This Thursday I am flying to North Carolina so I can gather with friends to spread Tim’s ashes in the mountains as a more final farewell. I am looking forward to this weekend like someone looks forward to their execution. I know I’ll feel better after it’s done, but I don’t want to have to be there and I don’t want to have to do this.
What does that have to do with a horse show?
I’ve been getting through my life lately by attempting to become a queen of compartmentalizing. Each week/weekend has a focus. This week I will focus on a parent visit. This week I will focus on fun with friends! This week I will focus on a horse show. I take things very literally one event at a time. Mixed in that is time to grieve, usually at night or through writing, but I try to keep everything pretty segmented. It’s been the only way I can really function as of late.
Not only was my focus on the horse show this past week, but I also needed the horse show to be a bright spot in the period of time that I’ve spent dreading doing something with Tim’s ashes. The closer I get to North Carolina, the heavier my feet feel… so I was hoping that a fantastic horse show would lift my spirits before I set out to do something super hard.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a horse show. I’ve contemplated getting a saddle pad embroidered with, “My husband died and I’m having a hard time so if you can throw me a 6th place sympathy ribbon I’d really appreciate it” but we all know that square pads aren’t allowed in the hunters. Drats.
Falling off Friday did not bother me one bit, which I’m actually really proud of. Usually if I come off my brain screams at me. OMG HORSE SHOWING IS DANGEROUS AND YOU COULD GET HURT. QUICK – PULL AND ADD TO EVERY FENCE POSSIBLE OR BETTER YET TAKE UP DRESSAGE. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. I joked about my incompetence, got back up and moved on with life. Easy peasy.
Saturday’s rounds left me feeling fairly satisfied, although a bit disappointed that we didn’t pin. It’s not that I thought the judging was unfair, but when we put in close to a personal best and there are 12+ horses who were a lot better, it can be a little disheartening. In-between rounds, a kind face came up to me on her lovely horse and introduced herself as a blog reader.
“The post you wrote about a bad horse show being a blessing? I’ve thought about that a lot. It’s helped me get through some not so great shows,” she said as we strolled around the warmup ring. I’m so glad she came up to say hello and bring up that post, because I certainly needed to be reminded of that this weekend.
Back at the barn, I talked to trainer about the positives of my rounds while I took off my tall boots.
“Well at least I was calm and got over all the jumps without being scared of them!”
“Yes, but we’ve been doing this too long for that to be the goal. You’re using that as a crutch. You need to ride more effectively and push for the next level.”
As I linimented and wrapped Simon’s legs, I thought about what she said. For so long I’ve been saying things like, “Well at least I survived!” and “All I’ve ever wanted is to have a horse nice enough to compete with at 2’6″ for a weekend show.” I mean, look at the title of this blog category – Surviving Horse Shows. It’s not “Horse Showing” or “Trying To Win Ribbons Because I am Partially Validated by Satin” but survival.
The truth is, I’m tired of just surviving. I want to thrive a little bit. I want to walk into a ring, and know that I have a chance at winning versus getting a sympathy ribbon for making the best of a difficult round. On Sunday I decided to push my riding further and go for more than just getting over ten jumps.
The medal class (which I explained yesterday) was fine. I told a barn-mate that a year ago I would have been thrilled with that kind of course, but now it’s just so so to me. Hours later when I warmed up for my indoor classes, I was pretty serious. In the warmup ring I never got angry at Simon. Never jerked or kicked him, but did my very best to be firm with my expectations. No, you will not cut your corners. No, you must catch your lead in the hind within two or three strides. In return I will support you at the base of the jump, keep my body and eyes up and be a quiet, rewarding rider … but you must do those things. We really did have a nice warmup.
Of course if you read yesterday’s post, you know the rounds completely fell apart.
I felt defeated when I came out of the ring. To the best of my ability I had ridden those courses, but my horse did not step up. My trainer was a bit beside herself.
“I can’t believe he did that! You did everything you could have to ask for those changes. I would think it was physical, but he did three in the warmup! I thought he had it multiple times, but he just woudn’t change. You literally could not have done anything differently to make that happen.”
While she talked I took a series of deep breaths. People watching me probably thought I was exhausted from riding my course, but the truth was I needed to breathe and compose myself so I wouldn’t burst into tears at the in gate. It wasn’t just the changes, but the tiredness of getting up at 6am plus the sadness of Tim’s memorial looming mixed with riding frustration to bubble up and threaten to spill over. Mentally, I was d o n e.
Just as my trainer started saying “Jumpers” I had composed myself enough to talk, interrupting her.
“I’m frustrated and I’m done. Please scratch my last class. I’m going to take a lap.”
Whenever I get really upset at a horse show, I have to “take a lap” and walk away from everyone. Sometimes I use this time to cry in private, and sometimes I just let my emotions simmer down so I don’t say or do anything that I would later regret. On Sunday I listened to Simon’s iron shoes strike the pavement as we walked through the empty barns. Eventually I got off, gave him exactly two cookies to let him know I still loved him and walked away for a bit. My horse doesn’t understand I needed him to move his hind legs in order to help my fragile mental state. To him, that’s completely arbitrary. To me, he let me down and I needed to cool off.
Two years ago I showed Simon in the hunters at this exact same show, and I left pretty disappointed. I even blogged about it with videos. At that show, my trainer told me that I shouldn’t be upset with how me and my horse were performing.
“This is our first show coming out and trying to do the strides and get changes,” she said at that show two years ago. “If we had been at this for a long time, there would be a reason to be upset. It would be time to re-evaluate the plan.”
As I packed up my car, I remembered that conversation. We have been to a lot of shows since then, and the issues are still the same. Yes, there’s improvement and we are a much better team after those miles logged together, but I think it may be time to re-evaluate the plan.