William and I have had a break from showing since November. At first not having somewhere to be every weekend tends to be nerve wracking for me. The down time the holidays brings always throws me into a bit of a tizzy of over analyzation of business and self. To avoid an anxiety meltdown, I busy myself with helping out in the barn, taking on more daily chores and opening up more time for teaching. I also take this time to plan my 2016 show season as much as I can and focus on the levels William and I will be taking on this year.
Fourth Level and PSG might not seem like a big deal to some other trainers (or even AAs) but to me its a milestone. I have been told by other professionals that I would be lucky to make it to Third Level with my Clyde/TB. Then when I made it, scored a few times in the 70s, earned my Bronze Medal AND DCBOA All Breeds Third Level Championship some told me we’d be grasping at straws to make it any higher - which while disheartening, helps to fuel the fire to get to FEI, get my silver and get to the Regional Championships in 2016. Unfortunately it also fuels the fire of doubts in the back of my brain.
I try to break my week up by days for William’s training regimen. Mondays are stretching, suppling work at all three gaits and even go through many of the required PSG movements. Tuesdays we work the trot movements from both levels (That darn Medium, Collected, Medium is the bane of my existence currently). Wednesdays are very light work which can include a hack, lunging with no equipment on or a 15 minute trot session or good gallop somewhere on the farm. Thursday we go back to it with canter work and Friday I put pieces of the tests together in no particular order. This pattern helps to keep me focused but not obsessed with any one thing I might be struggling with. I do that, obsess to the point of ridiculousness and then become dumbfounded when everything else has fallen apart in the mean time.
By the end of October/the beginning of November when I started to ride with the PSG as an end goal, I was panicking. Will felt heavy, clunky and downright against me ineverything I asked for. It wasn’t very different than what we were already doing at Third Level but we were really struggling with it all. I started to turn down my patient trainers, both past and present, who would tell me to keep going, it will get easier and turned up the doubtful toxic voices that told me William can’t make it passed Third. I talked to my trainer, my farrier, my equine bodyworker, my equine chiropractor - anyone who would listen to what I was feeling and could give me some insight into when this will get better. All of them agreed to keep working at it and it will come. William is the type of horse who is slow to build muscle and the strength to do something but when it’s there - it’s there. I know this. I have always known this but I let my critics steer me away from that.
Here we are in the middle of January and after a brief struggle at the end of December until about a week ago, William is moving with more grace and ease and uphill carriage than ever before. How did this happen? I shut my brain off, shortened my reins, put my hands together and forward and pushed him up and onto the bit. Then I rode. It all came through within a few rides. Were you surprised? I sure was. I always am. Surprised that classical riding works. Why we fall into gimmicks and short cuts - I get it, it gets you an instant result or change… but not a permanent one. The only thing that will get us to our Silver is good solid riding of the basics, quality of gaits in everything we practice. I know this but it is so easy to forget. It takes a long, long time to develop a great Dressage partner.
As I look to our first show of 2016 at the end of February, I am feeling a little more confident. Confident in the face that while we may still be making some mistakes this early on in the season, the solid foundation of training will shine underneath it all. My "aha" moment only weeks ago proves it. With patience and attention to the details and lots of hard work, this season could snowball into better and better scores by September. The doubt will always be there no matter how far up the levels William and I go but like any good rider knows: you are never finished. You never know enough or stop learning, ever. These little breakthroughs are enough to keep the doubt muted so I can enjoy the ride.