Have you ever been riding your horse and all of a sudden, like magic, you have an epiphany? Where you actually get off your horse when you’re done riding, and think to yourself, how stupid can I be? Or, good god, why didn’t I think of that years ago? I probably have one of these “lightbulb” moments twice a year, if I am lucky. Once in the summer, and once in the winter. I never plan on these breakthroughs, or sudden realizations, they just occur out of the blue.
So there I was, yesterday afternoon, riding my mare on the flat. I wouldn’t say that my ride was awful by any stretch of the mind, though things could have gone smoother. She was a bit unsteady in the bridle, and I wasn’t helping her unsteadiness at all. In fact, I was being incredibly unsteady. Sometimes when my ride is not going as planned, or I hit a rough patch, I like to stop my horse completely, let her breathe and reboot, which allows me to breathe and reboot. There’s nothing in the Dressage Constitution that forbids halting and analyzing for a minute or so.
In that moment, as the two of us chilled out for a second, I jogged my memory and thought back on 2013. I revisited Valonia schooling on the flat, versus, Valonia in dressage competing. Arguably, these were two different horses, and my dedicated dressage trainer (Lindle Sutton) would completely back me up on this notion. Valonia schooling on the flat was challenging to say the least. I don’t think I have ever had a more inconsistent year with a horse. She was up, when I attempted to work her down. When I wanted to work her up, she fought to be heavy on her forehand. When I asked for more gas, she slowed down, and when I asked her to wait, she sped up. It was as if I was trying to communicate with her using a foreign language. Neither of us knew exactly what was going on. Hence the struggle.
And then, miraculously, by some grace of god, I would take her to an event, and would nail the dressage. I am by no means gloating. In fact, I would be just as surprised as Lindle was. It actually was sort of hilarious. I am really funny about discovering my score at an event. Part of me can’t wait to see the results, and the other part of me simply does NOT want to know. Often times Lindle would come back to the trailer, with a telling expression on her face, and she would bluntly ask, so, do you want to know, or not? I would say, sure, why not. Lindle: well, you won’t believe this, but you’re in second…though I’m not sure how? Lindle is amazing, and would NEVER sugar coat anything for me, which I completely appreciate and respect. Some tests were not as amazing as others, but I was consistently in the top three at every single event, so evidently something was clicking.
Back to yesterday afternoon, I tried to dissect Valonia schooling, vs. Valonia competing, and I realized that no matter how amazing, or how wretched my mare felt in warm up, when it came time to enter the ring, I had to throw my worries aside, and damn well compete. I had to leave my pathetic, wimpy, and worrying self in warm up, and put my game face on. Every time I enter at “A,” I am trying to be the best rider I can be. I am super competitive, and want to impress the judge. I want to have seamless transitions, and look like I actually know what I am doing, because I have been riding for twenty years.
So instead of continuing down a rocky road in my school yesterday, I recreated a scene that would help improve the situation. I needed to change the atmosphere completely. So I went around the ring, just as though I was at an event, and I proceeded by turning down center line at “A.” I don’t know what test I rode through, but it was a test nevertheless. The test got us both on the same page, where she was steady, focused and thinking, and I was right there with her. We were in sync, and we were bringing out the best in each other. I am not suggesting that everyone needs to ride through a test every single time they school on the flat, but sometimes putting yourself in competing mode can bring everything to a new light!
Valonia at GMHA August Festival Of Eventing 2013, taken by the Horse Pesterer: