Once upon a time my aim was to survive a BE. Then it was to get a DC. But while I was ecstatic after my first BE and my first DC, neither of those events were exactly models of good horsemanship. Kelsall BE80 was a wild SJ ride and a very slow XC. Somerford was a point and pray course. And my dressage scores for both were in the high 30s/ low 40s.
I now feel that the way I ride is more important than what I ride over, or the score at the end, and I am becoming increasingly critical of how I am riding.
I decided to book in a few extra lessons to try and sort things out. I booked a dressage lesson with a new instructor and asked her a million questions about how to improve my marks. To which she eventually replied ‘you know you just need to ride her better!’ Haha. Yes well there is that….
I then had a jumping lesson and kept missing the stride and as the fences were big and tight, I kept putting Amber in impossible positions and forcing her to stop. “It’s actually good that she is stopping’ my RI said, ‘you can’t always rely in her to rescue you.” True and helpful but the repeated failure was very demoralising and I got frustrated and upset.
My RI said I need to stop looking ahead to where I want to be and start looking back to how far I have come. Which I know makes sense but is something I am finding very hard. Because when I look back, instead of being pleased at my progress I am instead embarrassed about how bad I used to be! I see memories pop up on my FB timeline and wince at videos I was once proud enough to post.
Perhaps it will always be like that? Will I look at my current videos one day and wince at them too? Probably, because for all my posts on ’embracing failure’ I still don’t. Which is ridiculous. No-one was born knowing how to ride. We all have to learn and we all have to go through all those stages of learning: the wobbles, the falls, the confusing cues, the flappy legs, the getting ahead or behind the movement, the staring down at fences or ditches, the dodgy lines and the missers. EVERYONE. Even Carl Hester used to be bawled out for being too ‘handsy’.
But that acceptance is definitely still a ‘work in progress’ and in the meantime I have been working harder then ever on position and balance etc. I felt I was improving and that Amber was going well so I entered Stafford BE hoping to finally, FINALLY nail the dressage. And I thought I had until I saw the score. I literally came out grinning thinking YES! Hurrah!!! And it was a flipping 39. Not scored worse all season.
A load of ‘other’ stuff also been going on for a few weeks too – mainly an impending tax bill I could not pay because of unpaid debts owed to me. So all that was extremely time consuming and stressful to try and sort out. Not to mention massively adding to the ‘how-can-I-afford-this-eventing-malarkey’ guilt. All in all I was in an exceedingly dim frame of mind when I rolled up to Frickley BE90 on a baking hot and humid day.
We were meant to be travelling up the day before so I could do my usual extended course walk as I find navigating so hard. But I felt it was too hot to travel so we had to go early morning instead. When we arrived to walk the XC we discovered it was really twisty and counter intuitive and I only had time to walk it once.
So by the time I got on for dressage, I was in a total downward spiral mentally. Not adequately prepared, not motivated and generally wondering why I do a sport that is so time consuming, stressful and basically faffy. Not to mention expensive.
Amber was fine in the dressage but I just assumed it would be another awful score anyway so was unable to feel happy about it. Then she was a nightmare in the SJ warm-up, just accelerating towards the fences. It’s a vicious cycle – if I am mentally low then I am more nervous as my confidence comes from positivity. So I was too scared to jump anything apart from a x-pole in the warm up and I found myself near tears and considering withdrawing. Stupid, ridiculous stuff was running through my mind like maybe the universe was telling me I was going to have an accident etc. Fortunately I managed to take myself off to a shady spot to give myself an almighty kick up the backside. I realised I had a negative loop in my head on auto-play and I needed to change the tape. So – deep breath – focus on the RIDING. Ignore the doom and gloom voices focus on riding forwards & letting her travel, on looking ahead, keeping my body back and making sure that I kept my leg on even when re-balancing or slowing her so she kept engaged behind.
And then the round in the end was fine. She had a pole at 3 when I buried her (again) but instead of compounding the error and riding more tentatively to try and avoid mistakes, I corrected it and rode ON. And she cleared the rest easily, in the time and in control. Hurrah!!!
It felt the best round we have ever jumped in competition and suddenly things felt ok again. I kept my focus on the reality out in the real world and not the imaginary negative world of failure, poor conditions, other uncontrollables and accidents in my head. She flew round XC clear and IN CONTROL! Woop woop!! Nothing beats demons like an exhilarating blast across country!! They should prescribe it on the NHS.
Had a very Amberish couple of moments: One when we had to go into some woods and turn sharp left up a hill, But there was a novice fence in her eye line ahead in the woods, which she locked onto. NOOOOOOO AMBER!! And again when there was a trickle of a stream we had to cross which I assumed she would run through but in fact jumped massive over. But we survived. Had some time pens but that is fine. I know the speed is there when I want it but I am focusing on control at the moment. So actually a very pleasing outing in the end. AND a respectable if not spectacular dressage score after all! And since then we have also scored a PB of 33.25 at a practice event at Eland. Getting nearer 30 finally.
So what can I take from all that?
- Negativity is toxic. Utterly toxic.
- It is also self inflicted. There is no need to get lost in an invented world of problems and issues.
- And crucially it is reversible. No matter how lost in my own head I am, I can turn it round.
- Mistakes and dodgy riding is inevitable. Getting down on myself about it is not.
- Amber is very forgiving! I should take a leaf out her her book.
- The best advice is sometimes the simplest. I just need to ride her better. And I will.
- Eventing is the best anti-depressant, stress busting, life re-affirming activity there is! Especially on the world’s most awesome XC horse!!