I am my own worst critic. Sometimes my desire to be competitive overshadows some of my own very real successes. But after I am done beating myself up, I usually have a pretty optimistic perspective on my achievements. In the sport of Eventing, it is VERY hard to be consistently competitive. There are SO many unknown variables to account for on any given day of competition. You train and practice to account for all of them. You ride in the rain at home, in case is down pours during your XC ride. You ride without stirrups, in case you lose one on course. You introduce elements of surprise to your horse in schooling, so they don’t have a panic attack when an umbrella flies across the warm up. (All scenarios in which we were exposed to this trip. But I refused to fall off in the rain, and ride the 10 hour drive home with a wet bum!) You should primarily set your expectations to be competent and safe on show day… And if you are competitive, well that is the icing on the cake!
I am now back home in Maryland, from a fantastic trip with Eddie in Aiken. And I am able to reflect on the experience as a proud Mama of one OTTB, and as a rider - proud of her own competence. In the span of 10 days, we competed at two recognized horse trials and one schooling dressage show. At both events, we finished on our dressage score, and took home ribbons. I might be bummed in secrecy that we didn’t take home a blue one, but I am proud nonetheless. It used to be a good day for me, if my old mare didn’t jump out of the dressage arena (yes that has happened), or if she didn’t run away with me in show jump or XC. My goals were much different when I was younger. Now that I have some experience, I am better able to train and bring Eddie along, as not only competent, but consistently competitive. I now feel gratitude, that it is my privilege to set higher goals and expectations.
As someone who doesn’t ride professionally, I don’t get to ride 6-10 horses a day to better my skill. I go to work, leave for the barn around 4 pm, and have ONE ride a day to get it right. I have ONE ride, on ONE horse to practice my skills, and better his. So if you look at it in terms of probability, I have to get 3 out of 3 phases right in order to be successful. Whereas a professional who rides about 6 horses at a competition, has a greater chance of being successful on at least one, if not all. And we all know your odds of winning the lottery are higher if you buy six tickets, rather than one…$$ That being said, I have a great deal of respect for professionals, because it takes A LOT of stamina to be able to ride 18 rounds in one day. But those odds alone make me feel good about myself and my horse’s performances. Because as someone who might be considered a “hobbyist” we have a pretty good batting average!
But horses aren’t lottery tickets (although I would argue I hit the lottery with Eddie), and we aren’t playing baseball. So I have learned to measure success in terms of competence and consistency, rather than did we win or lose. I am very impressed with how my horse handled this entire experience. In a very condensed period of time, he traveled over 30 hours, competed at three different facilities, jumped over 100 jumps clear, jumped in dry and rainy footing, and moved up a half level. All the while, he maintained a happy and positive attitude the entire time! We were consistent in his schedule and care, consistent in our training rides, and that equated to a consistent performance at the competitions. So to have that amount of success, in such an abbreviated period of time, is something to be very proud of. And it is only the beginning of the season!
Overall, this time with Eddie in Aiken has been a great test and developmental experience. I feel as though I have gained a leg up (no pun intended) on the rest of my season and goals. Eddie was already in a great place, and I feel as though he grew up tenfold while in Aiken. We got the first show nerves of the season over with. We finally got the chance to get our first gallop of the season outside on good footing. And I feel confident both in Eddie and myself as we approach the bigger goals of the 2017 season. Now, as I prepare for Eddie’s next competition at Morven Park, I have a clear idea and path of what we need to work on and accomplish. I would love to continue on this path of consistency! My biggest goal of 2017 is to continue producing Eddie (and myself) into a confident, healthy and competent competitor. If I can continue do that, I think I have more than succeeded!
2017 better watch out, because Eddie is coming in steaming! #teamCROSSFIRE
Jodhpurs and baseball caps. There are literally people in jodhpurs and baseball caps EVERYWHERE. And I love it. This is the first time I have been or competed in Aiken. We used to hit Southern Pines in March when I was younger, but that was the extent of our Southern travels. So I was very excited to see what it’s all about!
Before we left, on Thursday Eddie had an exciting visit from his old yearling manager and breeder from Hinkle Farms. She had last seen him 7 years ago, and I picked her up from the airport so she could greet and ride Eddie in his new home since being adopted from New Vocations back in May 2014. You can read more about that experience on her blog here.
We arrived in Aiken last Friday around 4pm, and it has been a whirlwind ever since. Today is the first day I have really been able to sit down and take things in. I am telecommuting for work while down here, so I have been able to enjoy a more relaxing schedule this Monday. I don’t mind having to work on this trip, because it will keep me busy and keep me from overworking myself around the barn!
So here is a recap of what went down this weekend, and my first impressions of Aiken, land of equestrians.
Friday, we embarked for the long haul down here. We took alternative routes to 95, so it took us a bit longer, but it was a much more enjoyable and scenic ride. I was most impressed with how Eddie took the ride. He was patient and relaxed. He even walked off the trailer like a gentleman after being stuck still for 10 hours.
We were greeted by our lovely hosts in Bridle Creek. (I will forfeit the named location for privacy). They had Eddie’s arrangements all set out before we even got here. They were so welcoming to both Eddie, my mom and I. Eddie has his own stall with free access to a nice sized paddock. He settled right in. And our room is adjoined to his paddock! So, I can conveniently check on him.
Saturday, we decided to journey into town to see the happenings and what was available for us to do. I also walked my courses for Sporting Days HT where Eddie ran Training. In the afternoon, our hosts took Eddie and I for a hack around our equestrian community. It was a blast! Eddie thoroughly enjoyed himself, and was eagerly marching along… much to his company’s dismay. We were accompanied by a small Quarter Horse, and even smaller Arabian. I think Eddie had a foot on each of them, they had to trot to keep up with him! The trails here are very nice, and the footing is great. They are wide enough to walk side by side. While they were great fun, I prefer Maryland’s more colorful scenery.
Sunday, it was finally time for Eddie to compete at his first event of 2017! It was a short journey to Sporting Days Horse Trials, so I had a relaxing morning getting him prepared. It’s much easier to clean and braid your horse, when he is just a quick step outside of your room. I didn’t have set expectations for the day considering his last competition was in October. My biggest goal was to have a confident introductory round to the season. I was hoping to break 30 in the dressage again, but we closed out at a 30.7. In hindsight, I should have allowed for a longer warm-up for Eddie in the dressage since it was his first time out. He is a very relaxed horse per usual. But the busy warm-up and deeper footing made him quite tense. He has been going superbly at home, and I barely got an ounce of that at the show due to nerves. Nothing to blame on his part. I am impressed we can score so well, considering. Stadium and XC were a blast. Horses were easily making the time in SJ, so I took it slow and steady like my trainer and I had planned. He jumped clean, one second under time 😊 We like to live on the edge… XC on the other hand, we were much quicker. I was so impressed how he just galloped each jump in stride. It did take him the first few fences to take hold of the bit. It was the first time we rode in the elevator gag since last season. But he quickly settled in to a nice pace. We finished on our dressage score to hold 6th place.
Overall, I am impressed so far with the happenings down here in Aiken, SC. If I had to lodge one complaint, it would be that the footing in warm-up easily gets torn up since it’s base is sand. But there are more pros than cons to that aspect of the footing. Because, the footing will stay soft without rain. I also am impressed with how smoothly the event ran. They must get a lot of practice organizing all year round! The officials and volunteers were wonderful!
Eddie gets a rest day today. Then we will train and hack the rest of the week. Next stop Full Gallop Horse Trials!
Ah, thank goodness we can officially start looking forward to spring. The days will be getting longer, things are looking up. But it’s still the holiday season, which means I have been enlisted to help a few friends keep their horses in work while they’re out of town. This means stepping out of my comfort zone.
My horse Eddie, an off-the-track Thoroughbred, has been going superbly this winter. He is feeling strong, confident, and things are just coming along effortlessly. Sometimes I even forget that there was a time where things didn’t always flow so seamlessly. So now, I have been paired with the task of schooling another off-the-track Thoroughbred, who is not as far along in his training. And also a very different conformation type from Eddie.
In just one ride, it has opened my eyes as to how fast our communication and learning when partnered with a specific horse evolves over time. With Eddie, I can just maneuver from one aid to the next, and he picks up on all my cues. Our language with each other has matured and is mutually respected at this stage. But with my new friend, I have to gauge where he is at physically and mentally. I have to investigate what aids he knows and understands so I don’t throw anything too demanding on the table.
This got me to thinking about a few core values I pride myself in while working with horses, which I thought would be helpful to share. I don’t call myself a professional, but I do have enough experience to have developed my own ideas and principles. You see, training off-the-track Thoroughbreds is a lot like putting together a piece of furniture from Ikea. The directions are pretty straight forward, but who really bothers reading them? Usually we just haphazardly put pieces together and it always works out. Maybe a few nuts and bolts are loose here and there. Maybe it wobbles a bit. But, it’s functional. Right? Well, you should read those directions from now on. Because maybe, if you do your due diligence, your Ikea piece will look like it came from Pier 1 Imports when it’s all said and done… Instead of a wobbly, but functional mess.
Ok, so horses aren’t furniture. But, we must READ them. We must develop an adequate understanding for their skills in communication, physical talent, and aptitude for learning. After a thorough assessment of their competence, we can begin to create a training program that is best suited to them.
Teach them your language.
Often times, we start horses by introducing them to various exercises and them learning through trial and error. This approach can work at times. But I prefer to make things very black and white for the horse, regardless of their skill level because not every rider speaks the same language. I like to start on the ground, with very clear cues that simulate MY mounted aids. I still do this with my horse Eddie, as a warm up before a schooling session. Static exercises are good to help the horse warm up both mentally and physically. But more importantly, the horse learns very clearly what you are trying to communicate with them. These types of exercises can include stretches, obedience skills, lateral aids, etc. The key is to make them simple and low stress.
Speak slowly, but assuredly
Nothing was worse than when my high school Spanish teacher would babble on in an incoherent jumbled up mess of word vomit that we hadn’t learned yet. Don’t be that teacher to your horse. Enunciate. Keep each aid clear and distinct. Often times, an exercise consists of multiple cues or aids. The biggest mistake I see riders/trainers make is letting each aid bleed into the next before the horse has a clear understanding of what is being asked. Then the execution becomes muddled and hesitant. Take your time communicating each cue to your horse. Allow them to react. Take it slow through these types of exercises by separating them into multiple parts. If you don’t get the response you are looking for, you can more easily detect what went wrong and in what stage.
Quality over Quantity
It is not about the amount of work you do with your horse. It’s about the amount of productive work you do. Don’t keep repeating an exercise that you are struggling with. You will just be facilitating poor training. Go back to the basics, do something the horse understands. “Three” seems to be my magic number. When I introduce an exercise, I try to get it done in three reps. One for learning, one for over correcting any issues, and one to get it right. This works for me, maybe not everyone. And most importantly, remember that each horse is built differently. Know their physical limitations so you don’t ask of anything that could cause them fear, pain, or stress. The worst thing you can do, is to sour a horse with good character by pushing them to the point of physical stress, because that will later on manifest as behavioral issues. It is better to work for 15 minutes in the proper frame and mindset, rather than to spend an hour struggling.
Ride Deep and Through
I spend 90% of my rides on a deep, connected, but relaxed frame. More than one might think is enough, and deeper than one might think is necessary. This might be what most call “long and low.” Replace that phrase with “deep and through” because that implies you are actually working a connected horse over its topline and back. I might ride in a higher frame with more self-carriage once a week, or only in my lessons. This is because, I value building my horse’s topline first and foremost. And it takes a lot of mental and physical strength on the horse’s part to ride in true self-carriage, so I try not to overdo it. It is so important to spend time working young horses on a deeper connected frame so they learn to relax into the contact over their back so they build muscle. Don’t worry if they are not perfectly on the vertical. A through and connected horse should be more of a feeling. They will feel balanced, springy, and elastic in the connection.
Vary your sessions
No matter what your discipline, vary the type of work you perform with your horse. Vary the terrain, and footing as well. Keep your horse interested and enthusiastic. Even in the winter, you can get creative with poles or fun exercises to do while stuck in an indoor. It just requires a little bit of preplanning. Get outside to do trails and hills when you can. Do trot and canter poles when stuck inside. All of these are things are beneficial to your horse. And most importantly, they will help maintain your horse’s positive attitude and work ethic.
So, I hope you find some of these values were helpful. The winter is a great time to start thinking about some of the theory and perspective behind your own riding practices. I will be taking these into my next few rides with my new OTTB friend. And I will still be keeping them in the back of my mind for my rides on Eddie. Because to me; a happy horse works better and smarter than an unhappy horse. It’s all about communication and deductive reasoning. Find what best works for you, and stick to that process and plan for your riding. Good luck this winter!
So this post is coming from a place of frustration more than anything else.
I am 24 years old. I am a beginner level *Adult.* And I am constantly trying to find the balance between my career and personal life. I work as a graphic designer. I love my job. I really do, because I can help support my lifestyle. But my horses, riding, and Eventing are my number one passions. It just so happens that I chose a different path out of high school. I decided that I needed to go to college and pursue a more sustainable career. Every day I wonder if I made the right decision. Should I have packed my bags and shipped off to become a working student? Deep down, I know I would have excelled in that lifestyle too. I know I could have taken the hits, the falls, the beatings. I know with that lifestyle comes almost certain struggle, pain and hardship. Struggle that I could have handled myself, but that I could not inflict upon my family. I need to be able to financially support my own dreams. So here I am, ambiguously floating around in the corporate world limbo that is my life nine hours a day… While simultaneously chasing my BIG dreams in the horse world.
It all started years ago. Pictured left, my first event (I was eliminated in Dressage when Ella jumped out of the arena, but they let me continue). Right, you will see me enamoured by the course at the Jersery selection trials before the Athens Olympics.
It’s not that bad.
I don’t want to sound like a spoiled brat. I am thankful for my job. I have a good job, and am surrounded by very smart and kind people, in a great environment. I’ve made great friends at my office, and have a great support system within my department. I work hard to be sure I am diligent, reliable and trustworthy. But nevertheless, my mind wanders from time to and I am often preoccupied. But for the most part, it’s working out. I am still able to pursue my dreams after hours, even if it is hard.
I do have to admit, at times I feel like a mysterious Peter Parker in the workplace. Civilian by day, web slinger by night... Errr, maybe a manure slinger? Sometimes I feel like I have no outlet to share my passion. I used to be able to say it out loud all the time. To my friends. To my family. To any boys who would dare to have interest, until I finally scared them off. But now I feel like I’m not allowed to talk about those passions, especially to anyone related to my career outside of riding. Sometimes I fear that I will be judged for caring more about something other than my career. Sometimes I feel like I’m not allowed to have aspirations outside of my career. But more than anything else, I just feel a bit lost and misunderstood.
Overall, I just think there is a HUGE disconnect between the horse industry folks and muggles normal people. I think that people see my life as a luxury rather than a lifestyle or sport. While it is a choice... it is not as glamorous as it seems to be. It was a choice my mom and I made many years ago, before I had any fiscal responsibility of my own. And now it is my life’s passion. It’s milking us dry of money. But I ain’t giving it up any time soon.
I don’t think many “non-horsey” folks could ever understand the amount of work or training that goes into being a competitive rider. And I don’t think many people understand the Why? aspect to it. Because, not everyone sees us riders as athletes. They see us as hobbyists. While there are many that enjoy riding only as a pastime, there’s a large group of us that train meticulously towards certain athletic goals. Like any athlete, we spend countless years devoted to our craft. We spend countless hours in the saddle. We spend our lives working towards achieving our dreams. And, just because we traded in some of our slobber stained britches, for a pair of work slacks… doesn’t mean were willing to give up on those dreams.
So, I guess my main point in blogging (aka venting) this, was to get my feelings out, but also to share a bit of insight as to what really goes on in my life after business hours when I’m with my horses. It’s not as glamourous as it seems. It’s not all fun and games. I’m not having a big ole party. It almost always involves shit shoveling. IT’S AN UNFATHOMABLE AMOUNT OF WORK. But it is MY lifestyle. And it is imperative to my existence.
We’ve all seen that meme. You know the one… the one that compares “your dream” verses “reality.” Well, it really is an effective reminder that, even if things are seemingly not going your way, you should keep your head up and keep pursuing your dreams. After all, without the downfalls, would the victories even feel that good?
This past year, I have been working with my young Off-the-track-Thoroughbred “Eddie” towards achieving our goal of competing at the Waredaca Classic Three Day Event. It is a beautiful and well run event for anyone who wants to experience the long format style before it forever dwindles away. The officials, judges, volunteers and organizers were wonderful and always helpful. My boy Eddie is only seven years old and this is his first full year competing in eventing. I thought it would be a wonderful event to give him experience and prepare him for future overnight or FEI events. And it was that and much more!
BUT… we fell just short of placing in the top ten come show jump day. We finished eleventh, which meant no victory lap or recognition around the arena. And as I walked out of the arena after that fateful rail hit the ground, tears welling up in my eyes, I felt like I had failed. I failed myself, and most importantly my horse… My young, brilliantly talented, and beautiful horse. I immediately forgot all of the good things that happened that weekend. I forgot that just the day before; he gave me one of the best rides of my life on steeplechase and cross country. And that I came off the course with a smile beaming from ear to ear, greeting all of my friends and family at the finish line.
I forgot how good it felt just to cross that finish line at a three day.
Of course, the training three day is no Rolex. But it meant a lot to me. A few friends and officials caught me on my walk back to the barns after show jumping. And a few friends messaged me after the fact. All of them congratulating me and consoling me with the typical, “Hey, you completed! That’s all that really matters!” And they’re not wrong. I was immensely proud of Eddie, but not myself. I have put my heart and soul into this horse, and this sport. And I have high expectations for myself; my goal was to be competitive. And frankly, eleventh place is not something I personally am striving for. This was supposed to be a summation of our season together. And in my head, I was going to knock it out of the park… But, maybe I still did and just hadn’t realized it yet.
This was only Eddie’s sixth run at training level. I forgot about all of the other competitions and successes he’s had leading up to the three day. And we still finished on a very respectable score and went double clear XC in a long format event. I forgot about all of the rides, lessons, and schooling that go into preparing for an event like this. I neglected to put things into perspective.
Now I’m not saying you should settle for mediocrity. Don’t ever be afraid to set high standards and goals for yourself. Because learning to accept disappointment is a HUGE lesson and character building aspect of this sport. Then, when you finally achieve your ultimate goals, they will feel so worthwhile. I went into this competition knowing my horse was capable of a top ten finish, not just a completion. Trust me; I am still devastated I did not take home a pretty ribbon. But I realize he did his job brilliantly, and the mistake is on me. And I can accept that. As bummed as I may feel, there are a couple dozen other riders who are wishing they had the weekend Eddie and I did. And then there are another dozen who wish they could have even made it to this event. We all feel this way sometimes, and that’s ok.
I guess my biggest point is… It’s easy to get bogged down and dwell on the bad stuff. Unfortunately, we often lose sight of all of the things we have accomplished. But at the end of the day, if your horse is happy and healthy then you’re probably doing something right. You have three phases to get it right… or wrong in eventing. Making a small mistake in one is really not a big deal at the end of the day. That is the beauty in our sport. EVERYONE has those days. One bad ride, does not make you a bad rider. I know I will have plenty more show jump rounds to get it right with Eddie. So don’t lose sight of the small everyday accomplishments. And remember, it’s about the journey.
It has been a HOT summer. I decided to give my horse Eddie some vacation over the months of July and August since the ground is so hard. But now I have Eventing fever. So what better way to sooth my withdrawal symptoms than a fun DIY project in preparation for the Fall Eventing season?! Eddie will be entering the Waredaca Training Three Day this October, so I have a lot to be excited for. It will be his first turnout and jog inspection so I want him to look sharp! I’ve been inspired by some of the cool quarter mark designs I’ve seen over the past few years (particularly the NZ feather), and wanted to do something unique for Eddie.
Eddie’s show name is Crossfire, named after the Stevie Ray Vaughan song… Sounds a lot better than his Jockey Club name “Excess Liquidity.” He was born April 13th, which makes him an Aries. I’m not into horoscope signs and what not, but I do like the designs and iconism behind them. For example, the Aries is also the Fire element. Which is perfect for Eddie’s name! So I decided I would design my own Aries or “Ram” icon to transpose into a quarter mark stencil. It will be unique to him, and look very elegant!
I will outline my design process, along with the tutorial for creating the stencil.
Step 1: Brainstorm and Sketch
This is the most important stage. I would recommend designing your own mark. This is always safest when it comes to copy rights. And it makes you unique!
Do some research on Pinterest, Behance, or anything online you draw inspiration from. When thinking of designing or choosing an icon to represent you and your horse, you want to be sure you explore all ideas and possibilities. Likewise, you want the final product to look polished. You want something that is dynamic/strong but also subtle at the same time, as not to distract the judges or officials. Creating logos and iconography are long creative processes.
Once you have a theme of what you want to achieve or convey… Put a pen to paper. Start sketching dozens of thoughts, doodles, and icons. Put all of your ideas down on paper, even the crappy ones. Maybe after you have 15-30 sketches, you can narrow it down to 3-5. Then make a drawing or mock-up of those favorite selected ideas.
Next, take a poll! Ask a few close friends to pick their favorites and give you feedback. Sometimes we get married to one idea, but an outsider’s perspective helps us see new possibilities. Hopefully, after a few new opinions, you can narrow it down to one option.
My final best four, narrowed down to my final option.
Step 2: Refine Your Quarter Mark Icon
If you’re and artsy fartsy freak like me, maybe you have access to Adobe Illustrator. If not, a good old fashion, pencil and paper will do just fine. (Or tracing paper if you are just copying a printed design) I designed my icon in Illustrator and then printed.
This is really where some freehand drawing skills come into play. You will have to draw out your mark on a larger scale, about 10 inches wide. Or if you’re not a great artist but have great ideas, ask a friend to help you draw your mark!
Also remember your final design should be relatively simple and also take advantage of negative space. If it is too complex or has narrow sections, it could end up being a muddle to create and read.
Step 3: Transpose your Mark to Vinyl Sheet
This might be the trickiest step if you’re not handy with an X-acto knife… Or have never heard of one before. First, a sheet of your vinyl that is large enough for your icon/mark, with a little room to spare on the edges. Then you will need to tape the drawing of your mark as flat and as tight to the vinyl sheet as you can.
Next you will begin cutting with the X-acto knife on the border of your design. Remember to go very slow. If your design has curves, and you don’t have steady hands, you may want to invest in a set of French curves (ask your local art store). Use one hand to steady your vinyl on the cutting matt, while the other holds the X-acto knife at about a 45 degree angle to cut. That way the hand holding the vinyl can help pivot the sheet as you go.
Be careful as you pull sections of vinyl apart, as not to rip anything!
Step 4: Transfer Onto Your Horse
If you have ever participated in a jog, or groomed for a jog, you might already know how to transfer a quarter mark… or even create a freehand quarter mark. First and foremost, make sure your horse is freshly bathed and clean. Use a rag to remove any excess dust before you start.
Grab a fine haired dandy brush, and a spray bottle to get started. I like to fill my spray bottle with a bit of oil or shine product. First, spray and bush all of the hair on your horse’s hind quarters towards the back, to create the smoothest surface possible. Now you have created a wet surface to stencil on. Place the stencil strategically on the hind quarters where you want the mark to appear. Be careful not to aggravate any of the hair. Now, gently brush down on the hair exposed in the stencil. Hold the stencil in place so it does not move. This is what creates the mark, the differing pattern or direction of the hair.
Finally, gently remove your stencil and take a peek at your masterpiece! You may want to even give it a spray with hair setting spray or something like it. Use your finger or a cloth to fix any stray hairs the stencil may have aggravated.
And there you have it! Your own stencil quarter mark! I hope this was helpful for any of the creative minds out there!
Don't forget to hashtag #EventingWizard if you try it out yourself and post!
With all of the historic and unprecedented performances from the Rio 2016 Olympics, it’s hard not to feel inspired in your own endeavors. While we may not all be Olympic heroes, many of us have our own interests and hobbies that we are striving to better ourselves at. For me, the Olympics have always been something to get excited about. I have always been able to draw knowledge and inspiration from my favorite athletes and their performances.
I grew up as a dual-athlete through high-school and college. I ran cross-country and track while simultaneously sustaining a very active riding career. While I don’t claim to be a superstar, I have a few modest accolades to my name. I won one state championship title in the 800 meter, as well as a runner-up in the 1600. Then I decided to give collegiate running a go. It wasn’t until I reached the FEI level in Eventing that I realized I had to devote all of my time to riding if I truly wanted to be my best. But as a dual-athlete, you’ll never forget the lessons you’ve learned in both sports to aid in your progression and success. I will often reference my experiences in track and field to help paint the bigger picture.
So this got me thinking… What is it that makes an Olympic champion? Well, I started to make a list. A list of characteristics they all have in common. Things that I thought could help me in my own riding and training practice, as well as anyone else in sports across the board!
Physical and Mental Toughness
You can bet that each and every Olympic athlete has put their body through hell to get to where they are. That goes for Equestrian riders as well as their horses. Athletes like Phelps and Bolt didn’t achieve world record performances through sheer talent. They worked day and night. They have a close relationship with pain and fatigue. A champion can break down physical and mental barriers. They have come face to face with the invisible wall that blocks many athletes from running or swimming just a fraction of a second faster. And they have obliterated that wall; they’ve become comfortable with the pain and exhaustion they may be faced with on the other side.
This is what sets them apart. Most of us would be inclined to quit when our mind tells us our body has had enough. But there is always more in the reserve tank. My track coach used to say, “If you run past that wall at the end of your race, you will hit a whole new gear.” Each year when a new flock of runners came to tryouts, he would have us run 400 meter repeats at the very beginning of the season. The veteran runners (myself included) HATED this work out as it was absolute cruelty. Nevertheless, we would run ourselves to the ground each set. Many puking our guts out just in time to get back on the line for the next set… By the second week of practice, he would have successfully diminished our field of runners to about a quarter of its original size. We were the athletes left who were willing to push themselves past those physical and mental barriers.
Check out this Under Armour commercial starring Phelps to get an idea of what those barriers look like:
So how does this translate to Equestrian sport? Well, for me it has always meant that I will hold myself to the same physical fitness standard that is demanded of my horses to compete. As humans, we have the choice to push past barriers of our own physical limitations. However, our equine partners often times do not. We break the barrier for them. For example, we decide for them at the end of the course if we are down on the clock and have to push them faster. This is why it is important for you as a rider, to experience the pain and fatigue you ask of your horse. Go for a run, and when you get exhausted and feel like you’re going to collapse… start the timer over and keep running.
Mindfulness and a Positive Attidude
It’s easy to become mesmerized by the performances of athletes such as gymnast Simone Biles. She exudes such confidence and radiance throughout her routines, where even non-gymnastics fans can recognize and appreciate her brilliance. She has already encapsulated the nation by gaining our affections through her adorable yet competitive personality. But behind all of that glitz and glam, is a fiercely intelligent and composed athlete. She is able to perform under extreme pressure and expectations. How does she do this?
Mindfulness is by definition, “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” This is the act of remaining in the present, with a positive attitude, free of negative judgement.
Mindfulness is perhaps one of the most underutilized terms I have encountered in my own riding career. During one season of track, our university team underwent a study in which two PhD students taught and performed meditation exercises to us. But the study had far more of an impact on my riding than it ever did my running. It taught me how to be present, rather than just go through the motions. And it taught me how to ride with a more positive outlook.
Michael Jung is a master of mindfulness. He is the first rider to win the Olympics on his dressage score, and he has done that feat twice over. Not only is he the best, but he is the best on multiple horses. You can watch how he rides a dressage test, or attacks a jumping course, that he is ALWAYS present. He lives in the tiny moments of each jump and each stride. He rides each stride as if it were his first. In his Olympic dressage test at Rio, he and Sam made the mistake of swapping leads early in the counter canter (Probably the first mistake the Terminator and Sam have ever made…) receiving a low 4 mark. He immediately corrected his mistake and was back to business throughout the rest of his test. He never let the mistake negatively affect him or his outlook. Mindfulness is the difference between having a mistake, and letting your nerves rip you apart at the seams… Or moving past your mistake and getting back to your typical 7-9 marks.
Mindfulness takes hard work. It’s just like exercising any muscle, except it’s your brain. It’s a slow and steady technique that will greatly enhance your performance.
Never Ease Up Before the Finish Line
With the exception of Usain Bolt, who is notorious for being able to casually stride across the finish line ahead of his challengers… You will rarely see a champion ease up before the finish of a big race or performance. There is simply too much at stake. In track, we learned this lesson the hard way. Countless races are lost by simply thinking you have it in the bag, but somebody with more grit will be high up on your heels to clinch the win. It simply comes down to… Who wants it bad enough?
One of my favorite Olympic moments from the coverage in Rio, was during the Women’s 400 meter final. While I had my hopes in favor of Allyson Felix, I was inspired by the passion that Shaunae Miller expressed by diving across the line to win the Gold. This mentality is something that I have carried over into my riding as well. Ride every stride, and don’t leave a single point on the table. After all, you don’t want to leave the track or exit the arena feeling like you didn’t give it your all.
Charlotte Dujardin certainly didn’t leave a single point on the table when she scored an Olympic record of 93.9 in her musical freestyle. Granted, she has loads of experience at the level. But its how she approaches her test, which helps her rack up so many points. From the moment she comes down the center line, to her final salute… she and Valegro are BRINGING IT.
I’m not advocating that you should sign yourself up for the next marathon, or that you come FLYING down your center line at a blazing speed to salute. But rather, I hope some of these analogies can help you in your own endeavors or Equestrian sport. Make a point to incorporate little things in your daily routine that remind you of your favorite athletes and champions. Start breaking down the tiny barriers that hold you back. Keep working hard, and success will follow.
I have decided to start a blog to document my life with horses, as I simultaneously fumble my way through adulthood. For those interested in following, I hope to include various updates on my own horses and competitions, my thoughts on the ever-changing sport of Eventing, as well as some fun tutorials and DIYs. I’m a creative horse woman on a budget; why not share my ideas with everyone! I also know my OTTB Eddie has a small following as well. So I will be sure to document his journey along the way!
Bear in mind, I was an art major… NOT English major. So while writing is not my forte, I still enjoy sharing my thoughts and experiences. Transitioning into adulthood, while maintaining a full-time job, caring for horses, all while trying to chase my competitive dreams, is not easy. And for myself, I know I am inspired most by like-minded people. I hope to inspire, educate, and make people laugh by starting this blog and sharing some of my personal experiences.
I also aim to make this as interactive as possible through social media. I am very active on Facebook and Instagram. You can find me through my social media links on this page. Once I post a few DIYs, you can also hashtag #EventingWizard so I can find your posts!