Sunday, September 14, 2014

Don't get too comfortable!

It's amazing how quickly a year can fly by. Clearly I have been remiss in updating the blog and it would be impossible to pick up where I left off as it would take the better part of a day (month) to type and a few hours to read.  I'm sure I will write that book someday, just not today.

As a coach it is unbelievably rewarding to witness students, who have worked tirelessly, and trained daily, reach a seemingly insurmountable goal. As a trainer it is a joy to feel the horses we train exude confidence and answer questions with calm fleet of foot, and quiet professionalism.  As a rider it is a wonderful feeling to approach cross country day respectfully but with easiness, and relaxed confidence.  Right up until it's not.

This weekend at Flying Cross Horse Trial in Ky, I went on this little roller coaster ride.  It began with a top five dressage score in a competitive Preliminary division, and took me to the top of the hill with one of only four double clear rounds stadium, rocketing us into first. Turn after turn I saw friends having wonderful rides, and Jessica Hart turn in her first double clear stadium round on a horse we have been working tirelessly with to sharpen over the painted poles. What an incredible moment!

At the start of the day today I felt strangely calm and was chit chatting with a friend as I prepared for cross country.  This would be our 6th Prelim, and I felt confident and prepared, even though there were a few questions Captain and I had never seen before. I felt I had a great plan and was going to ride for the time as the ground was great after having rained a fair amount earlier in the week.  As I arrived into the warm up I realized I left my bridle number on my halter, and a friend of mine offered to go get it.  I joked that I was getting my screw ups out of the way now... Oh how wrong that would prove to be.  We started out and in typical fashion; Captain was a bit squirrelly and I just worked on keeping him between my aids and settling him into a rhythm, jumping the first few jumps out of stride.  I turned on the heat after the third element for a good gallop up a hill to the first real question, a bounce bank down with a half dozen strides over a canoe into the water, jumping out a bank and one stride to another canoe.  Captain was great and we had another long gallop after which I started tightening up my lines and approaches.  He handled it well and we cruised around the rest of the course, even conquering our first Irish Bank.  I crossed the finish and checked my watch- only one second over time! I was thrilled.  I had given myself a goal to come in with 5 time penalties or less, and this would  give us only .4!  Jessica and I were celebrating as we walked down the lane, smothering Captain with pats and "good boy!"s when the Technical Delegate pulled up. I got a lump in my throat and thought uh oh what happened- was I going too fast- was I about to get a yellow card- a hundred things flashed through my head. A serious look crossed her face. " Number 6.  I need to talk to you. Did you know you were eliminated?" I gasped and put my hands on my head "oh my gosh. No! What did I do?" I was in complete disbelief.  "You jumped Training fence 2 instead of Prelim fence 2, I'm so sorry" she said with a pained look.  How could I have done that? How did I do that? I almost started to walk away but stopped and thanked her profusely for allowing me to finish the course.  I explained he was a young horse that I was trying to get mileage on, and that I very much appreciated her generosity letting me complete.  I was just stupefied. I let my wonderful, amazing horse down by making a stupid mistake because I was too relaxed. The worst part is that I had done this once previously and vowed to never do it again. I had come up with a process to avoid that mistake, and in my cool comfort had failed to follow my self made rules. The roller coaster had come flying down the hill jolting to a halt, and I can honestly say at that moment I felt so, so, small. I decided no matter what, Captain had to know what a truly exceptional animal he was, despite my shortcomings. He was so proud of himself... We have this ritual that when I finish riding and have pulled off his tack he gets a "Paddock Cake" ( a natural horse treat with a peppermint pressed in it) and he was smiling through his forelock with his big Irish ears waiting for his cookie, telling me what a good boy he was. And he was right. There is nothing like looking a horse in the eye that KNOWS how special he is, and what a good job he did for you. It's indescribable other than to say it makes you smile and my eyes well up with tears every time. I put my head on his forehead and made a silent promise to be better, and to never be so "comfortable" again.

I can relish in the fact that Jess finished on her dressage score winning second place in the Training Rider Division. I can be thrilled that I have a stunning animal who will try his heart out for me, and handle new questions with poise and strength. I can promise that I will never again have such a relaxed nature, abandoning my mental training and letting my guard down.

Later that afternoon I found out I had won the Christine Brown award, for sportsmanship and love of eventing.  I am so humbled and hope that I can somehow live up to her stellar example.  Thank you to Mary Lowry and all the staff and volunteers for hosting this wonderful event on such a beautiful property. The courses were superior, and Captain and I will be back... Maybe Christine can give us a little help from above and hit me upside the head the next time I go to jump a black number instead of a green one.

Til next time,give your horse a kiss on the nose,  look him in the eye, and tell him how truly wonderful he is.

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