CTHJA April 2016 – Subjective Show Report

CTHJA April 2016 – Subjective Show Report

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.

Photo by Heather F

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.

Photo by Heather F

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.

Photo by Heather F

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.”

Photo by Heather F

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.

32 thoughts on “CTHJA April 2016 – Subjective Show Report

  1. I TOTALLY identify with the convo you had with your trainer about surviving! I literally had the same conversation with my trainer. He said something along the lines of, “stop riding just to get around and leave the jumps up and start riding to be competitive, you’re just as good as everyone else and you have a great horse, you just have to up your mental game.” That was really a wake up call for me. It was really easy for me to make survival my goal (when I first started showing him, my horse was green and I forget that he isn’t anymore) and I didn’t realize what a crutch it was becoming.

  2. It makes me sad that you didn’t have fun this weekend. Come over and cry with us anytime. It isn’t a horse show until someone is in tears. 🙂 Your riding and confidence keeps improving. For me, sometimes I have to find victory in places that aren’t ribbons. Sunday morning I did the little jumpers to practice the Medal course, which was way outside my comfort zone. The course was hard, the jumps were in weird places and my horse is oscillating between running off and wanting to dump me at the top end of the ring. I had a stop at the first jump and then I rode my ass off. Too many time faults to count and a rail down later, I walked out of the ring and told my trainer, I’m the man. I got around and I wasn’t terrified. Sometimes that is enough and then comes the day when it gets better. Hang in there!

    1. Hey – don’t be sad! I had a LOT of fun watching you canter to the first jump of your medal. Still think that is 100% bad ass!

      You’re absolutely right about the successes for horse shows being related to personal success versus ribbons. I joke about being a 12 year old child who needs satin to be happy, but that’s only partially true. Really, if we had fixed some of the issues on day two I would have had a much different feeling about the entire weekend.

  3. Riding (especially showing) is very mentally taxing. I’m proud of you for knowing when to walk away and cool down, and for giving yourself the time you need in all aspects of life. I need to work on that too, and remembering what my true priorities are.

  4. I’m sorry you didn’t have the show you wanted, but I’m so glad that you don’t regret how you handled the situation. It might not seem like it, but that’s really important.

    Goals change, expectations change. That’s the thing about horses that makes it such a tough sport.

    And that green coat… damn, girl. SMASHING!

  5. This post makes me sad, because having to reevaluate plans is something I myself really dislike doing, but you have to sometimes, and knowing you have to never makes it easier or the load on your mind lighter.

    Big hugs to you.

  6. You’re doing all the right things–keeping stuff in perspective, taking time for yourself, and coping in manageable bits. I wish those things were coming together in a more rewarding way at this moment. But they’re not. And that sucks.

    Way to keep your head up and rock the (awesome) green coat.

  7. I am so, so impressed with how you composed yourself in an emotionally charged moment. You truly are a class act.

    I’m sure your upcoming plans to spread Tim’s ashes is already taking an emotional toll on you. That is a lot of strain to hold up under.

    Hugs to you. I’m interested to know what the new plan will look like. I am glad you have such a good base of support in your trainer to help you move forward from here.

  8. Ugh. Changes are a big giant bowl of bitches. My horse routinely “lets me down” on days when I really just need a solid (but not groundbreaking) ride. I don’t handle it as well as you did here, something I’m working on but you should really be proud of.

    Wishing you some peace and (yes) smiles in the coming week. <3

  9. Guess I’ve never stuck with a sport or type of riding to not see reevaluation as maybe a way to try something new. But I get it’s not a good time for more change and some satin would have been therapeutic for sure. And I know so.e people really love what they do and aren’t big chickens like me. You definitely deserve a ribbons for surviving some seriously hard adult life lessons most of us haven’t had to face.

  10. This is me cheering for you from another state. Sometimes I find myself subconsciously craving a moment like you had this past weekend. A breaking point, a brick wall, whatever you want to call it. Until you get to that point you cannot create a new plan! But you have, and now you can. Create ute new plan. Attack the new plan. At my barn, we have a simple term for this exact thing. Cowgirl Up! We all know its underlying meaning and the emotions behind it. Take a deep breath, or a lap! And then Cowgirl up. Us Oklahoma cowgirls are cheering you on!

    1. Yes, many cheers from the Sooner State! 🙂 (Especially on that green coat!)

      It’s so difficult and disheartening to reevaluate the plan. I hope you’ll work out something that makes you feel like you’ll be able to move ahead and improve.

  11. Sorry it’s not working out as you hoped. The decision to pursue a new plan REALLY sucks in the moment, but every time I’ve been forced to (and had a chance to let New Plan settle in!) I’ve felt a lot more positive and more free somehow. I hope the same holds true for you 🙂

  12. Sometimes it takes a tough experience (like a less than stellar horse show) to give us the push we need to look for a new plan. It’s not fun, but I bet it ends up being a good thing. It’s far too easy to get comfortable with good enough, and forget that we can be/do/have better. Here’s to hoping that the struggles will lead to something great!

  13. I’m sorry your show didn’t go as hoped, but it baffles me that you can say that your horse let you down.

    Even when I ride perfectly, my horse doesn’t owe me anything. It’s my job as a rider to be prepared for what he has to offer on any given day, so if he did not respond as I hoped, its still my responsibility to make things work – or accept that we didn’t succeed because I let us down. And if I give the best ride possible and we still don’t meet the desired result, it’s because I haven’t supported him enough in training and care to that point. Maybe what I want isn’t what he has to give, but that’s still on me.

    I hope you can hug Simon and thank him for everything he has given you, instead of blaming him. That’s so sad for him.

    1. Although I’m the first one to say don’t blame your horse for your mistakes, I don’t necessarily agree with you. To me, riding is a partnership, meaning you do your part, I do mine. For example, if I give my made (green horses are different) horse a perfect ride to a fence they are capable of jumping, I’ve done my part and I expect them to do theirs and jump the fence. If they stop, then they didn’t do their part and I think it’s perfectly normal to feel let down. When I don’t do my part, I feel like I let the horse down. To me, it’s a relationship and each member has to do their part.

    2. I’m a long-time lurker but had to comment on this…I’m sure you had the best of intentions with your post but I think the idea of anything being “so sad for him” when referring to Simon is laughable. Lauren clearly has his best interest in mind all the time. I feel like a partnership with a horse (any horse but especially one being asked to perform a certain role as a show horse) is just that: a partnership. Both parties have to show up to play or it’s not successful. That’s what makes our sport different from tennis or bowling… Our partner has thoughts of their own and sometimes chooses not to play. Anyways, just my opinion! It’s worth what you paid for it.

      Lauren- I so admire you and how open you are with everything. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt with needing to re-evaluate a plan with this whole horse gig and you will get it figured out! Simon is lucky to have you and, even though it may not always feel like it, the difference in videos you have posted just in the short time I’ve been following you are HUGE! Clearly you are doing (several) something(s) right!

  14. I vote let’s strike the word “plan” from the global lexicon entirely, I’m thoroughly disenchanted with the concept. I know Solo had me stalked out of the dressage ring in fury more times than I care to admit, back then. It seems to be much easier (ok, maybe not smoother) when we just make it up as we go. But as I’m trying to remind myself, “re-evaluation” can also mean just taking a broader perspective. My horses have definitely reinforced my general philosophy that opportunities to get out there and even participate are rich & fleeting gifts. Grief really gives that a whack, putting that filter of sadness on things so sneakily, things that live in completely different compartments. Hopefully after you catch your breath after the hard weekend, you can give it at least a little kick back & tell it that, hey, getting to go show & jump around is a good thing in and of itself & it remains so no matter how many times we do it.

    We’ll be thinking of you with many hugs this weekend. Closure is good, but it also sucks donkey balls to have to even think about it. <3

  15. Oh no. I was hoping for something different for you going into a difficult weekend. I guess my only thought would be that if you are going to push beyond the norm (staying calm and not being afraid of jumps) into a different place, there are bound to be some bumps and bruises along the way. Trust your trainer to help you make decisions but also decide what’s more important to you- thriving at a show or continuing the progress on the horse you have.

    Anyway- you know I’m not terribly good at long blog comments so just hugs for the upcoming weekend and sending you good thoughts

  16. Sometimes the horses get stage fright too. Jampy lets me down a lot. But he doesn’t mean to. He’s trying his absolute best to keep himself together. But showing is hard for him. He loves to show at places he’s been lots of times. But not until the second or third class. Once I accepted this about him, it got a little easier to… well. Lose. Twice I went to finals with him as prepared as it’s possible to be (and once before those times maybe not so prepared). And each time he’s let me down somehow. The first time he spooked and swapped off. The next year he straight up ran away with me like a kid on a pony. In the tiniest ring you ever did see.
    I had a jumper named Cosmo who had terrible stage fright. I was showing at VT with him one year in the adults. We’d had a decent week, no satin, but nothing embarrassing had happened. I thought for sure that classic day would be our shining moment. And you know what happened? I rode GREAT! Like I knew where I was at every fence, in every line. And you know what Cosmo did? He had a panic attack. Threw his feet at all the jumps, dropped his shoulder in every turn. I think we had 16 faults. And none of them do I take credit for. My trainer saw my face when I came out of the ring. She said you did it all right. Go take a walk. That walk (or lap as you say) was exactly what I needed at the moment. Cosmo never did become my magic unicorn. But he taught me a ton and made me a better rider.
    I’m sure that doesn’t help you really. But I guess my point is that your not alone. It’s just horses. Sometimes we let them down. Sometimes they let us down. And every once in awhile, it all comes together and magic happens. Sometimes that means we still get last place. But I think that’s just horses.

  17. Evaluating is hard. Horse shows are hard. But what you go through is even harder. I am so impressed that you kept your cool like you did, because I certainly would not have.

  18. Plan reevaluating is really the pitts. I’m in the middle of it with Prisoner and there is no way to sugar coat the fact that it sucks, all these dreams and plans and goals just kindof go up in smoke and if feels like we are left grasping at straws. I know it will all work out and you will be ok and I will be ok and the horses will be ok, but that really doesn’t make it any easier. I guess I’m failing at leaving an uplifting comment, but know that you are not alone in this.

  19. well, I typed a long comment…..but, somehow it got zapped to cyberspace….

    I think you are too hard on yourself. You two look great to me. Sorry, I don’t know the bad points of what’s going wrong in your kind of riding. I ride Western Pleasure.

    I have to remind myself I show for fun. Otherwise, when it’s not fun….I’m not doing it any more.

    Have fun with that big beautiful guy. Winning and placing is nice. Accomplishing goals is great. But, being able to ride is WONDERFUL.

  20. Honestly a huge reason why I’m not showing hunters anymore is the pressure. Especially after having my horse for 6 years it is super hard for me to come to the fact that my horse still doesn’t have auto changes. Hopefully this summer I can get a new jump saddle and start for real this summer.

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