It’s easy to categorize people. You can make a few judgments based on their personality, place them in the appropriate stereotypes, then box them away. I am very easy to stereotype. Picture a young woman who is just type A enough to be a danger to her own sanity: always needing a plan, and quite eccentric to boost. I bet you think you know how this story goes. The bright eyed young woman has a surprisingly successful fall season on a personal level. Winter and Spring training leave her optimistic for the future, so much to the point that she has the big I(ntermediate) in her sights to be at by the end of summer.
Now let’s take that plan and add in an injured horse; there goes plan A. Add in changing jobs; there goes Plan B. Her horse physically comes back from the injury impeccably, yet mentally is about as all there as a chestnut pony mare; say good bye to plans C, D, and E. But wait, there’s more. Now, let’s add that she changed her mind on making a career in horses. She decides to move back home, a place where instead of driving 5 minutes to school cross country, its now a 2 hour minimum drive; by this point we are at plan K. Give her some financial problems, totaling her car in an accident, and beginning a new semi “real person” job, we have now hit plan Q. Thankfully, there are still plenty of letters and numbers left if Q doesn’t pan out as well.
Anyone who knows me is aware to the extent of which a plan is necessary for my daily life. I am not one who is game for even the simplest surprises. This year has not gone according to plan. I continue to make new plans hoping that this will be the one that sticks. Thus par, plan Q is appearing to be very functional. With a few months left in the season, you won’t catch me holding my breath.
What is plan Q you might ask? Happy to tell you. Plan Q is filled with dressage bootcamp with my new dressage trainer Suzannah Simon. Boarding at a barn 5 minutes from campus that provides the best of care for Donnie, and hoping I can find the time to haul out every other week to a show jump or cross country lesson. We attend MHJA jumper shows when we have gaps between our events. Right now, Donnie is signed up for two training level events. With positive outcomes, I hope to move him back up to preliminary in September. Fox River Valley was supposed to be where we resumed going preliminary. Due to my car accident, I withdrew. Now, I am taking it slow and aiming to set Donnie up for success by giving him (and myself) a bit more confidence and pick the ideal event to move him back up. Realistically, plan Q is terribly boring and the safety route. Perhaps I should have started with plan Q instead of A. There is less room for let down and more room to build an excellent foundation. On one hand, I’m extremely disappointed to not be running Preliminary this year at Richland Horse Trials. Despite that disappointment, I’m also extremely confident in my decision that I picked the best level for my horse to experience a fun and confidence building event.
Thus far, things have been going well. This past Saturday I took Donnie to an MHJA show at Meadowview Farm. We competed in a 3′ jumper warm up class and two 3’6″ child/adult jumper classes. Donnie was clean with some time in the warm up to earn fifth. In the 3’6″ classes we had one rail in the first class with some time. The second class we jumped clear with some time. Is this the same horse that hasn’t had less than 1 rail at any preliminary we have been to thus far? Granted, a jumper show is not as exhausting on the horse as an event, but I am beyond giddy that we are on our way to improving our show jumping. No matter the size, a step is still a step. I will take any clear rounds we have and add them to our win list.
Our dressage has been improving as well. Suzannah is a pure dressage rider, which means she has a ton to offer me and Donnie. Often her approaches are different than what I have thus far seen eventers do. When Donnie is behaving, she thinks it is fun for us to practice walk to canter transitions despite that we are nowhere near intermediate level at this time. I find it fun too, when I actually get it at least 50% correct. She is extremely patient of my bad habits and Donnie adores her. I’m very blessed to have a great group of trainers in Michigan to learn from. I’m especially blessed to ride at the same barn as my dressage trainer allowing me to focus on my weakest point more often.
Typical to the standard of this year, Plan Q did not end up panning out. Donnie had a hard week before Cobblestone and per the advice of my new event trainer, Philippa Humpreys, we opted to bump him down to Novice level. The decision was made so that even if he was overwhelmed mentally, there wouldn’t be a fence on course that would be too difficult to jump from a trot if need be. Leading up to the event, I was dreading it. I didn’t feel prepared for any phase. I had dropped Donnie off for training for a few days with my event trainer to get some of our jumping kinks worked out. I was stressing that I hadn’t practiced my dressage test all week. I was worried my eye would be off and he would refuse out on me. We hadn’t schooled cross country since before we left Florida. The more I looked at the situation, the more I had realized I had set myself up to fail, even at the Novice level.
The stars aligned to be in my favor. There was little traffic as we drove across the state to Cobblestone Horse Trials. Donnie settled in fabulously and warmed up well the day before dressage. Cross country was running as we had to hack alongside part of the course to get to dressage. I didn’t get bucked off, which I considered a huge success. Despite that he was hot to hack to dressage alongside cross country, he settled in beautifully. He put in a workmanlike test to score in the 40s. Not too great, but the areas where we were marked down were things I were expecting. Regardless of score, this was his first dressage test of the year where he didn’t opt to add aerial movements into it.
Next came cross country. Even though it was Novice, I was worried sick walking to warm up. What if he didn’t want to jump again? What if my eye was off? What if he was backed off and didn’t want to jump the up bank or ditch because he hadn’t seen one in two months. I was so focused on the set backs that I was beyond nervous to go to my first warm up jump. As we approached the first fence in warm up, I realized we were spot on the distance, and he wasn’t backing off. We moved over to the solid fences, he still wasn’t backing off. The more I worked him, the hotter he got and began to drag me to the fences. This was my horse! My monster that wanted to eat up the course was dragging me around the warm up ring.
We moved to the start box. My nerves set in again. What would he do once there were things beyond just coops and logs? The course was fairly solid, even for Novice. It was maxed enough that I was still worried about my lack of preparation and my mind getting the best of us. As they began to count us down, Donnie began to paw and rear up a bit. Surprisingly, that calmed me. He wasn’t backing down, he could see the first fences and he wanted to get out of the box. I didn’t have brakes until fence 10, Donnie dragged me around the course and it was all I could do to steer and make the minor adjustments to give him an ideal spot. He ate up the course, just like he used to. I will never forget the feeling as I walked him back to the barns from cross country. Tears were streaming down my face as I kept hugging him and telling him what a good boy he was. That round was the first time since the fall that my horse had felt like the one that dragged me around Richland Horse Trials as my second Preliminary.
We finished the weekend on our dressage score and finished 9th. Our overall score wasn’t amazing, we are a prelim pair that went novice and didn’t even ribbon. Despite all those dark and gloomy aspects of the weekend, I was happier than I had been in a long time. There were fences that I was spot on and there were fences where I couldn’t see my distance to save my life. Regardless of what I saw, Donnie was there and game to do his job. We are beginning to move forward again. For the first time this year, we finished on our dressage score. For the first time this year he dragged me over every fence and never backed off. I cried from happiness for the first time this year.
Going forward isn’t a constant thing. Sometimes we must go backwards in order to resume going forward. Progress isn’t always defined by ribbons or what level you compete at. Progress is also how you feel, doing the right thing, baby steps, and accepting the things you cannot change. The horse world is a crazy ride. If a year ago someone said I would be sitting in my parent’s kitchen blogging about what it’s like to be making my riding career happen from Michigan, I would have laughed at them. Yet, here I am. Not only am I here, but I’m happy. There is still plenty of adjusting to do. My confidence and improved mental game for life in general is beginning to transition over to riding, which has been the greatest asset amidst the change. There are many changes yet to come. I have yet to find an ideal routine, with classes starting soon, I have to figure out a regular schedule soon. But we are making progress, one day at a time Donnie and I are finding our new groove.
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