Watching, Learning and Kicking On

Teacher not impressed by student ... Teacher not impressed by student ...

When I went to try Roxanne, I did it hesitantly. She was nothing that I “wanted”: a petite, lazy mare. I tried her for less than 40 minutes in a dusty ring during the dead of summer. I had no idea how I would learn to ride her, but something told me she was for me. Roxanne has been an incredibly challenging teacher. I could fill a book about everything this quirky mare has taught and continues to teach me.

Riding Roxanne is like trying to put a balloon in a box. I first got hold of the show jumping. Then I chipped away at the dressage. All the while I took for granted the incredible ride Roxanne always gave me cross country. Then, sometime last season, Roxanne and I started having refusals. It would only be at one fence and usually not at the most challenging question on course.

Let me tell you, I hate getting cross country penalties. At competitions, I get incredibly competitive and, unfortunately, emotional. I know that with a refusal, no matter how many clean jumping rounds I can produce or consistent I can make my dressage, I can’t get the results I want with a stop.

I’ve pulled up after a stop before. I loose my confidence. I tell myself I am no longer safe (even though that’s not at all true). Eventually, I learned I couldn’t just keep pulling up. I had to find a way to finish no matter how demoralizing it is to see that 20 penalties on the scoreboard.

I know the stops happen because Roxanne isn’t convinced I’m keen on getting to the other side. Then I grit my teeth and dig in, and she rewards me by easily popping over. After our stop, we’ll fly around the course, and I’ll ride at my absolute best. This is her lesson for me right now. I wish I could tell you that I’ve learned my lesson, but I still don’t have a handle on how to be both mentally and physically aggressive from the moment I leave the start box.

I’ve tried to write before about how much I learn about riding from watching high-level competition. I think watching is incredibly important for understanding our sport. However, an elite high-level event can seem a little far from home for a rider like me (and I imagine 95 percent of the people who read EN). When I watch a competition, I’m always looking to find a “way in” or something relatable to bring to my own riding.

Recently I’ve been scouring eventing media to get my horse fix. I stumbled upon Laine Ashker’s interview before Burghley, where she said among other things, “We all get caught up in that sort of pretty look … but I think here at Burghley, you’ve got to get the job done, and I can’t get myself caught up about perfect striding and perfect lines. Just here’s the flags, get through it.”

Woah. This is everything my coaches have been trying to tell me. And, here is an accomplished rider having to work on the same thing at Burghley. She later said that no matter what happened out there she would give it her all — and in my opinion she did. My heart broke with her at the fifth fence, but I was even more impressed with Laine by how she handled the rest of the round. In some ways I know exactly what she must have been feeling (even though my experience is on a much smaller scale).

It’s easy to make our role models the people that have medals and to selectively watch the rounds where people finish clear. However, I got my own inspiration from seeing someone learning, kicking on and, ultimately, still succeeding.