Sunday, April 21, 2013

One step back...

Sometimes the step you take isn't forward.  But taking a step back doesn't have to be a bad thing.  

It's been a long time since I sat down to write about my riding adventures.  Saying I've been busy is an understatement.  I've been to Argentina and back in the meantime - beautiful riding in the Andes and galloping in fields near Buenos Aires.   The trip's timing wasn't the best...I arrived home and in five days left for Southern Pines for my first show of the season.  I was not prepared mentally to concentrate on the upcoming event.

I can go on and on about what was going on in my head the weekend of Southern Pines I.  But the final result was a total loss of focus and I rode off course on Toga in show jumping.   I knew going into the ring that I was not on my game - I couldn't repeat "my plan" back to Packy without having something else come into my thoughts to interrupt.  

I was riding Preliminary that weekend and had hoped to use it as a school for the next show where I would move back up to Intermediate.  I was allowed to ride XC the next day and it was great.  I didn't let the bad times (one of my excuses...) frazzle me and wandered over to the start box when I was good and ready.  Toga actually walked into the start box and was quite civilized the whole way around his first course of the season.  Whew.

But the stadium screwup totally blew my confidence.  I have done it before (remember Stuart a couple summers ago?) and the thought that it might be a continuing problem shook me to my core.  I worked hard with Bobby Costello for the next two weeks, especially with Ari who was apparently in the middle of an awkward growth spurt (OK Ari, 17 hands is ENOUGH) and very hard to ride. It was like I was on someone else's horse - I hit him in the mouth without fail no matter how hard I tried to stay with him, it was horrible.  My schools with Toga were better, but my brain just would not work with my body.  I don't think I have ever been so frustrated with my riding.  So the next show was also at Preliminary for Toga, and we ended up with a ribbon and a little bit of an ego boost.

I had a really good season with T last year.  We traveled all over and did really well,  both of us feeling very confident and hopeful for a move up in 2013.  But all of a sudden even the Intermediate stadium looks daunting to me.  Granted, 3'11" is pretty high, but on a winged wonder like Toga I never really noticed.  Am I getting old? Is it because I'm riding Ari at Novice? Or have I just taken a bigger look at my skills and decided that Advanced may not be on my radar for quite some time.  Yes.  I've had a lot of help :)) deciphering why my head has taken such a big step back and I think I will also choose the answer that says I am having a hard time switching between Ari and Toga.  They are two ends of the riding spectrum - a quick, small, snappy, sassy TB, and a huge, lumbering giant of a warmblood.  I'm not making excuses, just trying to figure it out so I can fix it.  If it is the case that I'm riding Toga differently because of Ari, I sure need to make that right.  T is my first priority.  

I have never ridden above Intermediate, so I am at the point in my skills where if I'm doing something wrong, or if I need to know how to do something new or different, someone has to teach me how. It's a scary place to be and I think maybe that hit me quite hard this spring.  So Advanced is still a goal, but it's not on the calendar any more.  Right now I have to take a deep breath, take a small step back, and regain the confidence I had last year.  Riding a perfect round at Preliminary is my new goal, and if it takes all year I don't care.  I'll try to get to jumper shows (fitting that into the eventing year can be difficult)  and will continue to ride Ari up the levels when HE is ready.   Can't forget about that young man, who is so sweet and willing but WOW what a mover it's so so hard to sit on him!  It's nice to start somewhere decent in the results with a good dressage score.

BUT speaking of dressage, I have also taken a deep breath with that.  Toga is a keen competitor, and keeping that energy in check in the dressage ring has always been a challenge. I get the elusive lead changes only when we don't need them, and usually get "tense" comments on my tests.  The past two shows have been a big change from that.  Taking the attitude that instead of riding what I get, when I get in there, I will fix it and continue on as if it didn't happen, no matter what it costs me - has resulted in a much more relaxed and obedient ride.  Go figure??  I relaxed and so did my horse, what a concept.  It worked at SP II and again this weekend at Fair Hill.  We had two great rides and not a hint of a lead change or exuberant transition. 

My point is that so much of our riding is mental.  I have a lot more respect for the pros that have many different horses to ride, and are expected to do well on all of them no matter what kind of ride they are. I envy those that can ride any division and remember the courses as they change.  I think I can do that as well, but will have to filter out a lot of the noise in my head to focus on just what's in front of me.  Our horses can feel our fear, our nervousness, our hesitation.  Toga stopped at the first fence in stadium yesterday (our first Intermediate of the year) and I came off.  I thought I had my head together, but obviously something was wrong.  It wasn't a perfect distance, but Toga is brave and loves to jump so when there is a stop there is a good reason.  The jumps looked big to me, so I must have told him that somehow.  Time to step back and fix this.  I'm looking forward to MCTA on both my horses, and to the rest of the season as a steady ride forward into the confidence I had before, and to strengthening my skills that need to be more detailed and technical than ever.