Are You A Driver Or A Passenger?

The Beast At Huntington-Open Training

Eventing is seriously one tough sport….amazingly fun, but definitely not easy. How many years does it take to really become a good rider do you think? Five, Fifteen, Twenty? Maybe you are thinking to yourself, it depends on timing, money perhaps, and of course THAT special horse. I’m sure I’m not alone here when I say that I literally lie awake at night wondering if all the years, the hours, and of course all the money, have been a huge waste of my time. I also don’t think I am alone here when I say that I also lie awake at night thinking I just can’t do this, I never will be at the top, or I’ll never be as good as: *insert any top rider’s name here.*

Let’s say you have put in the hours and you believe you have THE horse…now what? Do you go and win every single event that you sign up for? Does everything just fall magically into place once you have poured sweat and tears into this sport and you FINALLY have the horse of your dreams? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I wish it were that simple. There are countless pieces to this puzzle and getting everything to magically line up requires serious patience and time.

The Beast, aka “Valonia,” doesn’t have this nickname by accident. She is large and in charge most of the time. I have had this 17.1 hand Holsteiner since 2009 and we have absolutely had our ups and downs. The horse barely could lead when she arrived at Tamarack. I could not hose her off in a wash-stall for at least 6 months because as soon as I turned on the water she tore off the cross ties and jumped into some random horse’s paddock. Clippers? Yeah right-that took over a year. Loading? That took about two years to where she would consistently walk right on. I always thought this mare had it all, though I never thought it would be this much of a challenge and I never thought it would take this long to find that special go button.

Mares are tricky, we all know that. There is a reason why there are more geldings in this sport than mares. It’s no secret. The first event I took Valonia to, I was eliminated in dressage for accidentally stepping out of the ring at “A.” Once I got her out and about as a 5 and 6 year old, some of the events went well and some were awful. Either she was on it and we would go clean, or she was spooky and we would have a stop on xc. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the inconsistent behavior. Sometimes I blamed it on her being green. Sometimes I blamed it on her being in season. Sometimes I blamed it on lighting, or a certain venue being spookier than others. I blamed “our” problems on several factors….not knowing what the real problem was.

That GO button that I have found…that magical thing that makes this horse tick is really about me and my go button. How ridiculous I was to blame every little thing on my horse and how the mistakes we made were really her mistakes. What’s so funny and amazing about this whole adventure is that the go button is completely up to me. This magically switch is not so magical after all. I have complete control over this switch and it is at my beck and call. All I have to do is decide when and how to turn this on. I have a young horse who has limited experience but is bold and confident. If I go out on xc unsure of myself and unsure about certain jumps, most likely we WILL have a run out, or a stop. After retiring on xc at Napierville (in Canada), I came back home feeling defeated. Of course Denny did not feel sorry for me and told me to basically buck up and get out to another event soon and MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

What a turning point coming home from Canada was. I was at my lowest of lows, after spending so much money only to retire on xc and never make it over the first fence in SJ. What a failure I was. I needed a swift kick in the pants to turn my season around and that’s just what I got. I went from having stops here and there this spring to returning from Canada and going clean at Huntington, Stoneleigh-Burnham, GMHA and Huntington again. Not only did we go clean, but I found my own go button. My go button inevitably turned her go button on. Going clean at our last four events was not accidental or by mistake. I have made the conscious decision to take control. I go into the start box now saying to myself…we got this….and we ARE going clean and that’s that!

This may or may not be a special circumstance between me and my mare. I am a certain personality type and my mare is also a very specific personality type. Although, if there are other riders out there who have the ability to go clean on xc but allow certain issues to play a role, or effect their ride, then let this be some advice. I have never had this happen before. I feel like a light bulb literally has turned on in my head and now I can attack any course I would like. If you have a horse that has the ability to go jump all the jumps you point them at, but you are a little intimidated by the event, or by a certain jump, or a certain question….you need to find that confidence inside and you need to take the steering wheel. Some riders are passengers and it works, and some are drivers, or have to be drivers. Sometimes it takes years to discover which side of the car you belong on-or need to belong on. It also can take years to discover that you need to take the steering wheel, but once you feel what its like to drive you will never move back to your old seat….not for anything!

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