I try to set achievable goals before every significant riding event (i.e. a show, clinic, off property schooling, etc). For me this does two things: First, it gives me something to concentrate on other than any nerves that pop up. It doesn’t 100% eliminate my nerves, but it’s good to have concrete things to focus on. It also gives me a realistic benchmark with which to evaluate how things went. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I can easily become disappointed when things do not go according to plan. Unfortunately, this happens even when I have a ride that was a huge improvement for me and my horse.
So, before we went out for our first cross country schooling of the season, I set a few easy goals. May, while usually really well behaved, had only been off the property once since October, and I fell off. (One day I’ll post about that story.) As a result, I wanted to make sure my goals were simple and achievable. Here’s how it went!
1. Make Sure My Horse Leaves Feeling Confident
May decided to take this one into her own hands and change it to “Make all the Thoroughbreds Look Boring”. The first jump that we all jumped was a 2’ log with a fairly flat and straight forward approach. One of the other girls, a good friend of mine, went first with her 6yo, OTTB. This horse is super fancy, amazingly athletic, and loooooves cross country. And she stopped at the log. I wish I could say that my nerves didn’t kick into high gear seeing someone else get a stop, but they totally did. They did make it over and after that had pretty smooth sailing over the rest of the day.
However, then it was my turn. I turned to the log and closed my leg. May took a huge leap over that log and celebrated with some “bucking” on the other side. (I am not sure May knows how to buck. She just puts her head down low and tries to get her butt off the ground. She’s only done this twice and only when she thinks something is super exciting).
After that, May pretty much just wanted to run and jump. At one point, she even ran away with me, as fast as her corgi legs can take her. Of course, I am the worst person when I get run away with because I just start laughing too hard to ride effectively. By the end of the day, you couldn’t have convinced May that she was not the most athletic horse on the field. May gets the A here. I steered, she jumped.
I have gotten into this horrible habit of getting nervous and just kind of blacking out. It was a habit I originally picked up when I was much younger, and I thought I had gotten over it. Apparently not.
However, I did succeed in this. After an easy warm up over some of the starter fences, we turned towards some of the BN fences. This one was 3 boulders with two logs running across them forming a bit of a square oxer with fillers. It was a downhill approach to a very looky fence. Bless my trainer, because it took me a solid 7 minutes to figure out my approach to it, pick up a canter, and actually jump it. However, when I started coming towards it, and May thought out exited stage left, I kept my left leg on, sat up tall, and pushed her over it. It wasn’t the most beautiful jump we had all day, but I made it happen.
May thought about running around one more fence on the course, this super wide Coupe, but as long I steered, we jumped. Giving this one an A!
So I slipped on this one once, but just once! I read somewhere that changing your language helps change how you perceive challenges. I am not sure if this is true, but I will admit that my negative self talk has become a serious problem. I am not the world’s best rider, but I am completely competent to achieve the goals I am setting out to do right now. (aka Beginner Novice)
Even though I slipped up a bit, it was a huge improvement over the constant negative talk that has somehow overtaken my lessons. So I am giving myself a B on this one. (now to decide if that counts as negative self talk)
About an hour and a half into cross country schooling, I felt like a failure at this one. Sure we were jumping everything, but I wasn’t able to get an effective half halt or truly rebalance May off of her forehand for more than the last two or three strides before a fence. Anyone who rides a draft cross should understand my struggles here. When they get rolling, it typically is a downhill kind of roll.
However, my trainer kept encouraging me to rock my weight back and half halt one rein at a time. To keep my leg on to encourage her to give laterally. And suddenly, at the last three or four fences, I had my hunter-like eventer back. We loped over the last jumps in a solid rhythm and were able to hold that rhythm uphill and downhill. Overall, super happy. This gets an A.
Needless to say, at the end of the day I was on cloud 9. I think I told my poor fiance every detail at least twice. I am beginning to think he comes to these things just so that he doesn’t have to hear about them later! We’re hoping to get one more cross country school in at a bigger venue before our first show, and our debut at BN, on April 22nd.