Making things happen

Juggling a lot of different balls becomes all about making things happen. Being an adult amateur in the frozen tundra is not conducive to an early show season and weather is just so unpredictable, I don’t plan on clinics requiring a trailer ride between December and late March. That is 1/3 of the year. When it comes to my horses and riding, I’m pretty determined. Throughout the year, I ride 2-3 horses about 5-6 times a week, even during frozen tundra season if the roads are good enough to drive to the barn safely (that’s the culprit, though, they often enough aren’t).

Then April rolls around, the horses aren’t really super fit, and I am very rusty, having only jumped little jumps a total of 3-4 times in the last 4 months. And guess what, now you have to commit to signing up for spring shows (mid-May, mind you) and hope the weather will hold up to actually get in shape. XC schooling is a nice to have, but probably won’t happen before the first show.

This year I decided I’ve had it and needed to give myself a better chance of success (and a major kick in the behind after 2 years of no recognized shows). So I hauled one of my horses to FL, where he’ll stay until April (lucky horse). I’m trying to spend as much time there as I possibly can, take lessons, jump, go XC, get going. A couple weeks into this, including a return to the tundra, I can say it’s an amazing experience and might actually get us somewhere. A fitter and more prepared (and more confident!) me is a much better starting point even for the furry mares that had to stay behind in the cold.

I have big plans this year and we’re about to make it happen…

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Young Horses

Throughout my entire riding career (which has been old enough to drink in the US for a while now..), I have worked with young, green horses. Growing up in a non-horsey family, we were able to have horses but definitely did not have the means to buy a “made” horse. Short of my first horse, a – then – 14 y/o, 17hh Hanoverian mare, who was a great baby sitter, the oldest horse I’ve ever bought was 7. Most were between 6 months – 5 years old. All of them have been unstarted or green-started at best.

I enjoy bringing along young horses. It still boggles my mind that they are able to learn what we want from them, most of them rather quickly. The first year is so incredibly rewarding, when they pick up something new almost every session. Once they figure out the basics, progress can be measured by a very different metric: changing evasions. One week, the right lead canter won’t work and they will tell you that they can’t possibly keep that left shoulder from pushing out. Two weeks later, you celebrate, because you finally get that right lead canter… but guess what? The left lead is now gone just the same. The flip flop of balance usually continues for a couple weeks/months and will occasionally reappear as they grow in odd spurts. It’s easy to be frustrated by this, but whenever a new evasion sneaks up, it means progress was made. Eventually, the time between evasion swaps shortens, and you’ll have a pretty nice and balanced riding horse. Or so I tell myself whenever I encounter the evasion of the week with my coming 7 y/o…

Accountability, you say? Here come the goals!

Here are the major players for 2019:

  • Roxy, 10 year old TB mare with Novice level eventing experience. Schooling Training and 2nd/3rd level dressage.
  • Sir Alfred, 7 year old ISH gelding who spent most of 2018 just growing into his own body and hasn’t done any recognized shows yet.
  • Juno, 4 year old KWPN mare, started under saddle.

Now, some of the goals are horse-specific, some aren’t. Let’s go:

  • Get comfortable jumping bigger fences again (I mean, really, where did the person go who would jump 3’6″ courses as warm up with any horse that had 4 legs attached?)
  • Participate in a few YEH classes (Juno). Stretch goal: qualify for the YEH championships and participate in those as well.
  • Complete Training level event(s) well (any of the adult horses, ideally both).
  • Qualify for long format (Novice or Training) by end of season – if Training, go do Midsouth, otherwise do IEA in 2020!
  • Qualify for AECs and go (any horse, any level).
  • Get closer to my USDF bronze medal (Roxy?): Ideally get second and third level scores, but I’ll be content with the second level scores, given how much is going on already.

Wanting it all – adult amateur equestrian edition

Many of us try to figure out how to do right by everything we do: work a full-time job and still spend enough time with family. Or combine a busy schedule and still find time to socialize with friends. We often make do by compromising to a “good enough” in one area or another.

I have been obsessed with horses my entire life. When I was little, all I wanted was to own a horse and to compete in show jumping, which I eventually did. Since my family was not wealthy by any means, so I always had to bring along young/inexperienced horses, which I just considered part of the journey. I started to compete at the Grand Prix level when I was 16. At that point it would have been a fairly reasonable option to make horses my livelihood and become a professional equestrian. However, I realized quickly that everything horse-related is expensive and that horse-related careers are volatile: If you get hurt (which you will; it’s horses), you have a problem. Since I definitely wanted to continue the horse thing as an adult, I started to design a career around horses (but not with horses). I finished high school, went to college, got a graduate degree. Horses and competing definitely had to take a step back during college and grad school. Studying and several jobs to pay for said horses kept me more than busy.

I moved to a different country twice and retired my last two competition horses, always promising myself to “Get back to it one day.” I remember talking to another competitor (I think I was 14 or 15 at the time). She was in her late 20s or early 30s. She had taken a break from riding for a while to start a family and was just getting back into competing on her experienced show jumper. We were both walking the course of a 1.20m class (a height I would have jumped on a green bean back then without thinking twice about it). She said to me: “It’s so much harder as you get older. I used to not worry about this height and now this course makes me nauseous.” I did not understand. How could you just “lose it”?

Well, I “got back to it” a few years ago after graduating and getting a big-girl job. Now I understand. My break from jumping and competing was on the order of 10 years. That’s a long time. Starting up again, a 2’6″ jump looked enormous. I’m still struggling with the courage part. However, I don’t like being told what to do, not even by myself and most definitely not by my fears. That may be the reason why I switched disciplines and started to dabble in eventing.

One side effect of the discipline change has been largely improved flat work. It’s actually a focus of mine now and dare I say, I manage to hold my own with respectable scores (of course, there’s always room to get better yet). But I’m still scared to death whenever I stand in a cross country start box, no matter the level.

Now comes the real challenge of wanting to do this with a big-girl job: time. I like having a professional non-horsey) career and want to be great at what I do. I also like my hobby and want to be great at that as well. The latter I’m finally willing to admit. For the last few years I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter if I competed, at which level, or how I did. This pretense created a certain lack of a accountability and largely a lack of goals (you’ll never encounter me in my job without goals). I noticed that I felt frustrated about my hobby and my standing hypothesis is that all those things do matter to me and it’s about time for some goals and accountability.