Can’t get enough of myself- dressage update

So I signed up for a dressage show (yes it’s been a few years, yiikes) so I figured in my lesson last night, we should work on some elements of the tests. HUMBLING. Wow.

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What Oats would rather be doing. Also, why isn’t it summer anymore here? Godammit!

It was a tough, tough ride and I had to get ‘real’ with Oats, who thought he could outlast me. He was wrong! But I got tired, bigtime haha. He fussed, he fought, he threw a small hissy fit, we had to go back to the walk to confirm him, and then back to trot, then back to walk when he started fussing too much and protesting, then back to trot…rinse, repeat.

It was pretty exhausting, and my hip started to cramp up. I’m noticing more charley-horse leg episodes in my dressage days on Tuesday, likely due to the amount of work I am putting in on my legs from the running/longer run days on the weekend. It shows me that with the increasing amount of physical exertion, I need to adapt and get better about using electrolytes instead of just forgetting and then getting a major charley horse in the middle of my ride, AGAIN.

The last one I had really hurt, and it damaged my leg muscle for over a week! WTF?

Anyways, so the lesson was long, and tough and kind of an ego-killer. But you know, Karen said it was one of the first lessons where I was able to get firm, and fairly tough with Oats, and KEEP doing it. I didn’t give in, get upset (though it was certainly frustrating) I just kept.at.it.

So, yeah to sum up dressage= very hard and tiring and now what am I doing signing up for a dressage show? So I can show off my mediocre work and lack of progress?

Well, I do want to show off my fancy new dressage boots. So, there’s that!

Oats did get an apple as a treat from my barn friend, which was very nice of her. Also he was offered some really lovely fresh-cut long grass from my other barn friend. Greedy pony gobbled it right up!

The next blue sky- Jump lesson recap!

Jump lesson on Thursday! And we are officially out in the wide open arena, and with it came a lot of anxiety and trepidation. I love riding in the outdoor (so big! so freeing!) but I have had some rough rides out there, so my love of it is always tempered by fear. Last summer, I spent a LOT of time falling off jumping in the outdoor. Sometimes twice in one lesson!

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I swear, there wasn’t one lesson I did’t fall off in. So what was up with that? Some pretty severe growing pains, I guess?

Anyways, I was excited but nervous. Nicole had set up a really cool equitation course, but it had FIVE oxers in it (could have been six, but we left the first jump a single, since we flubbed it EVERY time we went to it…yeah).

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But they were small oxers (2”) but to me, they looked big? Ha that’s my brain playing tricks on me. Last week I jumped a 2’9” oxer??? And this week I’m fussing about 2” oxers? Oh brain, get with the program.

Anyways, Oats was moving a bit weirdly because he is tender-footed and finds it hard in the outdoor until he gets his shoes on (June 8) BUT he was going pretty nice for a horse that pussy-foots everywhere! Nicole got after me for wanting to chase him at the jumps. We did get two refusals, but I chalked those up to bad distances, re-approached with no issues at all.

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Later the jumps looked tiny, ha. Oh well! We had some great moments, some really shitty ones (eeek, 3 strides in the 2, we never made the two..gah) and the first jump was always craptacular. But you know what? We DID IT!  Jumped successfully a reasonably long course in the outdoor with lots of twists, turns, oxers and a trot fence- yeah we flubbed that one too.

Things to work on: Straightness, jesus. Not straight at all as I go along the course. Elbows! Sitting in the backseat- give a little more to the horse. Breathing. The usual…;)

Good first day back in the outdoor, and bit by bit, I will conquer my outdoor demons, haha.

Back in the show ring

I sort of on a whim entered the local schooling show series hosted by Cedar Vista with Oats on Sunday. I had a lot of reasons: read excuses- about why I shouldn’t, and only one why should- because I want to!

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Thanks to the Cedar Vista stables hosting a friendly show series. It was also freezing yesterday!

I missed the season opener in April because I was in Mexico *SO WORTH IT so this one was my first show in many months- since July of last year, actually. I down-scaled what I entered (from 2’3” to 2’0) to minimize my horrible show nerves. Funny enough, when I made that decision I instantly felt a weight (nerves) lift off my shoulders. Phew! It felt a bit strange to be entering that height when I just jumped some really decent 2’6” oxers in my lesson on Thursday, but I have a very challenging time managing both my show nerves and Mr. Oats himself that this was truly the best idea.

And Sunday dawned wayyyyy too early (ughh) and I was up and at’em with Oats at 6:30 a.m.  We loaded up at 6:45 and were at the show grounds to start warming up, get our numbers and registration, learn our courses and start the show at 8 a.m.

Oats was a bit strange- tender footed, not very forward, quite ‘sticky’ and rude/balky. When I sharply reminded him about forward, he threw a big buck! And when we worked over the warm-up course, he was balky, head-tossing and ready to start fussing and bucking! Uh oh, first show back issues? I SO didn’t want to get bucked off!

But..the silver lining? Because the jump height is only 2’0”, I was able to school Oats without having a care in the world about the jumps. They were just ‘there’ and I could do what I needed with his drama-rama and it wasn’t a biggie.

He also didn’t look at a single thing, and wasn’t spooky the whole day! Just sticky, balky and throwing some sassy bucks here and there. HA, good thing it was a jumper day and not hunters…

We rode our classes, some jumps better than others, I had to work SO HARD to get him ‘going’ and he was sluggy, slow and sticky. But, jumped all the jumps, and didn’t buck me off, haha. That meant our time sucked (for match the clock) but others went off course, had horses that stopped or ran out, or had a few rails. That meant we still placed in all of our three classes- and not too bad either actually.

Finished the division with a 2nd, 3rd and 5th place. And Oats is getting shoes for the next show. A good season opener for us, as I have a devil of a time managing nerves typically and stop riding. Yesterday (longest day ever) I could’t stop riding!

Kudos to my fellow riders, who all came home with championships and reserve championships- I was practically the odd man out without one!

Fooled you twice

Lesson recap! (Because I didn’t actually ride much this week, due to a hay workshop on Tuesday, taking Wed off because I am so brain fried from work I can’t even deal with anything right now and feel permanently exhausted…)

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Me from literally three years ago. For reference, it was these flowers set alone in the second bounce!

I missed riding though. Two sort of days off and I’m itching to get back and get the shedding blade on Oats, who is shedding like crazy.

We had a jump lesson last night and it was so interesting.  Kudos to my trainer for coming up with the most intricate and challenging courses in the indoor. It’s not an easy feat and it’s hard with limited space/jumps, etc.

We first worked over a gymnastic, trot-in. Here’s where I was really proud of myself.  In the gymnastic, I was having trouble with my hands pulling ‘upwards’ instead of releasing downwards. I was also leaning too far with my upper body. Nicole suggested I think about releasing with a straight arm to fix this. I thought about it and asked if she was thinking of an automatic release-style? Yep she was.

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And the green boxes were the first part of the second bounce!

And I was able to go through the grid, and DO EXACTLY THAT. A modified – not true- auto release to fix my hands/upper body. Do you see that? I thought about what she was asking, tried to picture it in my head, and DID IT! This is amazing for me.

We then started working on other elements – there were a lot!

Start with one skinny on the straight away, to a 3-jump bounce that included a stand-alone skinny filler as the last bounce element  (?!??  this was tricky), back to trot and through the three-fence gymnastic, canter to a two-stride x-rail to small oxer, canter back over the 3-jump bounce going the other way (woo!), to a bounce using just fillers (green box, and flower boxes, to a 3-stride to the first element in the gymnastic, a small x-rail, and then back to the first fence- using it as the final element.

Now, we didn’t just go ahead and tackle this all at once. We had to break it down- work over the bounces as poles, then as fences (this was tough! Oats deked around the filler part of the bounce a few times…bad pony and he stopped once). Then we worked over the two-bounce fillers (also surprised the HECK out of Oats at first, then he charged through it with gusto), and then we put the first half of the course together.

I was REALLY impressed. It sure as heck wasn’t pretty but we made it work!

Go us!!!

 

“Not Much Rhymes With Everything’s Awesome At All Times”

Had a jump lesson, and contrary to my title- it was HARD. It was not easy, it was a challenge and it was not pretty.

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Some days you ride better without hands.

We bungled, we stopped (so many times!) we weaved awkwardly, we ‘half jumped’ over a skinny, we stopped some more, I got left behind, I jumped ahead- pretty much every single cardinal jumping sin, we did. Repeatedly.

To be fair, the course was very tricky and quite technical. It had a ton of elements (multiple jumps on a circle. Jumping skinnies on a circle. Inside turn. Bending lines. Anndd trot fences).

These all exposed mine and Oats’ weak spots in glaring technicolour.

So we had to break down the course multiple times and work on one element, say a trot skinny, SO many times because it was just that hard for us. He stopped when I was too hard with my hands, so I had to jump one-handed a few times. He ran out of a skinny when I ‘wasnt’ sure’ about my line. He wasn’t very forgiving with me even though the jumps were TINY- all 2ft and under.

But- this allowed me to do something I almost never do. Get over it!

Bungled this? Move on. Jumps came up too fast to dwell, and they were not high or frightening to jump anyways.

Mistakes? Yes oh yes. But, good points too!

Did it make me nervous? No actually. I did get frustrated but was able to kind of laugh it off and think hard- how am I going to fix this? Not- I’m never going to fix this. I can, and I will, and I did.

I was able to problem-solve, figure shit out, and get on with my ride.

I guess it helped that the course had 21 jump efforts in it?!! And I had to keep on my toes thinking ahead at all times. I was EXHAUSTED after. Holeeeee crap. And we got tired and I bungled the last line so we had to do it again. Still kind of bungled, so AGAIN. And the third time was the charm! Rode perfectly.

I was huffing and puffing, Oats was huffing and puffing.

What a ride. From super awkward and clumsy, mistakes & stops to a near- clean round with some really good technical efforts. I guess sometimes the good lessons aren’t the ones where everything went perfectly, it’s the ones where you screwed up, the horse screwed up, and you got over yourselves and made it happen anyways.

Past me would NEVER be ok with this. Current me is.

Flow in Sports: A book, a lifestyle, a challenge

I borrowed this book from my friend Sarah and have been working my way through it this week. It’s very interesting and I found myself reading sections of it out loud to my husband–for a non-fiction ‘how-to’ that is pretty unusual!

The crux of sport is the quality of experience, of richness, that it offers.

But how do we recognize ‘flow’ and how do we capture it? I know I have experienced that effortless, ‘flow’ movement running, even racing. Time slows down, my breathing is perfect, my legs feel strong, I feel suddenly effortless and smooth. I am floating! I can DO this!

Sadly, this is also rare and fleeting, and also extremely hard to replicate. Also, I have NOT been able to replicate it in riding. Why? How can I?

The book suggests a few different paths to take to achieve that flow. Here are some of their suggestions on the path to flow:

  1. Challenge-skills balance
  2. Action-awareness merging
  3. Clear goals
  4. Unambiguous feedback
  5. Concentration on the task at hand
  6. Sense of control
  7. Loss of self-consciousness
  8. Transformation of time
  9. Autotelic experience

What would it take to make you happy? You might guess a big TV, a beer, some chips and dip, and a great show on Netflix, but you’re wrong. That would make you relaxed and content, but it would not satisfy you, it would not make you happy for other than a fleeting second.

You have to struggle, overcome and try a challenge to be satisfied with life. We are apparently nothing without an obstacle to overcome= welcome to sports, particularly running and riding!

We have to create challenge, and overcome it. This happens one of two ways- physical and mental. For me, the mental challenge is the biggest! Having confidence in your skills is also incredibly important, you need this ‘I got this’ when going in.

Sometimes that means lowering your goals/challenge from outcomes to process. That means instead of seeking a placing or AG group win, you nail every fence and get smooth changes, or hit the paces you want instead of trying to beat a person.

Here is a good exercise to develop self-awareness: Pick a quiet spot, close your eyes, and focus only on your breathing. Time yourself to see how long you can do this before other thoughts intrude. A minute? Two minutes? It’s tough!

Also a great exercise- keep a notebook on you for 1 whole day, all activities. Write down every time you have a negative thought about yourself. Are there a lot? How are you managing them and refocusing them?

Set smaller, specific, daily goals rather than big, scary ones. You will be happier knowing you’ve ‘won’ instead of constantly trying to get to one that may never happen.

Prepare for competition- have a plan A and a backup plan B. I admit I am really bad at this, and I need to be better. What do you do when the wheels fall off and things go bad? That is when Plan B needs to step in to save the day.

Take advantage of feedback–it can be a game changer if things start sour. Also I am sooo guilty of this: You have a great start and think you’re winning and then things IMMEDIATELY go south. Ie- fall off at the last fence. Not that I’m guilty of that or anything…

You can prevent this by staying in the moment

And, I have an good example of when I was feeling bitter and sour about how badly a race was going and how slow I was, it was hot, the course was extremely hilly and I was just having a shitty time knowing there was no way I was going to get the time I wanted/hoped for. Until I ran up the big hill, I held this bad attitude. And then, a volunteer shouted to me “Hey you’re halfway done!” and I smiled and thought yeah you’re right!

I felt the pressure to get the time I wanted lift off me, and from then on, focused on enjoying the ‘experience’ of the race. It was hot, beautiful, I had lots of Gatorade to drink and hell, the hills were hard but they also meant that I could forget my time-pressure goals. I was loving it!!

Remember: the past is the road to nowhere, the future is a road under construction, and getting back on the right road is what matters!

We can only control the controllables- in running that is your pace, emotions, feelings and hydration/nutrition. In riding, there are a lot more…variables to put it nicely.

To sum this up, I also have another example of when I was SO ready to let the train run off the track, but was able (through a strength I didn’t know I had) re-focus, re-direct and just ‘be okay’ with what was happening.

I had Oats in the warmup at a big show and he was lit up. Bucking in-hand and just excited. I’d slept badly, there was huge drama in the morning with my trainer’s sick horse, so she was having a hard time of it and was distracted and upset, I tacked up Oats by throwing his tack on while he spun in circles wildly…It was just horrible. I was stressed beyond belief and when he was getting nutty, I was just hoping I could stay on.

Nobody knew what the course was, the class descriptions were all over the map, and I was just like, arghhhh.

I got on Oats, and immediately went to work. He spooked a few times, was jiggy and silly, but I know my horse and I know he will work down. So, we did. And I just kept in the moment- ok, trot. Fine, some walk. More circles! Canter. Canter this fence. Canter another fence. And exercise by exercise, he calmed down and I was ready to go show!

Sadly this focus didn’t last – apparently it was too hard for me to maintain it and I fell off in my second round after a fabulous first round- but I was very proud I was able to shake off the external issues (there were MANY) and just do it, by staying focused and present on my horse, in the moment.

And the last tip? Focus on the FUN! Yes, that’s why we do it mostly! There is no better feeling than a big fist-pump when you finish a great course, feeling like freaking Ian Millar! Or giving your all in the last sprint. It is AMAZING!!!!!!

Let me introduce my friends

Another stolen title from the Swedish supergroup I’m From Barcelona. I just love their titles!

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Mr. Handsome.

I am overdue a bit for a jump lesson recap. And the recap? I am getting my wings back! Nicole had set up a very twisty-turny jump course that we did certainly struggle with, but I felt way better than I have for a month and a half- my slump time apparently. My confidence grew even though it did not go perfectly. My trust in my horse is coming back- not 100%- I don’t think I am built that way, but it is coming.

We worked a few single elements of the course as a warm-up, and then approached the 10-jump course. I learned that I need to GO STRONGLY!! instead of kind of wimping out. The ‘GO’ button is a big one and it really helps me.

Also I noticed I am way more comfortable being allowed to add and managing a short distance vs a long distance. Phew!

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A snapshot of the course. We jumped allll of these and yes- it was very twisty!

It was really fun and I even wanted to do it a second time and strangely felt GOOD about doing it a second time. I even hit the gas so hard Nicole said I was riding it like a jump-off and I need to learn to moderate my pace a little better…not just GO! That is true, haha. It’s just that going fast felt so fun!

We bungled a few things but man, it was just..better. Much better.

I am seeing my setback in a few ways, and I am following a process to climb out of my trench. Here’s what is working:

  • Don’t try to jump back directly to the height/complexity you were before the setback. That is discouraging.
  • Take a lesson on another horse and jump that horse. It is so eye-opening and removes a lot of the emotional weirdness that you have with your horse and drama/issues jumping.
  • Don’t jump your horse right away after this lesson. Let it marinate for a bit.
  • Start jumping your horse again after and realize how much fun your horse is to jump. Make a series of mistakes where he saves you (ok, maybe don’t do this, but it kind of worked for me to see that he is still a solid citizen).
  • Jump your horse starting with low jumps, and work on a crazy twisty-turny course. Get pumped up!
  • Throughout all of this, continue taking dressage lessons, and every single ride- work on forward, and cantering over a pole to find your distance. Every ride.

So..Here I am, after six weeks of ‘weird’. Am I back on track? I hope so! Am I enjoying my ride? Yes. 100% yes.