Following the Dots: On Paths, Planning and Progress

Winter is a great time to meditate on plans, paths and the “Long Road.” Photo by Holly Covey.

New year, new approach to training? Maybe.

Sometimes, when you look at a season from the beginning to the end, and make all sorts of plans for yourself and your horse, it all looks clear. The dots are there. The lines are straight, from dot to dot. You’re going to this, and that. The horse will go here, and then there. We will qualify at dot, dot, and dot. Then we will compete at dot, and dot, to prepare. Then there is big dot, perhaps at the end of the season, with a red circle around it.

Yet, when you look at a season, it’s not always a straight line in between those dots. More like curves and spirals and some loops backwards. We actually HOPE we can get to big dot in the season.

So how do we get this stuff going our way? We take out the freebie feed store calendar, and start checking with local stables on the upcoming schooling shows, look at booking vacation around competitions, and put a finger on general pieces of the calendar where you have to get a cross country school in or work toward a clinic weekend. And that’s all just for one horse. Maybe you have two or three and each is going in a different direction.┬áIt’s like calendar tetris!

I have to continually remind myself about the “why” of doing this. We are not supposed just go to a show to go to a show. We are supposed to get to a show to test what we are working on. The competitions are meant to educate — show us the holes, teach us the failings and the things that need practice in both our riding and in our horses’ education. We’re not supposed to just go because they’re there.

I think this goes to the heart of the “move-up” question. The cool thing about eventing is that we aren’t locked down, like low level hunter schooling shows, to a pretty rigid sort of course design (outside-diagonal, or some variation thereof). Our divisions are different from event to event — what’s easy at one event is hard at another, some events are great for everyone trying it for the first time, some events are very difficult for the level and meant to prepare a rider for the next higher division.

It is this very diversity that makes eventing competition so fun and educational. I think that is the reason we have this “move-up” mentality, because we overcome different courses all the time. We count on the education at one event making us ready for the next. In contrast, our friends in the hunter world work on perfection. Their move-up slows; they spend a lot more time doing those outside-diagonal-outside-diagonal courses than we do, looking for excellence in detail. Or perhaps they feel more comfortable with the challenge of getting it consistently excellent.

Both ideals go someplace and require strength of purpose, attention to detail, a drive to succeed and courage to keep trying when you don’t get it right. Where I get concerned is the lack of trying to get better, and letting the competition just “be there.” That does nothing for me as a rider except make me dangerously comfortable right where I am. What’s the danger in that? The danger is I may lose that drive to educate myself. Should we do shows just to do shows? My feeling is we shouldn’t.

Of course, there are many reasons for folks to stay at the same level for years and years. Heck, yeah, I get that. There are some Novice courses that pretty much masquerade at the level, and you cross the finish line on cross country and go, “Where’s Training level, it can’t get much harder than THAT was!”

A friend of mine coined the phrase, “Be a student of the Long Road,” and I think of this saying often. I watch the local shows, I learn by watching, I go home, I ride and train. I think of the Long Road. Where I want to be at the end of the season. Where I want to be at the end of three seasons ahead. My challenge is to take each show, each course, and put it squarely in the middle of that Long Road, and see how it gets me down that line, from dot to dot.

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