Happiest Time on Horseback

Still underwater over here, but the end is n(e)igh! (har, har).

While snorkeling in my backyard, I am on a contemplative streak.

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When it was still only soggy, not swampy….

There are so many happy moments in my life, and I am lucky that many of those happened to be on the back of a horse. Excluding horses, my happy moments are still plentiful, but they take away a large chunk of availability in my tremendously awkward “growing up” phase.

I had this thought earlier today, when was I most happy while riding on a horse? I would say there have been times I have been champion, high point rider, and other notable honors, but none of those strike me as the happiest. Especially now, as an adult, where the color of the ribbon means relatively little to me.

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That little speck is me…

Over the course of my quarter life, flashes of nostalgia do stick with you though. Memories that are warm, rosy, and fill you up with joy. Here are a couple that immediately float to the surface of my mind.

  • Riding in a faux fox hunt, galloping across a field as a young girl who was used to city riding in a cramped, havoc-ridden indoor
  • Leading a trail of my camper-students on the Appalachian Trail in the Southeastern U.S.
  • Being lauded by Bernie Traurig in a clinic where I jumped grand-prix level heights (with my no-business-being-there trakehner)
  • Ending a particularly good O/F round in University and receiving a personal and loud cheer from my team

Each of these bring a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart. None of them are related to winning. I particularly enjoy the moments of relief in the midst of struggle. A lot of these memories I called out were bookended by times where I was questioning my capabilities and was losing faith in myself.

Riding is cyclical. And the weeks of “what am I doing”, “I suck at this”, and “why am I wasting money” can be so handily broken by a piercing optimistic burst. It’s in that moment, where Bernie calls you a natural, and it all christens the memory.

What are your favorite memories on a horse?

Crystallizing Moment – 2019 Year-in-Review

I am striving in my “neither here nor there” state to be more goal-driven. Not having a horse of my own is not an excuse to table potential achievements. I can still progress as a rider. For the past couple of years, I have fallen into the trap of saying, “well if only I had xxx, I could do xxx”.

2019 is the year of no excuses.

I will always be a have-not in this sport. The have’s are those who are mega rich, and I honestly do not have the aspirations to achieve that level of wealth. I am fine doing my part to help others and get by.

So, in light of that, I plan to progress as a more complete rider.

Instead of being forceful, I will be persuasive.

Rather than aggressive, I will be confident.

Lastly, I don’t want a horse to ever know that I am in a hurry.

Overall, I want moments of relaxation in my riding that do not currently exist. I have soft hands, but I need fingers that close and soft elbows. And shoulders that do not jump for the horse.

My goals are not to tick a box, compete in a certain class, or do a specific clinic (though those activities can help me achieve my goals). I hope to look back on 2019 and say, what I better rider I have become in spite of my circumstances.

I also hope, in 2019, that that previous sentence will not even come to my in that way. I am practicing daily graciousness, being incredibly thankful for the opportunities that I am given. The rat race can be never-ending, and it’s not something I have stamina for.

I will achieve great progress as a rider because I am lucky to ride different horses who need a whole host of traits in their partner.

In 2019, maybe I will ride one of these guys.

Crystallizing Moment

I forgot Smileworthy this week (I am the worst) but I wanted to introduce a new feature which I hope to be a regular theme on the blog.

Crystallizing moment. It could be as simple as wearing yoga pants to Thanksgiving dinner (BLESS) or as complex as synthetic aperture radar (ask for my personal blog for an explanation of that one).

With horses, I have a lot of these. As my over-analytical mind likes to assess each and every action, lightning-rod moments occasionally strike my brain and make everything clearer. I am thankful when my excessive reflection occasionally amounts to a productive perspective, because that is not always the case.

This time though, I was riding the big guy (who, by the way, is still for sale). Riding a simple course of outside-angle-outside, I realized I was constantly agonizing about the next jump.

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His face… the size of my torso…

Not innately a bad thing, but I had been completely letting everything slip into a meh description while I desperately worried about finding a distance to a jump 25 strides away.

This realization I had – which I have been told before by countless trainers – is that jumping is flatwork. You cannot have a good course without having good flatwork, which is a saying I will tattoo on my back one day (kidding, probably would get a tasteful neon butterfly).

After realizing, huh, maybe this whole between the jumps thing is the part I need to be focusing on, I did the course again. This time, I corrected our balance, turns, consistency of pace, and watered-down my two-point.

And to the surprise of no one at all, the course was more refined and, dare I say, quite good.

My mantra the last two lessons has been ride your canter, focus on basics. By and large, the jumps have come up way better as a result of that.

Maturity Settles In

I like to think horseback riding has made me more asking and accepting of feedback than the average joe off the street.

Also do a lot more strolling than the average joe.

When someone has screamed about the angle of your toe, while in a crowded schooling ring, two trips away from jumping a 1.10m course, and – to top it all off – you are paying thousands of dollars for this treatment, you grow thick skin and nerves.

In my sensitive teenage years, I took every piece of criticism to heart. Each correction drove a dagger into my back, and I would walk around carrying the luggage of not being good enough constantly. I’d focus and replay things my trainer said relentlessly. Instead of focusing on the content, I narrowed in on the tone. Angry and disappointed.

At the time, there were a lot of other factors and circumstances that led to this somewhat-unhealthy environment, but I also had a problem myself. I wanted to compete and do well. I wanted my horse to succeed and for me to not get in his way of doing that.

But part of me just wanted to be told I was good.

This is what we want to achieve, right?!

It’s been a lot of years since I held that mentality, and I no longer need that validation. Of course, it can be frustrating to invest time and money into this sport and to felt like it has not “paid off”.

However, people who can ride perfectly do not exist. John Madden Sales’s Instagram reminded us that even my queen, Beezie Madden, chips.

Beezie Freakin’ Madden.

To involve animals in this sport is to accept that we are fallible, and so are they. There will always be room for instruction, correction, and progression, that’s part of the reason these connections are engaging.

In recent years, I resolve criticism, rather than allow it stir up negative emotions, I can deconstruct what is being said to me and actually think logically about how to address my weaknesses (for which I have are many, and that will continue to be the case throughout my time in this sport).

For instance, I need to control my shoulders better over fences, they are too quick, forward, and snap back too quickly.

What should I do about that? Practice two point at the walk, trot, canter, all gaits (no, I am not too proud to do this even at a halt). Jump without stirrups. Actively work on my faults, and not get upset about anyone who points them out. (Holler at me if you got tips, this shoulder thing has plagued me for a while).

I am not sure if everyone experiences this cycle if their entry into the sport is earlier in their life, but this shift in perspective was a game-changer for me. Of course, it’s a no-brainer, but still a lesson I needed to learn.

Him: Patiently waiting for me to grow that brain…

I’d be curious if anyone else has gone through a similar internal battle.