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We Are Flying Solo

March 30, 2010

Back To Forward

So much to think about.

The lesson was good.  Although I could just feel Solo's indignation: I already worked hard on Saturday, what the hell is this about??!

Of COURSE, David makes us ride through a gymnastic to start off, after warm up with his obligatory Circles-Of-Making-Eventer79-Pant-And-Solo-Flex-A-Lot. He has some kind of psychic power to detect what you really don't want to do and then he makes you do that. Somewhat unsurprisingly, he quickly detects the source of our problems: I am riding too defensively, staying TOO far back and as a result, I am not moving with Solo over the jumps.

David: "I understand why you are doing what you are doing, but your upper body is saying whoa when you stay that far behind the motion."

Me (in my head): Yes, because I don't want to bloody fall off again.

Me (out loud): Yes, master. (or something like that)

David: "Once he is moving forward, trust him to do it and just support with your leg, but keep your upper body in a more ready, forward position."

Which, of course, worked like a charm.  Ahhh, smooth, lovely jumps -- why do they only happen when David is watching?

So when we start out learning to jump, most of us jump ahead, anticipating the jump too much, especially when we have learned in hunterland. Then we train ourselves to wait. Then we end up behind the motion -- although one of the eventing commandments is "Thou shalt remember that it is always better to be a little bit behind than a little bit ahead." Finding the happy medium is a bit like balancing a fork on the edge of a glass: for me, freaking hard!  Now my brain is going, Ok, stay back but not too far back, you need to be forward enough to go with Solo but not too far forward or else you will jump up his neck.  Yeah, no problem doing that every time on a course of ten fences.  Maybe I will just close my eyes and flap my reins at Solo while squawking, "Jumpy jumpy!"  That might create a higher proportion of successful jumps than my current method of confusing the snot out of myself.

March 28, 2010

The Big E Part II. And Why Exactly I AM Happy About It.

Stadium Jumping
By the time they got around to stadium (yes, they ran the event in classic format with XC second and SJ last), my horsey was exhausted. I was exhausted and had pretty much reached the point where I was just ready to go home. The course was TOUGH. Lines wound everywhere including three jumps on a wavy bending line 5 strides apart and every jump was maxed out, including three HUGE oxers. Note: keep in mind especially jump 8 A and B (9 jump course) -- a two stride combo with a max oxer to a vertical; a challenging question asking you to jump in boldly and wide and then sit back and jump up and out over the vertical.  And yes, this is another year old picture too, of a much more successful day at a BN event.

I watched the first few rounds and it was obvious that ponies were T-I-R-E-D. Rails were dropping all over that max course. When I entered, I could feel that Solo's gas tank was hovering around empty and it was probably not going to be pretty. I need you to do one more thing for me, buddy, I told him, put your heart out there for me, we gotta get around one more time and then we can go home and take a loooooong nap.

The first two jumps on the course were a four rail vertical and then a long rollback to a stone wall with blue rails. I could feel my horse reaching deep just to keep going and I didn't kick, just squeezed and supported and told him Just give me what you got, buddy, I understand you're tired and we're just going to do the best we can. He couldn't quite get his feet up for the second jump and I heard all the rails crash behind me as we pointed towards the big oxer at 3. I knew that dropped us back to at least 6th place and I didn't care about it anymore.

I interject here: one of the things I am learning to love about eventing is that you really ARE competing against yourself. I know many sports say this, but here, it's really true. There are SO many variables and things can change so quickly, that I find myself really and truly measuring our performance solely based on the relationship that Solo and I have which allows me to know what my horse is capable of and then how do we measure up to that. If that makes sense.

And what goes along with this is the question of: how do you know when to stop? I've attended lots of *** and **** events and watched riders pull their horses even mid-XC when they felt that the horse was out of steam or it just wasn't their day. I can't even express how much admiration I have for the riders who make that choice. I wondered: would I have the guts to do that, to make that tough decision and make SURE you act in the best long term interest of your horse, no matter how much you paid to get there??

Turns out, I do. We negotiated the bending line of 4-5-6 and rolled back to a large natural oxer at 7. Remember that combo at 8? Oh and the ginormously wide oxer of 8A is blue too! With Tigger flags (how random). Solo looked but I sat down and said go. He went, but jumped it without much impulsion and went straight up and over and I believe I let out a rather loud squeak. When we landed, I felt immediately that the gas tank had run dry; he just died, but he still looked to the vertical at 8B and moved towards it. I didn't feel like I had enough horse under me to jump out clean and safely though and I did NOT want to climb over it ugly or crash; it was not worth giving my horse a bad experience. So I immediately pulled him out of the line to circle.

Yes, this would count as a penalty. And technically, according to the rules, if it's a combination you have to rejump BOTH elements. But I did not want to ask Solo for that huge oxer again. I just wanted to finish the two jumps left on course safely and make sure my horse was left with the impression that he can DO this and it's not scary.

So I made the decision. I only jumped the vertical at 8B, which eliminated me as soon as I did. But we jumped it clean, rolled back to finish the course at 9 and cantered through the finish flags with a big pat. At which point Solo slammed on the brakes with his nose on the outgate. Love ya, mom, but I am DONE! I laughed, gave him a big hug, and thanked him for his try.

He never stopped, he never gave up, and he tried with everything he had to get around that extremely tough course so I can be nothing but happy with him. I hauled him home, gave him his dinner and turned him out with his buddy feeling nothing but pride for his willingness to tackle the new challenges. As much as I hated seeing the big E by my name on the leaderboard, I realized what all those other folks who had retired on course already knew: the E has no power when you have made the decision to take care of your partner and make sure HE leaves the showgrounds with nothing but successful efforts under his belt.

So, homework!

Dressage: MEGA IMPULSION NEEDED. Especially at the trot -- we need energy, energy, energy and energy!

Cross country: We won't need to school before Longleaf, but I will just need to make sure that, as we did yesterday, we start off the course riding aggressively and I keep Solo in front of my leg to the jumps. We need FITNESS. Trot sets (boooring, yuck) here we come.

Stadium: We need more FITNESS! And we also need to learn how to jump max oxers. The verticals rode fine, despite the crashing down of one, that was just hanging tired pony legs. We will meet up with David O. tomorrow night to work on this after Solo gets two days to hang out and nap in the pasture.

The Big E. And I Am Happy About It?

I'm going to break the sad news up front: I have no pictures. It is an unfortunate consequence of having no crew.

But whew, what an eventful day it was indeed! Where do I even start? I will attempt to make it as concise as possible! We hauled in to the lovely Thoroughbred Training Center on Friday night and I kicked my chicken biscuit wrappers out of the way to convert the back of my truck into redneck camping paradise. It's amazing what an air mattress and a pile of blankets can do...

Early Saturday morning I crawled out to layers of ice on all the windows, but Solo was cozy and warm in his lovely old barn, having vacuumed up every scrap of hay, ready to start the day.

Wow, we had a tough judge! I was thrilled to pieces by our test -- Solo stayed soft and round for pretty much the entirety, aside from a few looky moments where he wanted to check out who was watching him. His canter transitions were, OMG AWESOME as he reached down onto the bit and stepped over his back; I have discovered the absolute key is me staying uber-soft on the rein during the transition. His circles were round and bendy and perfectly circley.  There's a random Solo dressage pic there on the left from last year just so you have something to look at.

We ended up with a 38.3, which I was pretty happy with, although the judge was pretty hard on some things, including 5's for our opening trots, ouch! Seemed pretty harsh just because we lacked impulsion, but oh well, every judge is different. She did give us 7's for our canter work, which is a nice change and left very nice comments at the bottom. We stood solidly in the middle of the pack in sixth place at this point.

Cross Country
The course was nice and gallopy and open, which is why I chose this event as a prep for our big recognized deal next month. However, during warmup, my ass kindly reminded me that my tailbone was still bruised from last weekend and every time I sat down to push it went OWWWWWW! Yay. Overall, it went well, although some of the jumps backed Solo off and I'd like him even more in front of my leg next time. Most things were very straightforward fly jumps, with only a few exceptions: there was a skinny, tall log between two trees, which makes a rather persuasive accuracy question if you would like to keep your face. The ditch was BIG and you had to weave around a corner and another jump just to get to it. Solo gave it booger-eyes, but he jumped it as I closed my leg and gave him plenty of rein. There was a BIG drop off a bank, but it rode really well and we stayed in balance and did not lose any momentum. The water was a simple run through and my cheater horse trotted, given he was pretty tired by the time we got there, at the end of the course.  There's another random XC pic for you from HT's past...

With a double clear finish (no jump penalties, no time penalties, thanks to us hauling ass up the last hill after glancing at my watch), we had now moved up to third! Yay! And ahh, pressure! One more phase to go, one very challenging stadium course to conquer. Could we pull it off after galloping such a long (19 jumps!) and hilly cross country course??

March 26, 2010

Moment Of Truth

Keep your fingers, toes, and hooves crossed -- we are loading up today and heading out. Tomorrow will be our very first Novice Horse Trial. I hope to maintain proper vertical order and forward motion at all times!

March 24, 2010

In Which Panties May Need To Be Changed

The last post was titled "Ups and Downs," not just because of the mountains because the day had a lot of ups...and a big down!

As we got back to camp, horses and riders both tired and hungry, I tied Solo to the back of lifeshighway's trailer after I untacked him for a few minutes so I could use the bathroom and change.  I returned a few minutes later to untie him.

And as I walked around the back of the trailer I heard a loud noise and saw my horse at the end of his rope, rearing and plunging as the entire 7' rear trailer door flipped end over end through the air.

This horse is going to kill me just by taking decades off my life at a time.

Yes, the metal door was detached from the trailer and flipped in the air to land phwaat on the ground.  What does one do when you see a situation like this?  Which, as we know with horses, may appear to occur in slow motion but actually occurs wham! in the course of about ten seconds.  Pretty much you stare for about a second with eyes like saucers and heart motionless as a cinder in your chest thinking Oh my mother-f@cking-god-of-all-things-unholy and then you go to your horse.

I approached Solo slowly as his adrenaline gradually diminished and I unclipped him, as he trembled with every muscle popped out at once. At which point he stopped shaking, sighed, and dropped his head to graze. Completely (thank you all powers that be) unhurt and holding no grudge against trailers for the unwarranted attack.

All I can figure out is that he somehow managed to pull his rope out and get it hooked under the edge of the door that I mistakenly thought was latched. He then threw up his head, freaked himself out, and lifted the entire door off the hinges with his short, muscly neck in about one second.

I have now aged roughly 7.62 years. The thought of what COULD have happened makes me throw up in my mouth a little. My horse appears to suffer no ill effects whatsoever. I think I even heard him giggle softly as he continued grazing.

March 23, 2010

Up And Down

In a small feat of willpower (and no small amount of ibuprofen) after Saturday morning's hullaballoo (which also set off a burgeoning migraine, oh fun fun fun), I gritted my teeth and hooked up the trailer that afternoon. I was NOT about to let a little pain (ok, a LOT of pain) get between me and a camping trip on a beautiful weekend!!

I met our bestest riding buddy, lifeshighway and we settled into camp on the northern end of the Uwharrie National Forest. Even the worst day can be redeemed sitting in a recliner chair nursing a good beer on a gorgeous spring evening, serenaded by the soft sounds of settling horses and the squeak of bats fluttering overhead at dusk.

Lifeshighway and I have a dream. We dream of a day when we go on a riding trip and NOTHING HAPPENS. While we enjoy the fact that there is always a good story to come home with, it really would be great if we could have a whole trip where no one gets a traumatic brain injury or no horses get sucked into cypress bottom bogs (oh yes, we've done that one) or we don't get hopelessly lost and end up trying to race the sunset out of the woods.

Here's the thing: normally, I have an excellent sense of direction. I am great at reading maps. My job relies on this ability, as I am routinely navigating teeny rural dirt roads and using only GPS and terrain clues to find field sites in rivers. However, something happens when I ride with lifeshighway. I think she is my kryptonite. You know when you take a compass to a place with strong magnetic activity and it just spins in circles? Yeah, it's like that -- I think she actually has a spinning core of molten iron and as a result, my compass needle spins wildly and uselessly as we blunder about the Carolina piedmont.

Last time we rode Uwharrie, we ended up traversing the same 1/2 mile section of trail approximately 6 times, as we'd go one way, panic, turn around and go the other way, panic again, turn and go the other way, panic...Pete (lifeshighway's awesome little endurance Arab) and Solo were ready to toss us in the river and hightail it home on their own.

Sunday, we rode out with not only two different maps, but a GPS unit as well. And had a gorgeous ride on beautiful trails, up one side of each mountain and down the other. The trails there can entail some technical riding, which I enjoy, including some steep rocky sections where I quickly dismount and walk down, letting Solo find his own way without my hindrance. And if you go before the leaves come out, you can get great views from the summits, as Pete and lifeshighway demonstrate below.

In fact, I can say that the entire ride was completely without event. Ok, lifeshighway may have enjoyed a giggle or two every time I dismounted and got back on, going Owwwwwwww! Ow ow ow! but hey, I live to entertain. We spent about three hours exploring the highs and lows, the ridges and streams, and traversing the rocks and logs of the woods at a slow, steady pace. All in all, pretty much a perfect ride! Until we got back to camp...

The big red man enjoys the view. Possibly thinking Dear god, I have to walk back to the trailer through all THAT?!

March 22, 2010

Always Listen To Your Gut. And Your Horse.

This one is for all y'all out there like me -- trying to bring a horse along without 50 gazillion dollars, reading articles about all these successful riders who never seem to have any real issues, and getting worn out from constantly smacking yourself in the forehead wondering why your horse endeavors just can't seem to progress that smoothly.

So Saturday was a gorgeous 75 degree, sunny, low humidity, dream of a spring day. I thought since we were leaving Saturday evening to head down to the mountains to camp, it would be nice to get another light jump school in. I hesitated a little (here's that smart lil' gut chiming in) -- I just jumped Solo on Wednesday so I thought, hmmm, is that overdoing it? But I convinced myself I wouldn't work him that hard, it would be fine.

We'd been working pretty hard on our dressage Thurs and Fri, practicing those canter transitions (still improving nicely, yay!) and some lateral work. As I warmed up Saturday morning, Solo stepped out nicely, but I could tell over our warm-up crossrail, he was feeling a bit tired and maybe a little sore. I pointed him at our gymnastic line of four jumps. And he stoppped soundly in front of the first one -- which from him I KNOW is a clear statement of No, thank you ma'am, I am tired and sore and not up to the hard work that is this gymnastic.

Ah, but I should have listened. Folks, it really IS ok, to do something else and come back another day sometimes. But instead, I stubbornly clung to some rhetoric that said I had to do this RIGHT NOW.

We came back to it again, he jumped the first X but stopped at the bounce vertical after it. Again, clearly telling me Lady, I have warned you that I am not up to this today. Again, I do not listen -- I lower the jumps and insist on being stubbon.

It should come as no surprise that the next time through, he jumped the first two in a sort of lurching fashion which threw me a little off balance, then spun out at the third one, neatly depositing me on the ground. Which by the way, also reinforced why I am the helmet nazi as I landed on my back and felt my head hit the ground with a soft thunk. Woulda hurt a lot more without that helmet on there. As Courtney King-Dye can tell you, if she ever gets to tell anyone anything again -- she is STILL in need of all the good karma you can send and still unable to speak or do much after fracturing her skull when a horse fell in the dressage ring with her. Like many dressage riders, she wore no helmet. Being a beautiful, talented rider sadly cannot save you from the fact that falls and horses are inevitable partners.

I grumbled and cursed but climbed back on, mostly unhurt aside from a few pulled muscles. However, it appeared I was still unable to learn even after being whacked on the head, so I tried that stupid gymnastic AGAIN. Pretty much same result, including landing on the ground AGAIN, despite some fairly impressive dangling and clawing in attempt to stay on that really only resulted in MORE pulled muscles.

At this point, I am more stubborn and idiotic than Satan's own mule, so I climb back on again and do the damn gymnastic again. This time, we do make it through, although Solo is jumping flat and hard, which means he is definitely tired. We do a couple single jumps, to make it positive and quit there.

Did I accomplish anything aside from making sure that Sunday and today, I limp around in astonishment that I cannot use any of my extremities without pain? No, I doubt it.

I did finally manage to learn something from it though: ALWAYS LISTEN TO YOUR HORSE. Solo is honest and generous but his body has limits and he tried hard to tell me that I was asking for too much. Even my gut knew that I should take it easy that day. Fortunately, pulled muscles and bruised bums will heal fairly quickly (but dear God, they sure hurt more as you get older, owwwwwww....) and I have no ego to bruise, so we'll be back on track shortly.

So don't feel alone next time you have a REALLY BAD riding day -- we all fall down and we all make bad calls and the best we can do is examine them and learn what NOT to do next time!

March 19, 2010

How To Blanket A Horse

I bet you thought you knew how to perform this simple skill, didn't you? Well, around our place, some technique modification is required.

1. Enter pasture with blanket wadded under one arm so you can open the gate with the other.
2. Unwind blanket straps from around legs as horses trot up to investigate whether mysterious bundle under your arm is stuffed with carrots.
3. Place blanket on Jeff's (Solo's pasture mate who is body clipped, hence the blanket) back.
4. Remove Solo's nose from Jeff's back so you can smooth out blanket before beginning to attach straps.
5. Buckle chest straps.
6. Remove Solo's nose from your back pocket so you can walk around to do leg straps.
7. Fasten Jeff's leg strap on near side.
8. Remove Solo's nose from underneath Jeff's blanket on off side so you can also fasten that leg strap.
9. Remove Solo's nose from your shoulder so you can walk back around to Jeff's near side to fasten belly straps.
10. Fasten front belly strap.
11. Remove Solo's nose from your side pocket so you can fasten rear belly strap.
12. Pat Jeff on the bum so he knows he is free to go.
13. Extricate Solo from your lap so you can open pasture gate and exit.

March 17, 2010

Yes, Yes It DID Work

Because I know you have been up all night DID it really stick?  Did the draw rein lesson actually teach Solo what I wanted him to do during his transitions?  Would it carry over to a draw-rein-less ride, where there is no possibility of backup should the head flinging return?

Because I know the DQ's were waiting eagerly for a report once I removed the evil, awful, horse-ruining, shortcut-producing, bad-rider-indicating draw reins of torture and incorrectness.  (Was that melodramatic enough for ya?)


Blogger editor, on the other hand is not. Working. By choosing to ignore my keystrokes half the time, which may result in my hurling my laptop while screaming curses at a program that does not give one whit for my mental anguish.

The same, happily, cannot be said of our ride, where, after doing some brief trot work (at a pace closely equivalent to that of a sleeping snail, for some reason), I asked, with a deep breath and a lot of hope, for a canter. The transition was a little bit sloppy, but Solo definitely was concentrating on trying to do it right and did not AT ANY TIME offer to fling his nose in the air to make things easier!

Just to make sure, I changed directions and tried again and practically giggled while praising him as he kept his nose down on the bit and stepped into a balanced canter!

Oh, happiness IS a successful horsey breakthrough moment!

March 14, 2010

Tools Bring Success

Solo's always had a habit, when picking up the canter, of flinging his head in the air and lurching into it.  It's annoying.  And dressage judges don't really seem to go gaga for it either.

Right before I got sick last week, I decided it was time for said habit to go bye-bye.  I talked with P and we decided that we would dust off the draw reins for a ride or two, using them to show Solo what I was asking of him.

Oh I know right this very moment the purist DQ's are shrieking in horror that I am ruining my horse to all eternity by "cheating" with gadgets and blah blah blah.  Well, they can get over it.  I know my horse.  I know myself as a rider.  And this circumstance was perfect for the application of the draw reins as a tool to make the right thing easy and wrong thing hard.  As long as Solo was round and moving forward, draw rein effect is ZERO.  Only when he chooses to fling his nose in the air like a fruit loop do they come into play.

So, we enter the arena theatre last week.  We warm up and get back muscles loose and warm.  I then ask Solo to step up into a shorter frame and come into a working outline.  I cue for canter.  Predictably, Solo flings his nose up and hits the end of the draw reins.  And reacts roughly as if I had jammed a cattle prod into his eyeball.  Jumping sideways with eyes rolling, he promptly loses his mind.  I maintain my calm, doing nothing but breathe softly and give, encouraging him back into working trot.  We repeat this overly dramatic routine about four times before he finally canters.  Did I mention he can be overly dramatic?  But the key here was for me to stay soft and patient until he chose the easy thing and gave me the right answer.  And lo and behold, on ask number five, his head came up a little, but did not engage the draw rein and he stepped lightly into canter.  GOOD BOY!  We repeated the same sequence in the opposite direction and as soon as he picked up the canter without hitting my hand, we quit for the day.  Solo chomped on the bit, going hmmmmmm, was that all she wanted??

Well, time out for horrid disease which has left me with pretty much no energy.  But I was determined to get back on the horse today and at least do a light ride.  Pathetically, I could only trot about twice around the small arena until I was exhausted, but it was something.  I had put the draw reins on for the second and final time to check and see if canter transition message had been received and processed.  We picked up a working trot and Solo stepped forward nice and round.  In the corner, I sat down, bent him, and asked for the canter.  And I'll be damned if that horse didn't chew down onto the bit and step over his back into canter.  EXCELLENT BOY!!!  We repeated it three times in each direction and without missing a beat he gave me a correct transition staying quiet in the bridle each time.  I was ecstatic!  At this point I was also thoroughly drained and exhausted so I slid off and gave him a big hug.

The draw reins will go back on their hook in the trailer now, having done their job as my assistant physical therapist, showing my horse very clearly what I needed him to do.  Hopefully, we can carry this forward in the coming weeks and pop into the dressage ring at the end of the month with this new trick up our sleeve!

March 11, 2010

Good News, Bad News

Good news:  very successful dressage lesson on Saturday.  Did a bit of lateral work and turns out that leg yields are SO much easier when you do them properly.  What I thought was straight turns out to have been me asking Solo to lead the leg yield with his haunches, which explains why it was so hard.  P says, "how about you let the shoulder lead like it's supposed to?" and pop, it just flowed forward so much more easily!  Assignments:  keep working on those leg yields and shoulder in to build strength and suppleness.  And we WILL learn how to transition to canter without throwing our head in the air (Solo: NOOOOOOOOOO!).

Good news: FABULOUS XC lesson with David on Sunday.  It was an exquisitely perfect day, 70 degrees and a farm that looked as if it belonged to royalty.  We started out with a few stutters when I rode poor Solo so far to the base of the jump he couldn't take off and once again, a ditch threatened to eat his head.  David calmly led Solo over the ditch and proceeded to have us jump it 37 times until Mr. Red Butt worked it out.  We proceeded to have loads of fun, even conquering a Training level question up a bank, one stride, then over a log.  Reverse it to ride over the log, one stride, then down the bank.  It felt great and we finished off with a mini course that included one of those Novice coop jumps that terrify me so and it all went without a hitch.  So thanks to David, I feel 300% better as does, I believe, my horse, about our upcoming trials!

Good news:  I have sent in entries for both an unrecognized event which will be our first go at Novice at the end of this month as well as our first EVER recognized event in April (ahhhhhhhhh!! I will be looking for a crew member if anyone wants a fun weekend watching my eyes roll).

Bad news:  I am currently under doctor's house arrest for the entire week for some horrid respiratory flu from god knows where.  After I finish typing this, I am going to go renew my dosage of hydrocodone and sink blissfully into the trippy pleasure zone it provides, yeahhhhhhh...  But I can't ride my horse because my lungs are on fire.  Boo.  But the only reason I finally broke down and went to the doctor (besides the shrieking pain) was that I want this virus to have its ass well and truly kicked by horse trial time!

March 8, 2010

Little Melodies

I often feel sorry for people who don't spend time outside, who never know the companionship of animals.  They always have the iThingies plugged in, television on, accelerator down.  Their senses are dulled, drowned in the meaningless cacophony that our culture hurls at us daily.  And they are missing the sweetest music I have ever heard.

Just today, I am struck with the notes:  in a peaceful, sunny barn aisle, my left hand rests on warm, red hair while my right guides a soft brush in its particular rhythmic chord over Solo's side.  Pay attention to that sound next time you groom your horse, there is a real, earthy caress in its tone.  In the stall next to us, there is the ever-present, ever-pleasant undertone of another gelding munching grass hay.  The burbling arpeggio of a bluebird wafts in the open doorway.  I can almost feel my heartbeat slowing and the aching tension slowly begins to leak out of my muscles.

It's a quiet symphony that continues as I sit bareback, Solo's head stretched down to some early spring grass along the fenceline.  He keeps up a steady rhythm of pull and chew while his tail makes a gentle, slow, swishing counterpoint at a few early stray gnats.  The soft breaths of an inquisitive mare through the fence boards add a higher harmony.

You may never hear it on the radio, although it's not because such peaceful music is rare.  It will never win a Grammy, but that is not because it is poorly arranged.  But drinking it in doesn't cost a thing other than allowing it an opening of silence through which to enter your life.  Take a sip; you may find yourself enriched in ways you never knew existed.  Maybe you too will know the joy of feeling your pulse hum in tune to the ancient song of horse, of nature, of life that persists beyond the edge of any attempts to drown it out.  It is always there, just waiting for you to listen.  

March 3, 2010

Challenges Are Challenging

One of the things I did once I decided to event Solo was to read. Everything. I know, shocking, right? Nerd girl who reads everything read about her newly proclaimed hobby?! Any article I could google, follow a link to, or find in a magazine, I voraciously devoured. I read about conditioning, riding XC obstacles, about dressage for the eventer, about trainers, tack, rules, and training.

A primary question you are faced with when entering a discipline is (a) what level should I be at and (b) how do I know when to move up a level? In eventing today, this has become a particularly prickly question as we all want to make sure that when we DO move up, both we and our horses are truly ready to face the new challenges safely.

Oh, don't worry, there are even articles about this!

In all horsey things, even though I have spent decades on the back of horses, I have always competed at the lowest levels. Training and First Level dressage, 2'6" and lower hunters. So logically, I entered the Beginner Novice level in eventing (since I was pretty comfortable jumping a 2'6" vertical, I thought Maiden was a bit too small for me and Solo snorted disdainfully in agreement, citing that 8" logs weren't really worth his effort, TYVM.).

According to the experts, it's time to move up when, to put it most simply, your current level bores you. Of course, it's not actually that simple, because there are plenty of people who THINK they are bored at their level but they really still have a lot to learn. Another trap is people who think they have to be perfect at a level before moving up. You don't have to win a blue ribbon every trip out -- really, you don't have to win a blue ribbon ever, you just need to be able to safely, confidently, and competently navigate your level and finish feeling just as confident as when you started.

Of course, this is not to say that I have learned everything, but this was my thought process: the dressage test was easy. No, we did not get perfect, or even awesome scores as there are certainly things we needed to work on, but it was basically W/T/C with a few circles.

By last winter, I found the XC courses were very easy for both Solo and I, no obstacles were problematic, everything always went smoothly and I was often disappointed that the obstacles, to me, were too small and things like banks (I LOVE BANKS!) were often omitted.

Once we figured out how to go forward, the stadium courses were very simple -- all we had to do was not forget where we were going and I had no concerns, as Solo cleared everything by a mile.

Which all boiled down to -- I felt everything was very easy and we weren't learning anything new, except in the dressage. But the Novice dressage test is really not any different than the Beginner Novice test, there is just more bending. So if I was going to be annoyed by dressage anyway, why not be annoyed while learning from new and more exciting jump courses? The things we need to work on in the dressage arena are the same issues EVERYONE struggles with, more balance, more straightness, better connection. Nothing that's going to be solved by staying at BN forever!

It's a bit hard for me to elucidate it all because it really was a bit like a revelation to me one day as we walked a course with a Novice level friend and I thought, gee, I sure wish I was riding HER course because mine is kinda boring. Of course now, having committed to moving up, all of a sudden, the jump courses are a huge challenge all over again and I am daily tempted to back down to the "sure thing" that I already know we can do at BN. But then what would be the point if we never challenge ourselves to grow?

Are there others of you who have struggled with and made this choice? Do you think there are better ways for riders to answer the question? When did you know it was time to take that big step into the relative unknown of a new level in your riding?