong. I came home from the first week of practices bawling. All the other girls were so much better then I, and I made so many mistakes and got yelled at so much. I can’t do it. I’m not going back! This idea ended quickly. Mom said I was at least finishing the season- no quitting- that was that. I’m forever grateful for this. Also for Mr. Martin including me in the team, tough love and all. I learned (started to) how to be tought and determined that year playing with the older “athletic” girls. This is where I first learned what being a true athlete means. That year I also got Will. He also was something that taught me how important confidence is.

Jump to 2 years ago. My grade 12 year. I now played every high school sport I could. Captain of volleyball, soccer, and basketball, as well as riding on average 4 times a week (often during school hours (spares.. of course..)). Through grades 10-12 I met Lyle Myers- who is definitely responsible for taking me to the next level of toughness. Character building as he would call it (I’m shaking my head as I write this). I remember when I first started training with him in the mornings, this would have been in grade 10. Joel, Pierre, Mackenzie, Garth and I would be in the gym every morning at 7am running sprints. Hell. Sometimes Mr. Martin would watch from his office. I always tried harder if he was watching. I swear this was why I got off the bench and got to play more Varsity in my gr. 10 year. As much as Lyle caused me physical pain and discomfort with his training- I can now see how much it helped and changed me as an athlete- and person. I’m sure anybody who knows Lyle, or has trained with him, would say the same thing.  What a crazy old man. Back to my senior year. By this time I’d made many new great friends, most of which were on teams with me. My best friend who’d been by my side for 7 years decided that I wasn’t putting enough effort into her and all but cut me out of her life. What would high school be without a little drama, right? Those close to me know how much this effected me. As it would anyone I’m sure. To this day I still get confused about the whole situation- and it took me a long time to get over it. It didn’t stop me from pushing myself in every way I could.

Our basketball team made Provincials that year, after an amazing season. I’ll never forget what it was like to be apart of that 2010 team, and it still inspires me. That was true teamwork. Every time we pulled a one-point win out of our asses it was because of pure heart and athleticism. On the court, it was like we were one person. When we were on, nothing could stop us. No matter how much taller the other team was, or how many more players they had (often close to double our team in both height and numbers). I draw from the experiences I had that season all the time when I need a little reminder of what awesome feels like.  I learned so much that year about people, myself, and life. But I guess that’s what high school if for. Setting you up to learn those things. I say “setting you up” because you re-learn a lot of things you thought you know as soon as you get into the real world. This same year, I was also faced with my coach of a year and a half pulling a giant con on Bluebear and in the process leaving me without a coach 3 weeks before my first time competing at a Gold (national) level show (Royal Manitoba Winter Fair). Putting on a brave face through this time was unbelievably hard. It felt like, yet again, I was being left behind and having to start all over.. again.  With the help of Sheryl Feller, someone who’s been with me since the beginning of my riding career, I was able to keep training up to Fair week- where Wilf McKay took over as my temp show coach- a role he has filled a few times over the years.

It certainly wasn’t my easiest show. I had the added pressure (that I put on myself) of making a good impression on my future coaches Mike and Charlene. The days leading up to and the first few days of Fair week I was all but a nervous emotional wreck. I remember one morning I was reviewing my courses by the ring and Charlene came up beside me and helped me dissect the course. No introduction (not that she needed one), just straight to the point in that calm tone of hers. I relaxed so much after that. And had a very successful first showing at RMWF. That same year, I applied for the Miss Manitoba Pageant as a joke. Well, it started as a joke. Then I actually got accepted. And followed through with the whole thing. Swim suit competition and everything. I remember telling my mom about it, and her first reaction was laughing for about 5 minutes and then saying “they actually accepted you?!”. Thanks Mom.  But also, thank you for letting me go through with it. To Dad too. I know how grateful you were when I only placed third (boo yah top 3!). I learned a lot from that. One that pageants are generally a money grab. Two- spray tans are really, really questionable. And useless. Three- confidence is beauty. It was something I never thought I’d do, but can now say that I successfully did. I’m very proud of winning 4/5 special awards, but also very very happy i didn’t win my category. It was just enough to remind me to believe in myself, because even when something seems insane chances are I’ll get through it, and learn a lot on the way.

Today, looking back on all the chaos that was the past few years- all the friends I’d gained, and lost, all the teachers and coaches who pushed and believed, all the things that cause me to break down, every lesson I learned the hard way- it all brought me to here and now. I have all of the above, and lots more (I could list everything.. but you’d be reading for as long as I’ve been alive probably. I’ll save you that), to thank for who I am today. So many memories, good and bad. I’ve grown and changed a lot since then. Made new friends, kept old ones, reconnected with some. I definitely couldn’t have handled some of the things I’ve dealt with in my first year of Uni, or in the past few months in NZ. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to come this far away from home if I hadn’t learnt how to believe in who I am early on. It just goes to show that everything-mo matter how devastating, amazing, hard, easy- benefits you if you let yourself learn from it. Living means changing constantly. We always have to be learning and adapting to keep up with our world. It’s okay to screw up, or to be different, or to be the rookie. How else do you gain experience? You gotta start somewhere. Live is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

Well, there’s your novel for today. Gonna have to buy a new journal soon. Don’t worry, not all the entries are that.. thoughtful.

In other news, as I said up top- the internet is slow. Those of you that have me on Fbook will have seen my pictures from the beach and the area around where I’m living. Lucky you! I’m still unemployed (although I’ve applied for probably close to 100 jobs- including going into town and handing out resumes in person), and still unable to drive standard. Which leaves me at the house a lot of the time. Cooking, baking, cleaning, reading (‘Tis by Frank McCourt if you were wondering- great read!), going for walks, just chilling. I’ve been trying to add more working out to get some strengthening accomplished for the good ol’ back/hip situation. I’m backing off on that though, as it’s STILL consistently bothering me. So no change on that front. I won’t get started on that.

I just realized I’ve been here for over 3 months already. Wow!

I’ve booked a ticket to Christchurch for Dec. 7, where I’ll be staying with some more family connections for a few days- then going down to Dunedin for the 12th to do something that I haven’t spilled on yet. With the exception of a select few (whom I expect to keep quiet). My only hint is that it’s something I never EVER thought I’d do. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve said once or twice that this is something I couldn’t and wouldn’t ever do. Well, I’m pushing myself to a new limit. December 12th something crazy goes down. Stay tuned for more on that.

After my weekend in Dunedin I haven’t quite decided what I’ll do. I might visit some other family connections that live not far from there, in Alexandra, and then head farther south and do some exploring there. Then back to Cchurch and eventually back to the North here in Whangarei where I’ll be for Christmas.

I’ll stop writing now, because this post has now reached the word count of a research essay. Also, there’s no pictures. That’s no fun! I’ll post again soon with some pictures and hopefully some adventures. There will definitely be more on December 12th’s events!

Ciao!