I recently had a lesson with Nicola Wilson, eventer extraordinaire. During it we had to canter a bend over a pole, get straight to a set of canter poles and ride another bend to finish. Amber maintained balance on the bend and popped through the poles in a lovely rhythm and with good athleticism.
“You enjoyed that didn’t you” said Nicola. I beamed in response. But then my bubble was burst….
“You were enjoying your moment of triumph so much that you forgot to ride the 2nd bend” she said.
She was absolutely lovely and could not have been kinder or gentler in her feedback but she was spot on. I was stuck on being pleased with myself and literally forgot to keep riding.
Reflecting on the lesson I realised this is a problem I have a lot of the time. Frankly I find myself so surprised to be doing it at all that I don’t realistically aspire to do it well.
This attitude has been with me all my life. I did an ironman in 2011 and I chose to do it on a bright pink bike complete with a set of pink furry dice. This was partly because I like pink. But a more subtle message to the world was ‘I am not really taking this too seriously’. Which is bullshit. No-one trains that hard for that long to do something that challenging without taking it seriously! And it is also pointless because frankly The World has better things to worry about than what colour bike I ride. Or indeed whether I complete an ironman or fail to get round.
In retrospect I can see this as a defence against failure. If I make light of the event, keep my expectations firmly in check and ride a silly looking bike then perhaps falling flat on my face won’t hurt so much?
The trouble is that I have internalised this expectation to fail. I ride dressage tests hoping to avoid mistakes instead of riding to demonstrate Amber’s balance, rhythm, straightness or accuracy. I ride fences thinking ‘phew’ after every fence instead of focusing on the one coming up. And, as I did in the lesson with Nicola, if I ever do something well I am so surprised at myself that I inevitably fluff the next bit!
I simply don’t believe I belong in the eventing world at all, never mind on the podium. Last season I never plaited up. At the time I believed this was because I can’t plait for toffee and figured bad plaits look worse than no plaits. But I could LEARN to plait. So perhaps subconsciously my au naturel look is the horsey equivalent of the pink fluffy dice. My tacit acknowledgement that I know I don’t belong here so I need not look the part?
My friend is the opposite: she comes from the background of elite sport and no matter what she enters she is riding to win. Even if the idea of winning that particular event is bordering on delusional. But it makes her 100% more focused and positive in her riding than I am.
This attitude affects everything about my riding. Amber oozes class and credibility in precisely the ways I do not. I never set out to buy a horse like Amber and would not have dared have her had I known how good she is. But why not? After all plenty of riders buy fantastically well bred horses with great ability and I don’t judge them for that. But I have spent 2 years believing I am not a good enough rider for Amber. Believing she is wasted with me, is far too good for me. I adore Amber and she is with me for life so I accepted long ago that I had a responsibility to learn to ride her. But actually it goes further than that – I need to accept that she and I are partners. That I DO belong with her and on her. I DO belong at One Day Events. We are not just making up the numbers while enjoying a nice day out but are there to compete for placings.
I work hard, I am determined and driven. And I do care. Very much.
So here is my 2019 NY resolution: I am hence forth banned from using a defence against failure that pretty much guarantees I will not succeed! After all in the words of Henry Ford: “If you think that you can or you think that you can’t, you are usually right.”
So I will enter events aiming to pull out a peak performance and to compete for placings every time. I will stop feeling apologetic if I mess up and start feeling bloody annoyed instead. I will never again express any doubts about my rightful place as Amber’s rider and our rightful place at ODEs. After all with a jump as effortlessly joyful as this, there is nowhere better for us to be!
Oh and I guess I’d better learn to plait 😉