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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…