Wendy Angel
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Wendy Angel

Achievements

About Wendy Angel

I'm a 30-something amateur recovering-weenie newbie who is trying to learn the eventing ropes as I bumble around Beginner Novice. My partner in crime, Oliver, is a 16.2 woolly mammoth cross that is supposedly Percheron/TB, and he also happens to be the most patient and hysterical horse in the world, with the largest noggin to boot (seriously, just look at it). When I'm not riding or being clumsy and weird, I love spending time with my husband Bora and our three mutts, and working in marketing. Well, actually, who am I kidding - I am *always* weird. We just moved to the Dallas area. Read more at my personal blog www.RidingWithScissors.com.

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The Beauty of Eventing ‘In Spite Of’

Photo courtesy of Wendy Angel. Photo courtesy of Wendy Angel.

There’s no doubt about it – this is a tough sport we do. Both for rider and horse, eventing is an incredible challenge: the performance, the knowledge, the fitness, the focus, the mental. Oh god, the mental. I think there are few sports that challenge you in so many ways in so many areas as eventing does.

I remember when I first decided to event about three years ago, and Ollie and I knew nothin’ ’bout nothin’ (OK, we still don’t, really). I frequently heard people say, “Well any time you end on a number and not a letter, that’s a good day.” Coming from the aiming-for-perfection of Hunterland, I initially didn’t quite get that. What, we’re supposed to feel good about merely finishing the actual competition? That doesn’t sound reassuring at the end of a bad day.

I’m a perpetually nervous/anxious rider. It’s just a part of my personality as a whole to be an anxious crazy person about, well, everything. Coming from the baby hunters, I was used to getting super nervous for my rounds. But, I knew that if I blew the first course, I had a few more rounds to use to freaking get over myself and put in the performance I knew I could potentially do. I also knew that I would totally suck in the hack, as Ollie is a Drafty McDrafterson Freight Train Mover Extraordinaire. But that’s OK, we’d do better over fences, and it wouldn’t matter.

Eventers can’t do that.

One shot. One shot on each horse in a given day. One try to get it done. And if your horse can jump but not dressage? Fugheddaboutit.

But the difficulty in this sport is not just the one-chance aspect. Or even in learning the mechanics of three disciplines. The most difficult part, I think, is extruding from deep within you what’s needed to make it all happen. It’s a test of character and fortitude. Of patience and bravery. Of confidence and acceptance. Understanding and chutzpah. Being subtle, being forceful. Of understanding both your limitations and those of your horse – and working with them, not against them.

And with all of these areas where eventing tests you, some are at times in complete discordance with each other during different parts of the competition. What a horse needs from the rider in dressage is not the same rider he needs in the cross country field. And, of course, that means that at times, this competition will go against the very nature of who you are as a rider. As a person. And maybe against your horse’s natural tendencies as well.

Today, I learned that my fear of forward manifests even when I don’t realize it. I climbed through a jump, obliterating it. It was, of course, my fault. I thought I was asking for more pace, but I really wasn’t. I was imagining myself asking for it, and bracing for inevitable failure. When I reached down deep to make forward happen (and I did do it in the end), it was winning a battle. But that’s a war I’ll always fight, if I’m being honest. I may become a better fighter, but that demon will always be there.

I am also slowly learning to fight against my perfectionist nature. When things aren’t going well that don’t come easily to me or Ollie, I have a tendency to give up. To not complete the tight turn and bail out instead. To not insist on pace. To not insist on that correct bend or connection. To not do anything that I know that we can’t do easily, because my pea brain emphasizes the appearance of success over trying and failing — but learning. Failing is scary.

But knowing all of this about myself, I ride in spite of it. In spite of fear. In spite of fear of failure. And so many other demons both mental and physical.

And I know I’m not alone. Other riders event in spite of knowing their horse might be dead last after dressage nearly every time. In spite of a fear of riding in the open field. In spite of knowing they are never going to be super competitive at a certain level. In spite of a bad gait or two. In spite of fears of tight turns. In spite of not having a lot of patience. Of being a little terrified of a certain kind of cross country jump – or, let’s be honest, scared a little teensy bit of maybe all cross country jumps.

Or in spite of their horse being a big chicken at heart. Or a sloth. Or having a tendency to get strong. Or in spite of knowing they will nearly always have time on cross country, or that they will always take certain options.

We event in spite of our horses. We event in spite of ourselves.

And each time we end on that beautiful number, whatever it is, it’s a testament to the fact that today, we were able to fight all of our demons and challenges through all three phases. Now, that’s not to say, of course, that you didn’t fight if you ended on a letter. The number is just a physical representation of the fact that, by golly, you did it today. You fought and won.

Ribbons and prizes are nice, as is recognition. But I don’t think those are what drive most of us in eventing. Making ourselves and our horses who they need to be. Fighting those battles. Becoming better people and horsewomen and horsemen.

In spite of. And I think that’s what makes eventers great. What makes them special.

In my next competition, I probably won’t get a ribbon, if I’m being honest. I probably will have penalties of some kind. I probably won’t entirely live up to my full potential, because hey, I am a nervous crazy person.

Given my personality and tendencies overall, cerebrally, eventing should be the last sport I should have taken up. But that’s OK. I’m going to go out there and do it, in spite of myself.

And it’s going to be awesome.

About Wendy Angel: I’m a 30-something amateur recovering-weenie newbie who is trying to learn the eventing ropes as I bumble around Beginner Novice. My partner in crime, Oliver, is a 16.2 woolly mammoth cross that is supposedly Percheron/TB, and he also happens to be the most patient and hysterical horse in the world, with the largest noggin to boot (seriously, just look at it). When I’m not riding or being clumsy and weird, I love spending time with my husband Bora and our three mutts, and working in marketing. Well, actually, who am I kidding — I am *always* weird. We just moved to the Dallas area. Read more at my personal blog www.RidingWithScissors.com.

In Which Doug Payne Kicks Ollie’s Ass

To read the original, slightly more colorful version of this post, visit Riding With Scissors.

Oh, the off season. That wonderful time of year where we can kick back a little, not worry about the pressure of shows and just enjoy our ponies. That is, until you get bored and/or need help with your hairy, yakky mammoth horse. And your barn mates talk you into going to the upcoming Doug Payne clinic, because Doug Payne.

Yeah. You want to know why we have an off season? BECAUSE THE WEATHER IS CRAP. OH MY GOD, WHY DID I GO TO THIS CLINIC? Oh, because it was awesome.

It was seriously the most frigid weekend of the season. Teeth were chattering. I couldn’t feel my toes. But it was all worth it.

OMG COLD

My favorite, Sarah, was here visiting from Atlanta. She was sweet to accompany me on Friday, before she went home on Saturday. We arrived at the clinic site around lunch time and settled the ponies in. I wasn’t riding in the private dressage lesson until about 4, so I got to hang out for a bit and watch. I was immediately impressed by how down-to-earth Doug Payne seemed, and I sighed knowing that it might not be my day to die. MAYBE. You just never know.

When it was my turn to ride – sharing a time slot with Melissa from my barn – we did the requisite introduction of “12-year-old Percheron/TB cross with the TB hiding, he’s always on the forehand, I’m a weenie, we need more from behind, OH AND SOMETIMES HE DOESN’T TURN.”

Yeah, Ollie’s really regressed there lately with the whole no-left-turny business. But we were going to straighten that out today!  So we warmed up a bit, and then tried the whole turn-left-across-the-middle routine. And like clockwork, Ollie cranked his neck like boss, popped his shoulder, flipped me off and surged forward, threatening to run into people at the end of the arena. “FREAK!!”

Yeah, I said didn’t say “freak.” You know what I said. In the Doug Freaking Payne clinic. I am so klassy.

So he asked us to collect and do it again. And he figured us out in those short minutes: keep the bend, but stop bending SO MUCH that you invite that right shoulder to pop out. And when I feel him start to resist, OH MY GOD SEND HIM SO FAR FORWARD THAT HE’S ALREADY CELEBRATING THE FOURTH OF JULY. Ok, maybe he didn’t phrase it like that, but you get the gist. And for the love of god, Wendy, freaking use your outside leg more.

So, progress was made, and I started mentally preparing for Saturday.

braceyourselves

So I had the benefit of watching all the other groups go before us on Saturday, and there was I guess not quite gridwork, but the same principles applied for straightness and correctness, and proper striding. And there was an exercise of spiraling in and out of two sets of poles set on different-sized circles. It looked stupid easy. BUT IT WASN’T. Especially when you throw in the fact that your horse doesn’t turn left all the time.

What direction did we go first? Left. OF COURSE WE DID. Doug, if you are reading this, I want to let you know that I am on to your shenanigans and you totally did that to me on purpose.

So when it was my turn, we of course struggled. Even at the trot.

The struggle is real, yo. Hear him say that I was giving up? Yeah, because I was afraid that Olls would run into the other horses otherwise. Because Ollie ain’t got time for avoiding horses or people. So then, the most fateful question to ever be asked was posed.

“Can I get on him for a minute?”

WELL OF COURSE YOU CAN, DOUG FREAKING PAYNE.

This is Ollie's "oh crap" face as Doug was preparing to climb aboard the Freight Train Express.

This is Ollie’s “oh crap” face as Doug was preparing to climb aboard the Freight Train Express.

His first comment? “Wow, he can be really strong, huh?” Yeah. Yeah.

And then he invited Ollie’s shenanigans with a looser rein, and opening the arena gate. LOL. And then, Ollie pulled his stunt. And proceeded to have his ass beaten. And he totally knew he was in trouble.

Doug Payne on Ollie

LOOK AT THAT CUTE BUTT. Ollie's butt, people. I'm talking about OLLIE'S.

LOOK AT THAT CUTE BUTT. Ollie’s butt, people. I’m talking about OLLIE’S.

I got back on, and we made progress. AND HE FRIGGING TURNED LEFT. ::self-high-five::

And then we went on the the jumping exercises.

We started with this:

And in this clip at about the minute mark, you will see Ollie again NOT turn left, and so we accidentally jumped a jump we weren’t meant to. WHOOPS.

And ended with this: two jumps set at an angle, and we were to jump a straight line.

It was great instruction, and probably the mental ass-kicking – and Ollie’s physical ass-kicking – that we needed.

We made it through half the day on Sunday for the stadium coursework day, and seriously, we could not make it any longer. My autoimmune shiz was acting up in the frigid cold, and Felicia was sick, so we decided to call it a day and bail, sadly. But we’ve since set up those exercises at home and MAYBE I HAVE DONE SOME OF THE BENDING LINES. Maybe. As soon as my balls warm back up, I will do more.

But overall? Fantastic clinic. Best I’ve been to yet, and he was so down-to-earth and approachable with everyone.

Plus, I got to have Ollie’s ass kicked by a Rolex rider. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Keep On Keepin’ On

Anyone who knows me — whether in real life or through the Internet — knows that I am a weenie of epic proportions. I will justify weaseling myself out of so many riding efforts, and I pee my pants at the mere thought of completing a stadium round, or daring to actually,  for once, make time on cross country.

I always have to remind myself to grow a pair. In fact, my new barn friends here in Texas so love the whole “balls” reminder thing that they’ve deemed us “Team BHB” – Big Hairy Balls. Fitting, right? So much that my sweet barn mate Mandy had saddle pads made for us. Sparkles!

BHB

I’ve had so many people ask me before, “If this scares you so much, why the heck do you do it? Why not just quit?”

Well ain’t that a question. And it really has a simple answer.*

I have a pretty big anxiety problem in general, in all aspects of life. I get worked up about things, and my mind immediately goes to the worst possible outcome. My husband, Bora, calls it “Scratting” when I get myself all worked up about Things That Have Not Happened, and about life in general (have you seen Ice Age? Know that little squirrel who’s all, well, squirrely? Yeah, that’s me).

I worry about spontaneously running off highway overpasses. I worry about my senior dog suddenly dying in the middle of the night, and then I wake up and have to check her breathing.

I worry about accidentally ingesting peanuts (I’m allergic, yo). I worry all the time I’m going to get fired for some nonexistent or blown-up reason. I worry that I’m not getting enough vitamins. I worry I’m getting TOO many vitamins. I worry that I’m suddenly going to get really sick again (autoimmune disease – it’s not fun). Really, I worry about everything.

So it naturally follows that riding would be no different. So many things go through my head when I’m riding. I worry that Ollie won’t turn left (like he’s prone to do…) and he’s going to run me into the fence/standard/tree/jump number/that horse over there.

I worry that I will spontaneously fall off. I worry that I am going to look like an idiot. I worry, pretty much, that I am not good enough. Maybe I’m not. Maybe I am. But I never fully trust my mind to know what’s the anxiety talking, and what’s not.

But I am never going to let my anxiety problems dictate what I can and can’t do. I will always try to push through, eventually, until things aren’t so scary anymore.

I remember when a tiny crossrail was terrifying. When cantering on Ollie was scary because of his size. When I couldn’t possibly imagine eventing, because OH MY GOD THE JUMPS DON’T FALL DOWN, AND BIG OPEN SPACES ARE RIPE FOR RUNAWAYS. But somehow, things always slowly get easier.

But something magical also happens when I’m around horses. It also takes my anxiety away. I may get worked up about a particular lesson, a course. A particular cross country jump. A certain dressage test.

I may even dread doing these things in the moment. It may even look like I don’t want to actually go through with it. But I know that on the other side of fear is confidence and contentment.

After every ride, after every grooming session, after every competition — I walk away with a feeling of peace and accomplishment that nothing else on Earth can give me. There is something magical to spending time with Ollie — and horses in general — that recharges me. It takes that weight off my chest and gives my soul wings.

I hope that one day, doing Beginner Novice isn’t going to be as mentally frightening. That I won’t live in fear that Ollie won’t turn, or that I won’t be able to keep it together in stadium. I think I will get there. But until then? In the wise words of Matthew McConaughey, I’m gonna keep on keepin’ on – and let my soul fly. If even for just the day.

*Hey, I said it was a simple answer, not a short one. GEEZ, GET OFF MY BACK.

Weenie Eventers: Unite Against Proposed Rule Changes. Or send me Xanax. Whichever.

This is me and my Ollie on our first Beginner Novice course ever, and typical for us: me with a terrified look, and Ollie knocking down a rail on an oxer that is NOT 2'10 This is me and my Ollie on our first Beginner Novice course ever, and typical for us: me with a terrified look, and Ollie knocking down a rail on an oxer that is NOT 2'10" with a 3'5" spread.

So by now, pretty much everyone has heard about the proposed rule changes, yes?

THIS IS A TRAGEDY FOR WEENIE EVENTERS. We weenie eventers are a small but vocal subset of the eventing world. And by vocal, I mean you can hear us from the other side of the cross country course, because we are either terrified or surprised by our success (we gotta celebrate our non-weenie moments, yo).

So they want to increase the speed on Beginner Novice (and Novice and Training) cross country courses, throw in some higher-level obstacles on cross country, and allow for horse-eating and pants-crapping jumps in stadium. And by that I mean one to two larger ones with spreads bigger than a Costco case of Country Crock. I am not down with that.

Now, granted, in some schooling shows, I’ve encountered a few of the types of jumps they are proposing. I can probably handle those. But anything that involves me having to add power steering fluid and amphetamines to my luggy Percheron cross’s diet is not kosher for me. I mean, hell — I’ve barely begun to canter the entire cross country course as it is, and now you want me to speed up I’ve never made optimum time even once. You may as well put a big kick me pass me sign on my back instead of a pinny.

I know there are more weenie eventers like me out there, who already feel the vomit rising into their throats at the current Beginner Novice Level. I feel ya, ladies and gents. Let me give everyone a little tip: If these proposed rules are enacted, go and buy mass quantities of Pfizer stock, as Xanax prescriptions are going to go through the roof.

Why are y’all trying to do this? Make the lower levels more difficult to make everyone safer down the line? Make us look better internationally? Help rid the U.S. of a Depends surplus? Whatever the reason, it’s weenie discrimination, plain and simple. So y’all get vocal and join me in protesting these proposed rule changes. As soon as I get done screaming on my cross country course.

Updated: Email [email protected] with the subject line “Rule Change Proposal” to express your concerns!