camelot: final thoughts

Years ago, when I first started care leasing Murray, an adult rider whom I really respect told me that 8 is the magic age for horses.  For Murray and I, 8 is pretty fucking magic.  This is the year that everything is coming together, that all of our hard work is being reflected in out performance away from home as well as at home.  I can feel myself riding better and thinking more, and Murray is doing the same!  It is just the coolest feeling.  I am so in love with eventing and showing now — I’m already desperately trying to figure out how I can squeeze the budget to get to more shows this year.

I have a collection of disorganized thoughts that didn’t totally fit in the other posts — or I didn’t think about them in time to write about them — from last weekend.

horse themed beverages for horse themed weekends

We’ll start with the big one first — we are so ready to move up.  I told myself, and several friends, that if Murray and I went clear and within the time at this show, we’d move up to Novice at our next show.  Even though we didn’t go clear, we’re totally ready to move up.  Murray and I have been jumping Novice height at home for a while now, and while we haven’t done very many schooling outings or full-ish size courses at that height, I know all of the fences at Novice at the facilities I’m familiar with are well within our capabilities.  A big part of my decision to keep us down at BN for so long (just three short years, nothing really!) was my own ability to ride and make decisions under pressure.  I don’t have the ability to wing it at shows, I really need to know what I’m doing, and I don’t (yet) have the kind of horse where I could bumble around at anything above intro.  I wanted to set the two of us up for success before this move, and I finally feel like we’re ready to be successful at Novice — and set our sights on training!


horse show shit sprawl
(I cleaned this all up to the trunk and blue box by the end of the day)

We had so much fun!! In the past, horse shows have been fun but fairly stressful.  But this entire weekend we had fun, and the level of stress was low — and not just because we kept expectations low the whole time.  It was just fun in general!  I’m sure this will change as we move up, but I think I’ve finally managed to reach a place of zen about showing.  Ultimately, I can only control how I ride and respond to my own performance.  I can’t control whether or not Murray has a bug up his butt that day, how he feels about the footing, or whether or not the footing is any good.  I can’t control what the judge thinks of us, how other people ride, or where we place in the pack. I can only prepare him as best I can before hand, set him up for a good ride, and ride my heart out.  If I did all of that, what else is there to feel but happiness*?

*of course, you should remind me about that the next time I don’t perform as well as I should

Showing happy is SO MUCH BETTER than showing stressed. I have more to say about that but… basically, gonna try to hold on to this mentality for as long as I can in the future.

Showing has also become so much more routine for us.  I didn’t forget to pack anything this time (okay, I forgot my Mango Bay belt, but I got a loaner), and I gave myself plenty of time before my rounds to tack up and get shit done.  I didn’t need people holding my horse for me, or helping with my vest, I planned it all out, and got it done in advance.  Murray was great for tacking up too!  Which always makes me happy.  It’s a great feeling not to be stressed out because you’re missing stuff or running late for your ride time.

You know what else feels AMAZING at shows?  Actually being able RIDE during your rides.  For me, being able to respond to what’s happening during a dressage test and adjust for better movement is huge!  I have been a passenger for so long, but now I can add bend or inside leg, or actually ask Murray to come through his back more without having to use an entire movement to reset.  I’m pretty happy that I’ve developed that skill as a rider.

My horse is also plenty fit right now.  We ran fast(ish), and not over a short course (1900 m), and Murray came off course barely sweating or breathing hard.  And on Sunday he was fresh and ready to go over the fences, there was no fatigue there.  I know that this is hardly a feat at beginner novice, but it made me feel good that my pony was more than adequately prepared for the event.  I had tons of fun “getting fit” for the event, doing gallops at WSS, and hopefully I can keep those up this summer!

gallop position still needs work though.

My partnership with Murray and our trust bank are so strong right now.  I first felt the weight of all the deposits I’ve been making in the last few years at Twin, when he totally took care of me.  And, as I predicted, when we were both there for the ride, things went even better!  Even better, we continue to grow as a team at an amazing rate!  It’s super cool to feel the progress we are making right now.  We are both in such a good place to learn, from one another and our trainers, and grow our partnership.  And it really feels like that — a partnership.

 

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not your ten

Important note: THANK YOU, everyone, for your kind words, comments, and support regarding Murray’s very important test this week.  I’m so, so pleased that he passed, and did so with such ease and without smashing any $85,000 machines or killing the vet.  I’ll probably write a whole review of my PPE at the clinic because I was truly impressed with how my veterinarian handled the day — five of our horses, and a dying foal rushed into the middle of everything — and for people in my area, I cannot recommend Willow Oak Equine enough.

I’ve really struggled to balance my work life and blogging life lately.  I’ve been insanely busy, social commitments with friends from out of town have been unmissable, the PPE was eating my nerves, and just LIFE.  Man, life, can you please get yourself under control?!  Anyway, as I sit here watching the Rolex Dressage drinking my coffee, I’m reminded of a concept that my now-roommate taught me when were first getting to know one another: not your ten.

With a horse as personality-full and opinionated as Murray, you can imagine that I’m used to putting up with quite a bit of shit.  Silly shit, real shit, funny shit, bullshit, the kid throws it all at me.  And the one compliment I will give myself here is that I feel like I really handle it well — I can let it all go and just ride in all but the most bullshit situations.  Of course, it’s Murray who taught me how to handle all of that and still get the most out of my horse, so I can’t forget to credit him either, but that is not the point of this paragraph or blog.  Back to the point: so when I hear someone say to me “my horse was so bad today!” or “he threw such a huge tantrum” or “she bucked so big” I used to receive it with a little… skepticism.

If you watched Tuesday’s video, you saw the fights we had (though it wasn’t me riding that day, we put The Problem Solver on to see if it was me or Murray).  That ride was not atypical of any given ride where I asked Murray to canter with any level of contact.  So, like every ride.  Add that to the random, unexplainable, and unreasonable tantrums, weird noises, and the tacking up and, well, it took a fair bit to impress me in terms of bad pony behavior.  Especially at our barn of really reasonable, wonderful horses.

bucking ee721-download_20140428_192928Our arena fencing is five feet

So here’s the thing.  Not everybody has a Murray.  Not everybody wants a Murray.  Not everybody has experienced a Murray.  Just because someone is not used to dramatic dinosaur squeals and five-foot bucks does not mean that their experience is invalid.  Sure, their “ten” isn’t my “ten”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a ten on their richter scale.

When she was explaining it to me, my roommate likened this to children in the emergency room.  Two kids come into the emergency room, and both have a broken arm.  One of them has broken her arm before, and the other one hasn’t.  When the nurses ask them what their pain level is, the girl who has broken her arm before says “About a six”, and the girl who has never broken it before says “IT’S A TEN!!!!”  Those two girls are experiencing two very similar injuries very differently due to their past experiences.  That doesn’t invalidate either of their experiences — the girl who is in 10-level pain should be treated like she’s in 10-level pain, even though she’s never broken her arm before and probably has yet to find a whole other world of pain levels in front of  her.  And the girl with 6-level pain shouldn’t be dismissed either, just because she’s not saying she’s in quite as much pain as the other girl.

I try really hard to stop myself when I’m doing this — dismissing others’ experiences on horseback (or in life) because I’ve had more severe ones — because it is really not a great way to go about life, or even a fair way to treat people.  Sure, your horse may move faster than the quarter horse in your lesson, but that doesn’t mean his bolting to the fences wasn’t as serious as yours.  When I see a green rider getting nervous because she got a few crow-hops out of her horse, I don’t respond with “oh that was NOTHING, come over here and ride MY horse!”  Instead, I try to put those crow hops in the context of her experience, and commend her for riding well through them, or offer constructive criticism for how she can get her horse back on task next time.

horze1Not everyone can look this magnificent jumping a 2′ obstacle, ok?

Ultimately, to dismiss another person’s experience because you have had more/worse/bigger/better/badder/more xxxx-treeme is just another way of putting someone down.  You’re leveraging your experience over theirs to dismiss their feelings, feelings which are completely valid!   Just because someone is puking with nerves at their first unrated horse trial and you’re sitting chilly, it doesn’t mean they’re weak and you’re strong.  It means that their ten is not your ten, but it’s still a ten.  Instead, I strive to respond with compassion and context every time, and remember that my ten is probably Boyd Martin’s four — but he would still treat me like it was a ten.

7 tips for being a better competitor among friends

I am a crazy competitive humanoid, probably thanks in large part to my upbringing with a crazy competitive mother.  My boyfriend thinks that there’s actually a huge hole in my brain regarding working on and in teams, because I only ever did individual sports (swimming, gymnastics, math competitions – oops not a sport) growing up, and resultantly kinda suck at team work.  Because of this, I can really make riding hard on myself, as I’m constantly doing what I shouldn’t be doing, namely comparing myself to other riders around me.  However, being super competitive isn’t really a healthy way to interact with your friends and can quickly land you at the bottom of your social pile.  Ask me how I know.

Competing against your friends can be both a blessing and a curse.  It’s great to be surrounded by friendly faces, but both winning and losing are bittersweet.  Regardless of your level of competition or familiarity with your competitors, good sportsmanship is extremely important, and can really make the difference between a good show and a bad show.  With show season right around the corner — my first show of the year is a week and a day from today! — I’m sharing some of the strategies I use to make myself a better competitor and friend.

  1. Congratulate your friends on their rounds and rides – good or bad.

Last summer, at Murray’s and my first horse trials, I was beaten by 0.4 points by my friend R on her mom’s 15 year old Arabian trail horse, who was a last minute show sub when her horse went mysteriously lame before the show.  I had moved up from last place after dressage to second after cross country, and there were 8.4 penalties between us and the blue.  R was a super good sport about it, and we joked all through dinner about how her horse would probably crash through every fence as his jumping career was limited to trails and shits and giggles prior to his entry at this show.  Murray and I put in a double clear stadium round and watched as R rode her round.  She and her horse took down two rails, and knocked the last rail on course, but it miraculously stayed up, keeping her the blue and me the red.  Though I would have loved to come home with a blue ribbon at our first show, R did an incredible job that weekend through every phase, and I congratulated her about it repeatedly and we laughed together about those 0.4 points.

Camelot Horse Trials -- but mostly tribulations!
Pretty in red.

Congratulating your friends on their rides is one of the first steps in sportsmanlike behavior, even if you don’t believe it or feel it at the time because you’re burning up with hatred that a 15 year old Arab just stole your blue ribbon.  If you pretend you are something enough times (in this case, happy for your friend who won!), eventually you’re going to start to be that thing.  And if that thing is kinder and more sportsmanlike, I’m not sure there’s a problem with that.  Whether you compliment your human or equine competition, there’s something to congratulate after every round, even if it’s just making it out alive.  “Good ride!” “Great round!” or “Congratulations!” are all you need say.

On a similar note, wish your competition good luck as they are about to start their round.  I was blown away when I was visiting a rated event and saw competitors wishing one another luck as they were about to enter the start box on cross country.  You would never have seen me wishing someone good luck as we stepped up to the diving blocks at a swim meet, and certainly not as I was about to listen to the opposing team at a debate (not a sport but something I also relished winning in middle school).  This sport is too dangerous for people not to have good luck and good rides when doing it – so build yourself some karma and be a good sport.

IMG_0939Even when teenagers beat you, say congratulations anyway.

  1. Graciously accept comments or compliments after your ride.

There is nothing worse than congratulating a competitor after a round and hearing them respond “Oh that was such an ugly ride,” or even worse, “My horse was TERRIBLE.”  You do not want to be the person who blames their horse for a bad round, especially when he doesn’t deserve it.  (This is not to say horses don’t have off days, but it’s not their choice to be at a show, it’s yours.)  So when someone congratulates you on your ride, open your mouth, and say “Thank you.”  You can add more if you would like, some excellent suggestions include “I had a great time,” or “She tried so hard for me!” or “We just moved up and I’m really proud of us.”  If you can smile and mean it while you do so, all the better.

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Did you maybe have some rails or a refusal in your round and accidentally scream “DICKHEAD” when it happened?  Did you get penalized in your dressage test for your horse kicking out as you tried to pick up the canter right in front of the judge?  Did you have a sweet runout at the water in cross country, nearly shooting you over to the novice down-bank into the water and narrowly avoiding crashing through a flag by hauling hard right?  (Definitely none of these things have ever happened to me…)  Despite any of these things, appreciate that someone is congratulating you on the good parts of your ride and accept the compliment on behalf of your horse, if not yourself.

  1. Accept responsibility for your role in your ride – be it good or bad.

Though I’ve definitely blamed Murray for a bad ride immediately after it, I know that in the end, I’m responsible for our performance.  And if we’re getting 45s in dressage (penalties… not dressage scores!!) it’s not because Murray wasn’t doing what I was telling him to do, it was because I didn’t tell him the right things to do.

By the same token, if I have a good ride, I know that it’s not all on Murray.  Sure, he is a super honest angel who will jump anything I point him at, but to get there he still needs someone to do the pointing.  Last time I checked, he can’t read a course map.  So I let myself glow a little bit even though I give Murray the majority of the credit.

DSCF0881It was an ugly fence, that’s for sure, but at least I got us  pointed at it!

  1. Stop comparing yourself to your competition. Seriously, stop it.

Despite what the ribbons say, and the rankings, and the points, and the end of year championships, the person you are competing with most at any given competition is yourself.  You are trying to put in your best ride, bring the best out in your horse, and the only person whose performance you should be concerned with is yours.  Maybe other people have nicer horses than you – nothing you can do about it.  Maybe other people have been riding for longer than you – nothing you can do about it.  Maybe other people have ridden at a higher level than you and are at an advantage at this level – nothing you can do about it.  Are you sensing a theme here?  If you stop comparing yourself to other riders, you can concentrate more on making you and your horse look like absolute BAMFs, which is what it’s really all about.

10169175_10203710065984964_5712793615560172615_nHe knows what his job is!

  1. Respect the judges’ rulings, even when you disagree.

Let’s go back to my most glorious dressage score: that one time I got a 50.  Yeah, it reads the same in eventing and dressage, don’t worry about it.  I didn’t get the most entertaining score in eventing or dressage because the dressage judge had a wicked hate-on for 5’1” Australian girls riding scrawny bay thoroughbreds — I got it because we sucked and even then the judge was generous!  (And on the off chance that the dressage judge does have some kind of weird, discriminatory hatred for me, there is nothing to do about it, so there’s no point dwelling on it.)  I know nothing about the hunter world, but I imagine that hunter judges also make riders upset sometimes.  However, these people are officials for a reason, and regardless of what you think about their ruling, it happened.  And you should respect that it happened, no matter where it puts you in the standings.

Deriding a judges’ decision is not only disrespectful to that judge, but it is also disrespectful to everyone else who was judged by them.  Inevitably, people were judged differently than you were, and to say that your scores were inappropriate also says that others’ scores were inappropriate.  And yes, that means you’re diminishing the good scores as well as the bad.  So look for the good in any judges’ decision and keep any negativity you might have to yourself – or get it out quietly in private and never say it again.

dressage sheetThis judge tried to disqualify me for horse abuse (Murray threw an epic tantrum during the second canter circle, long story), but all of her comments on my test were reasonable, fair, and accurate — even if I didn’t think so while I was bawling at the time. (Also, my kitten kindly obscured the judges’ name for anonymity. Thanks Milo!)

  1. Keep trash talk to a minimum.

This is not only polite behavior, because ears are everywhere and somebody will probably overhear things you don’t want them to hear, but goes back to something I touched on in number one: if you say something enough times, you’ll probably start to believe it.  And the things you might say in disappointment are probably not actually true.  Talking smack about your competition might feel good at the time, but it is really not a sustainable strategy long term.  And think about what you’re really saying: if you deride the person who won as having a mule-like horse that looks lame and can barely jump, what are you actually saying about yourself? Logical rejoinder: it’s that your horse did worse, moves worse, or looks worse than a mule who looks lame and can barely jump.  Don’t talk smack.  Just don’t do it.

murraySeriously — I pay more attention to this than trash talk.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

I left little hints about this all throughout the blog – it’s kindof my life mantra.  It’s hard, I know.  It’s taken me the last seven years to learn not to sweat the small stuff, with consistent coaching from my boyfriend, and I still fall into that trap.  But if you can let all the little stuff fall away from you, then you’re going to find yourself having a much better time, and a lot less stressed out.

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