The Long Drive Home

Sometimes I’m really grateful for that long drive home from a lesson or event. The ones that give us time to organize our thoughts and feelings, think about what happened, and reconcile things within our own head. Sometimes it’s a lot of positive, sometimes it’s more like wading and sorting through a lot of negative. This weekend was more of the latter.

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On Saturday we had a Ride a Test, followed by a jumping lesson a couple hours later. I was looking forward to a fun day, getting some practice in with both the dressage and the jumping. I’d never done a Ride a Test before but the format was appealing, since of course I’m always looking for ways to improve my test riding, and wanted to get feedback from a new set of eyes. Henry warmed up a bit on the muscle (warming up around XC jumps does not inspire a ton of relaxation in this horse, but he kept a lid on it) then went in and did a mediocre but not awful test.

The feedback was not what I was expecting. What she wanted me to do was basically the opposite of everything that any other trainer or judge has said, and I really struggled. It was messy, and awkward, and I kinda felt like I had no idea wtf I was doing at all. Like a rank beginner that should go all the way back to the beginning and just start over. Do I even know how to trot? I dunno. There were some good moments, and a few tidbits that were really helpful, but overall I walked away feeling really confused and honestly a bit demoralized. And of course, since I internalize and over-analyze literally everything, I immediately tossed aside anything positive. Instead I gathered up every negative conclusion and gave them all full time jobs with free room and board inside my head.

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Me, with self doubt and negativity

I was so consumed with stewing over everything that I forgot to eat or drink, and got one course into my jump lesson before I was shaking like a leaf and feeling like I might pass out. As you can probably guess, the jump lesson was a bit of a shitshow too. My head wasn’t in it, my body was hating me, and my horse was needing a lot more help than I had to offer. We did one more course before calling it quits, and I walked back to the trailer feeling like a total idiot. I’ve spent a year building my confidence and thinking that maybe we really can do this Prelim thing, but suddenly I just felt like a fraud. Who was I kidding, trying to compete at this level? Maybe the old me was right, maybe I should just resign myself to hopping around Novice forever and learn how to be happy with that.

Yeah, you’re right, this spiraled REALLY quickly. Things got dark real quick.

It was a bit more like bowling than showjumping

I stayed broody for the first half hour of the drive home. I am acutely aware that I’m sitting on a different horse than most, and I also know that I’m at a major disadvantage not being in a full (or even part) time program with a pro. The day-to-day stuff is entirely up to me, I don’t get a lot of lessons, and I have a budget that limits me to fewer shows. What was I even thinking, trying to do this? Was it even fair to my horse? Did I even want it?

I sat there at a red light, clutching the steering wheel in a daze, lingering on that last question. I think sometimes in this sport we just “do the thing” and move along like everyone else does, without necessarily stopping to think about what it is we really want for ourselves and our horses. What I’m trying to do is hard for me… do I really want it? It was one of those moments where everything got really silent in my world, and time seemed to stop for a second.

The answer that came through the silence was yes. Not just a little whispering yes, but a loud resounding, shouting YES, from somewhere deep inside the hostage situation that was happening in my head. I do want it. I want it for the horse, I want it for myself, and I want it for all the horses that come after this one. I want to push myself, I want to learn, and I want to be better. Maybe I’ll never be that great, however “greatness” is defined, but I never want to be the person to just lay down and stop trying to be the best I can be. Even if it’s uncomfortable and confusing and frustrating sometimes. I don’t love this sport because it’s easy, I love it because it’s hard. I’m a lot of things, but I’m certainly not a quitter.

Ok, it wasn’t THAT bad.

With that thought I felt re-invigorated. I decided that either I could let the day defeat me, or I could learn from it. Was I really going to let myself come that unglued over dressage, of all the things? Using what I’ve gleaned from the endless amount of sports psychology books I’ve been reading, I went through everything that happened that day, pulled out the pieces that I thought were helpful, and chucked the rest of it out the window onto the highway. It’s not a question of whether or not we can do this – I know we can. We’ve done it 3.66 times already (I’m totally counting the two Prelim phases of our P/T). Henry schooled great last weekend, even the bigger and harder questions. He’s confident and he’s happy. Our average dressage score at this level is 34. So while it could definitely be better, it can’t be THAT tragic. Letting myself feel so defeated was, well… overdramatic. I needed to get the eff over myself.

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sometimes I have to “tough love” myself

It’s a little bit embarrassing to share this, honestly. Things aren’t always sunshine and rainbows though, and I feel like it’s important to make that clear. I thought I was a little bit harder to rattle than that, a little bit tougher and thicker skinned, but I think after a really rough week at work, a lack of sleep, and a couple of less than great rides, I was ripe with vulnerability and it turned into the perfect storm. Clearly I still have a lot to work on, but, ya know… I’ll keep trying.

I also really enjoyed the LRK3DE coverage, and found myself moved a few times. It was just what I needed in that moment: some inspiration, some perspective, and some good examples of what true mental toughness really looks like. But more on that tomorrow…



29 thoughts on “The Long Drive Home

  1. When you see nation cup team riders, riders ranked among the top twenty in the world completely plow through a fence… it’s very humbling. In our minds we are only as good or as bad as our last round, and that can change in fifteen minutes, 70 seconds, or a week or two between lessons. Once upon a time the Beezie Madden’s and Boyd Martin’s of the world didn’t know what a diagonal was. Really keeps me grounded.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point! Also when seeing Grand Prix dressage horses spook at the flowers. And realize those riders are sitting on real horses, too, not perfect magikal creatures. 🙂


  2. I am sorry you had such a shitty experience but I am glad you managed to pulled yourself out of the downward spiral. I wonder if you know just how amazing that is and how much strength that takes? Kudos to you.
    Sounds like that trainer/judge “just” wasn´t a good fit for you and Henny. Of course you can do this and of course you belong where you are!
    And Henny would be so mad if you stopped schooling and showing him. He is such a badass and it really looks as if he is just finding the jumps worthy of his interest and effort once you hit Training level.


  3. I had a similar lapse last week where I thought my mindset was improving SO much, but it took only 5 mins or so to set me back to how I was. I definitely think that’s going to happen, but the important part was you caught yourself and used the techniques you have learned to re-analyze. That’s probably the hardest part, waiting for the better response to be programmed to be the first response! You’re doing great, and thank you for sharing this moment with us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s really hard to just stamp those feelings down and learn to go with your brain instead of your heart. Some days it comes along pretty well, other days it doesn’t. Work in progress, I guess!


  4. Old habits are so easy to fall back into. Kudos to you for some deep introspection and looking at things with your new perspective, even if it was after the fact. You are right, you are already “doing” this level and one bad day does not a train wreck make. Thanks for sharing the good AND the bad. Very helpful to us out in the trenches.


    1. It’s been a while since I felt quite like that, I have to admit. Learning how to deal with it is something I clearly still need to work at, because it wasn’t the first time and surely won’t be the last!


  5. Our horses live in the backyard, one OTTB, and one midlife crisis horse turned rescue. No trainer to feed and keep them. No organized program to work them. It’s just my wife and I.
    We recently went to have a lesson with a new to us trainer in the area. Horse came off the trailer, looked around, ‘talked’ to the two residents in the field and immediately freaked out, dancing around and requiring two people to bridle him. Trainer put horse on long lines and worked him for a bit. Lot of yanking and pulling, letting the horse know who was in charge etc. Not sure we liked it, but he’s the trainer, he must know what he is doing, He is well respected by the people in the area. He must know what he is doing. Wife got on a did a little work with the horse in the round pen. Rider was a wreck through it all. Horse never settled.
    Came home and turned horse out. Wife spent 3 days thinking about never riding again. Horse took 3 days to get over the experience. Told them both that they never had to go back to him again. Both took a big deep breath, and said ‘Oh, Okay’ . Now we are all making slow and steady progress with training help that seems to understand both us and our horse.
    We’ve found that it takes a village to ride (and drive) horses, but that not everyone fits into the village. We’ve found that being open minded about where to get help (Saddlebred trainer teaching us and our TB to drive) but also being careful to make sure any help we get is positive for all.
    Sounds like you have a pretty good village put together for you and your horses. Also sounds like this ride a test person was not destined to be part of your village.
    One last thought: Somebody once told us that if you buy a bottle of wine, open it up, take a sip, and find that it is undrinkable, you are not obligated to drink the rest of the bottle. You can pour it down the sink. It’s hard to remember, but in a lesson/clinic setting, you’ve paid your money and find that its not working for either you or your horse, you can always thank the person politely and take you and your horse home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Somebody once told us that if you buy a bottle of wine, open it up, take a sip, and find that it is undrinkable, you are not obligated to drink the rest of the bottle. You can pour it down the sink.” Thanks for that, this is a really good way to put it! Filing that one away in my brain for safekeeping.


  6. If we didn’t have one or two bad experiences mixed in, the elation of doing this sport wouldn’t be what it is.I don’t think it is all unicorns and roses for ANYONE. Look at Buck.. this weekend sure didn’t go like he wanted it to. This is just a blip in the road. You and Henny will be back at it, feeling confident, in no time 🙂


    1. Yeah, and Buck’s interview on Sunday was one of the things that really stuck with me. What a disappointing weekend for him, but he was still out there supporting his friends and expressing his gratitude anyway, with lots of positive things to say.


  7. the mind can be a cruel cruel place. tho sometimes i think we need those low moments ultimately remind ourselves that YES we do this for us and our horse, and nothing else really matters in that journey.


  8. Ugh, sorry. That sounds like a shitty day. It’s important to remember also, that was one person’s opinion and perspective. If it’s opposite everything you’ve done until now, it’s possible that one person’s thoughts aren’t right. You and Henry are doing big things. Try not to let one less than ideal day torture you like that. But I’m glad it re-lit the fire for you. You have worked incredibly hard to get where you are, and I would hate to see you cash it all in.


    1. Yeah I think hearing things so incredibly different just really caught me off guard and rocked me back on my heels a bit. I was… not prepared for that. And that’s my fault as much as anyone else’s.


  9. Oh man, I feel like I know the trainer from your ride a test, and she’s a bitch and a half. (Not really, just I’ve absolutely been there)
    Imposter syndrome is real- it’s real on the days that you get grilled by a stranger and it’s real on the days that you’re leading the lap of honor.
    You don’t just get lucky so much in this sport, you have to earn your results. Just like you need reminding that you’ve brought this horse along on your own and have had AMAZING results, last week I needed reminding that I have been working hard for mine, too. But it took someone else pointing that out to me, so I’ll point it out to you.
    Use the experience to find more grit in yourself to get it done, because I know you and Henry have it in you!


    1. I sometimes wonder if ANY of us don’t feel like imposters sometimes. Like… does it ever stop? Is there ever a point where we’re like “now… now I finally belong…”. I mean… maybe Michael Jung and Ollie Townend and the like? Maybe? lol


  10. If I ever ride a test that I feel wasn’t the best I write down where I think I need improvements and self-grade my test before I go pick up my test from the judge. If they are in line with my self assessment then great we all agree. If they are way off the mark I ask others about who the judge is and many times you find out the judge isn’t the best. Head up, heels down and move on to a new day where there is a chance to try again.


  11. Don’t be embarrassed – I appreciate your transparency. I had a similar thought this weekend as well, and instead of focusing on the great lessons we had, I let my mind be tarnished by watching the next rider’s lesson and thinking, “Wow… they are so much further ahead than us.”


  12. Guuurrrll, this is so my life! Down to the very last sleep deprived, don’t board at my trainers barn, don’t get enough lessons, low blood sugar, hot mess melt downs. Apparently you and I need to feed ourselves and then sit down, have a drink, and chill the eff out. Love love love this post.


  13. I figured out that some of my most negative, darkest thoughts are due more to fatigue and sometimes not eating right, than anything else. I’m working on just not thinking, if I think that’s probably the case (not easy to do). And, of course, correcting that situation. Lunch does seem to solve problems, somehow. 🙂


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