Next Season

“Olivia, it’s only August!” “Olivia, live in the moment!”

NO.

I am seriously so freakin’ excited for next season already, I just have to share some of the plans.

First of all, we will be kicking off next season with a bang in Ohio. I snuck this into my sidebar, but Frankie and I will be heading over to WEC in February! We had a barn powwow about whether or not we wanted to do Ocala this year vs WEC, and the unanimous consensus was to head west instead of south. It’s closer to home- less stress on the horses, easier to get there, CHEAPER to get there. It’s overall cheaper- in like, every way. There’s a great variety of classes. Because it’s so much more accessible in terms of location and price, we should have a bigger group able to go. We’ve all heard only stellar reviews from people who have competed there. AND IT’S CHEAPER. Did I say that yet? All y’all that live within driving distance of Ohio will have to come visit us!

Our other big exciting plan for the year is two weeks up in Lake Placid next June/July! We’ll be doing the I Love New York/Lake Placid shows. Our barn went a few years ago for one week and loved it, so this year we’re heading back for both weeks. It’ll be a nice escape from the Virginia heat and we’ll get to see some really world class riders go. I’m hoping some of my family will take the excuse for a vacation and get a lake house up there- it would be the perfect mix of competing and vacation! I’ve never been but I’m already so excited.

This will definitely require some creative scheduling- I do not, in fact, have unlimited vacation time. My boss has given the thumbs up for me to work remotely when I’m in Ohio at least part time, and as long as that works decently she’s OK with me doing that next summer as well. It’ll also require careful budgeting, so I’m already in savings mode to prepare. Sometimes I think about all the vacations I could take and shoes I could buy if I didn’t like horse shows so darn much…

We’ll fit in some closer-to-home shows next summer as well- I’m hoping we can do either Upperville or Loudoun Benefit again, do some Lexington shows, head to Prince George’s, etc. We haven’t decided whether we’re going to try for Regional Finals again, since we’re going to play next year by ear as to which division we’re competing in. This year was a very definite “move up” year and I expect 2018 to be more of a transition. We may move up and down depending on how we feel. Heck, I may even finally make it into an equitation class like I’ve been talking about for years. Trainer tactfully changes the subject every time I bring up doing a hunter derby so that might be a hard pass (Why doesn’t she doesn’t think my paddle-moving-llama-pony can win in the hunters???! I don’t get it?1?!). I still plan on us working hard to get after it, but I’m less married to my division for next year.

Frankie and I can’t wait! Well. I can’t wait. Frankie is just happy to be here.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

I’ve seen a series of articles on various sites lately (and even joined in the conversation) about all the judgement going on in our sport, from all sides. And it got me thinking about how much energy goes into these comparisons and observations. Because really, it seems that you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

 

If you don’t use grooming services at shows, you’re poor and don’t belong there. If you do, you’re elitist and don’t care about true horsemanship.

If you don’t wear an ear bonnet in the jumper ring, you’re hopelessly out of date. If you do, you probably haven’t earned the right.

If you listen to a trainer on structuring a program for your horse, you’re a pushover who doesn’t have any knowledge of your own. If you don’t, you’re some self-righteous rider who thinks they know better than a professional.

If you jump more than once a week, you’re running your horse into the ground. If you don’t jump at least once a week, you’re not actively training.

If you have your horse on supplements, you’re wasting money on crap they’ll pee out. If you don’t, you’re not giving your horse the tools he needs to succeed.

If you don’t have name brand breeches, you’re not really part of the sport. If you do, you’re trying too hard.

 

If you don’t show, you’re a podunk backyard rider. If you do, you’re putting your own ambition above a true connection with your horse.

If you don’t coordinate your tack, you’re a hot mess. If you do, you care more about looks than about riding correctly.

If you spend more than $5k on a horse, you’re foolish for not finding a talented project to bring along. If you don’t spend at least $25k, you must not be realistic about what it takes to get to the upper levels.

If you’re not jumping at least 3’6″, you’re not a competent rider. If you’re jumping over 3’6″, it’s probably because your horse is doing it for you, and anyone could do it too if they had a horse like that.

If you don’t show in Florida during the winter, you’re truly not part of the circuit. If you do, you’re one of “those people” with gobs of money and no real responsibilities to worry about.

 

If you call the vet too often, you’re overly paranoid and trying to treat holes in your training. Not often enough, and you’re a negligent owner.

I could keep going (and going and going). I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of many of these, often in the form of well-intentioned advice. I’m pretty positive that many of you have run into these and other judgments in your time in the horse world.

At the end of the day, there will always be people throwing shade because you’re not doing things their way. And at the end of the day, I plan to continue surrounding myself with a knowledgeable, supportive community to help me do the best I can for my horse- learning and trying to make tomorrow better than yesterday for him. Anything else just isn’t worth the energy.

 

Full Service at Shows

I read an interesting article from Jumper Nation the other day, bemoaning the overuse of grooms for younger students at shows.

I think the author made a great point about the importance of horsemanship, but I’d contest that the author is rolling two points into one, and I only really agree with one. From how I read it, I took away these major themes:

  1. Knowing your horse inside and out and spending time with them grooming, tacking, and general care is hugely important, especially for young riders
  2. People that use grooms at shows are not on the track to becoming well-rounded horse-people.

I agree completely and wholeheartedly with the first point. I don’t think I have to convince anyone here that grooming, tacking up, untacking, grazing, bathing, loving on your horse at all possible times is a GREAT thing. And that putting in the time and effort to learn about aspects of horsemanship other than purely riding is really necessary to becoming a well-rounded horsewoman/horseman.

I just don’t think that using full grooming at shows is mutually exclusive with this.

I say this as someone who rides with a barn that provides full grooming at shows: someone grooms the horse, tacks them up for the riders, bathes them when they’re done for the day, wraps them at night, and basically takes care of everything. All the riders (young and old) have to do is ride.

Does that mean the kids don’t know how to do any of those things? Hell no!

They all spend 5-6 days a week doing all of those things and more for hours and hours at home. For every time someone else has tacked up their horse, they’ve tacked him up hundreds more. For every grooming they get from our helper at a show, they’ve scrubbed their ponies waaaaay more often. These are kids that show up and work hard.

“Well Olivia, if they’re sooooo good at all these things, why don’t they do them at shows?!”

Glad you asked!

First of all, sometimes they do all of these things! Sometimes our helpers are busy, or they want to run their faces under the hose while bathing their horse, or any number of reasons. And then they tack up their own horse or bathe them or whatever. It happens regularly. No one is warding them away from their horse and telling them they can’t come near them, and they are all more than happy to join in the work when need be.

Really the main reason we do full grooming is because it lets my trainer exert a little more control on the situation. Instead of wrangling 7-10 students going in 6 different rings for 3 different disciplines and hoping everyone knows when to be ready and where to go, she has one go-to person coordinating that for her.

She can focus on the training and coaching, because she has her one point of contact getting people where they need to be, when they need to be there. She has one person to call to say, “Rosie needs to be up at Jumper 1 warmup in 15 min, and Shadow hacks in Hunter 2 in 30.” And she knows both horses will be shiny, riders in the saddle, ready to go when she gets to the ring. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of well-oiled machinery.

To be fair, I think the author is referring to the kids that NEVER tack up their own horse or take part in their care beyond riding. And for that segment of the population, I would agree entirely with everything she says. But I would contend that there are plenty of people who have similar arrangements to our barn- grooming at shows but not at home- who use this service for more reasons than simply, “I’m too lazy to brush my own horse.” A middle ground to the entitled elite and the scrappy DIYers.

So there you have it. I’m a huge believer in well-rounded horsemanship and hope to see our barn kids continue learning and growing in this area as they progress. But I’m also entirely OK with someone else tacking up their horses at shows.

From the brief conversations I’ve had with people, this seems to be a hot topic. So please jump in and share your thoughts on this- I’d love to hear different perspectives!

Speak Up and Ride Hard

I mentioned recently that public speaking is totally my jam. I love it, and I’m pretty confident up there! But this hasn’t always been the case- despite wanting to be good at public speaking, I wasn’t very strong at it.

I’d be so excited to get up to the podium, and I’d get up there smiling. And then my eyes would go wide and I’d get that wavery shaky voice we all get when we’re terrified. Cue the cold sweat.

I was able to speak in front of clients at a recent conference hosted my by company, and it was the first time I’ve ever gotten up there and jumped in without feeling like I needed my inhaler and a double dose of Xanax. I was able to pull up my slides, say good morning, and hop right into my topic.

And the more I think about it, the more similarities I see between public speaking and competing at a horse show of any level or discipline.

  • The preparation: you don’t present at a conference without thoroughly knowing and practicing your material. You go through your topic, update and refine your slides, and then practice practice practice until you know all of the details backwards and forwards. You study the information to be able to answer any questions that pop up. By the time you reach the podium, you’ve done your homework.

Just so with riding: you don’t get to a show and think “CRAP I NEED TO LEARN HOW TO POST THE TROT.” You do that at home until it becomes second nature, and then you go compete with your professional-as-hell posting trot. You learn the rules for your discipline, you practice your test, you practice HOW to learn courses to test your memory. You figure out what to do if something goes wrong- you do your homework so you can answer the questions.

  • The nerves: despite your preparation, you step up to the podium and realize your hands are shaking. You’ve done all the hard work and in theory everything should just fall into place, but suddenly you wonder if you can do this. But once you take a deep breath and pause for a moment, your nerves settle and you’re able to speak without stumbling. You find places to pause during your talk to catch your breath and it lends you the presence of mind to continue on smoothly even when you trip over your tongue.

You reach the show and realize that even though you’ve schooled 2’6″ courses at home a million times, the 18″ class you’ve entered looks HUGE. Everything is scary and overwhelming. But then you take a deep breath and pause, and you ride the way you know you can. You find places to stretch up and breath on course, and that lends you the presence of mind to continue on smoothly even when bobbles come up.

  • The audience: you look out on a sea of judgemental faces. “Ohmanohmanohman they probably know more than me and they think I’m an idiot.” Except no- they’ve shown up to hear you talk about the topic. You’re the one that has put in the work, and they’re choosing to listen. Suddenly you realize that they aren’t there to condemn you and pick you apart, they’re there to listen and learn.

You see the judge staring out of the booth with his judgey judge face, and pass a sea of unimpressed juniors and ammies. “They all think I’m such an idiot who can’t actually ride.” Except no- the judge will see a bazillion people that day and unless he’s a total dick, won’t actually think you’re a bad person even if you hit a rail or two. Most of those ammies have been in your shoes and genuinely want to cheer you on. Most of those juniors- well, they’re probably bratty teenagers- but WHO CARES. There are two groups of people at the show: people who are supportive and encouraging and push you to learn, and people we don’t give a flying rat’s ass about.

  • The aftermath: you finish up, say thank you, and leave the stage. Your heart is still pumping with adrenaline, but it’s in a good way. How cool was that! It may not have been perfect, and you may have said “sequins” instead of “consequence,” but probably no one noticed. You made it through in one piece and feel such a sense of accomplishment and pride that you did this.

You come out of the ring grinning and patting your pony, still trying to catch your breath. Sure, you put 5 strides in the 6 and 4 strides in the 3, but you made it through in one piece. You’re so proud of the progress that you and your steed have made.

  • The familiarity: you’ve given a couple speeches by now. When you get up to the podium, you smile at the crowd and launch right in. You know your stuff, you like your audience, and any slips of the tongue are easy to laugh off. It’s exciting in a good way.

This isn’t your first show anymore. You’re there to compete, strut your stuff, and learn. You know what you’re doing, you like what you’re doing, and a round doesn’t need to be perfect for you to have a good time. It’s exciting in a good way.

With riding, as with speaking, the only real way to conquer nerves is to prepare and then to DO IT. It’s so hard to get over fear of public speaking if you never speak in public. It’s so hard to get over show nerves if you never show.

I’ve been participating in a Toastmasters group with some coworkers, and I sincerely believe that strengthening my confidence with public speaking has a strong effect on my ability to think on my feet while in the saddle. I look at it as mental cross-training for the show ring.

As someone who has always mentally blanked-out a bit on course, I’m excited to put my new skills to the test this weekend for a strong finish to our first show season together!

What do you think of this metaphor? Do you do any sort of “mental cross-training?”

What’s My Discipline?

Due to the gang heading to Lexington and some late nights at work causing me to miss my makeup lesson, this week is lesson-less. I know how much you all love hearing about every single stride of my super duper advanced lessons- I apologize from the bottom of my heart for the lack of lesson reviews this week. Instead, please enjoy my semi-coherent ramblings.

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I was doing some really deep navel-gazing lately and thinking about my future with horses. Where do I want to get to? How far do I want to go? I talked about my big long-term goal a little while ago and that’s definitely still on my radar, but that’s not going to be happening any time soon. That’s a couple years down the line barring any big snags (and in the horse world, there are always snags).

So I was thinking, where do I want to be right now? Knowing that I’ve got a kickass 3′ (and possibly higher) horse, a trainer who will help me reach whatever goals I set, and a tiny but useable budget to get out and show semi-regularly: what do I want to be doing with this wonderful situation I find myself in?

And it’s a harder question than I thought it would be. Some people just know and have always known that they want to be in the jumper ring (I’m looking at you, Jenn), and some people find the elegance of the hunters to be their happy place.

And Addy and I have had a ton of fun in both those rings! With consistent work and more show miles, she’s turning into a really lovely hunter. We’ll never place well on the flat (even if DragonBeast decided she liked flat classes, we’re not great movers), but Beastly carries a beautiful pace, snaps her knees up when she rounds over the jumps, and is becoming a more and more pleasant ride around a hunter course. I think if we turned our attention to the hunters full time, we could be competitive on the local circuit- even if more people start showing up for the 3′. Maybe not the rateds with their fancy hunters, but ain’t nobody got cash for that anyways (unless I start eating Ramen for dinner a lot more, which I haven’t completely ruled out).

But then the jumpers- Beastly loves to move. And by move I mean haul ass. Pardon my French. We’ve only had the one outing and it did not go smoothly at all, but once I became a human rider instead of a potato things clicked into place. Addy seems to love more technical courses with turns and such, and I’ve found that I love the faster pace and excitement of the jumpers. If we focused our attention to the jumpers full time, we could probably be competitive at even the rateds- no one cares if she’s a fancy mover there as long as we jump clear, careful, and fast. We can definitely do clear, careful, and fast.

helmet_bite
Here, have a picture of Addy thinking I’m a carrot.

I’ve had a great time in the hunters, and I’ve had a great time in the jumpers. That likely has to do with the pony I get to ride! I trust that Addy will take care of me if I take care of her no matter what we’re doing and what trouble we run into. I adore the tradition and “prettiness” of the hunters, and I adore the adrenaline rush I get in the jumpers. But I’ve never really been a hunter rider, and I’m still quite new to the jumpers.

Then there’s my true love- the equitation. I showed exclusively in the equitation divisions growing up and LOVED it. There were the exciting courses from the jumpers, the beauty of the hunters, and a little extra technical aspect to make sure every single little thing was perfectly in place. Sadly the local shows around here don’t offer many eq classes- I’ll have to go to the rateds for a chance to rock out in the 18-35 Adult Equitation. And I haven’t even been in an eq class in years. Beastly has a haphazard counter-canter, we’re still developing a frame, and I’ve gotten a little sloppy as I’ve moved into the hunters and jumpers.

But here’s what I’m thinking: we’ll keep doing the hunters when that’s available. Learning to carry a steady rhythm and stay calm on course will only help us. We’ll keep doing the jumpers when that’s available. Adjusting our pace and learning to truly plan a ride will only help us. And then whenever it’s possible, I’m going to enter all the 3′ adult equitation medal I can get find/afford. Balancing and becoming more position-oriented will only help us.

So am I a hunter rider, a jumper rider, or an eq rider at heart? My musings haven’t really given me a clear answer, except for the fact that I’m Addy’s rider. My job is to give her a good ride no matter what ring we’re in, and bonus points if I can add to her training and make her more rideable for her owner.

So yes, I will be searching for more jumper classes to do, because I’m pretty sure that’s where I’ll eventually end up. But I also won’t say no to tagging along to more hunter shows. Heck, we’ll tag along when our barn goes to the nearby baby horse trial in the fall. Whatever I need to do to build my own skills and My Little Pony’s skills is what we’ll do.

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