“Real Eventing” & Imposter Syndrome

Apologies in advance for a rather rambly, stream of consciousness post.

Riding at the horse park for our competition was a bit surreal. Spring Bay is a bit of a unique horse trial in a lot of ways. Obviously, running XC at a different venue than SJ and Dressage is interesting, but it is more than that.

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As we walked from the trailers to Dressage or SJ at the horse park, you could see the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event coming together. Crews worked to build tents and platforms around Rolex Stadium. The grass on the XC field was being mowed and tended to. Even the barns not being used for our event were cleaned and prepped, ready for the 5* horses to show up.

It’s easy enough to go to a schooling show, especially in eventing, and feel like you belong. Most everyone is on either an OTTB or a QH or a mutt of some kind. (sorry May). It’s pretty rare to see the newest or the best tack/equipment etc on the school ponies poking around baby starter. If you go often enough, you get to know most of the riders/trainers/horses on sight.

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So I have gotten… pretty comfortable in that atmosphere.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I ventured to the Kentucky Horse Park, as it preps for KY3DE, my over-sized thelwell pony siting in the trailer, ready for Starter. I watched the Prelim riders perform their long and complicated Dressage tests (to me anyway). I walked the SJ course when it included 3 combinations, a triple bar, and was set to full prelim height. Thinking back on it, it was the first time I have ever been in a competition ring with jumps set to that height.

Then I picked up on the chatter, which horses were just out to do the CT to start off their season, and which horses were stepping down for a confidence building start. Confidence building?!

So the feelings started to creep in. This wasn’t really eventing. Who was I to call myself an eventer? Even a recent article on Eventing Nation seemed to acknowledged it:

I think we should respect the person that chooses to compete at Novice because that’s where they are happy and are enjoying the sport just as much as the person who is running around Kentucky.

Against the Move Up Mentality 

HAH! NOVICE?! Girl, those BN jumps look big right now. Did this person purposefully skip the very lowest levels of our sport? The levels that run multiple divisions in nearly every event and help pay for the judges, venues, secretaries etc etc etc? I like to think not…

I have told myself for years that getting to Novice would be really eventing, but the truth is, a couple of weeks ago, me and my horse went to compete three times in three different phases. And we were competent and competitive in each phase. To me, that is eventing.

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And you know what? I had FUN! By Sunday, I was eyeing the BN XC fences with excitement instead of anxiety. (May still thinks it would have been WAY MORE fun to “gallop” through the mud over the bigger fences.)

So I look my own doubts head on, and I remind them that being an eventer and a horseperson means showing off your horse to the best of your abilities in that moment. My choice to run Starter doesn’t need any explanation beyond the choice to set myself and my horse up for success. In fact, it needs FAR LESS explanation then anyone who pushes their horses up the level without proper fitness or training.

Moral of this story? Do right by your horse, and the eventing community will always support you.

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Worst Accident I’ve Witnessed

First of all, thank you for all the comments regarding yesterday’s post. Hope you all enjoyed some April Fool’s Day Fun. 🙂

In the nearly 25 years I have spent around horses and in barns, I have witnessed many people fall off. From green horses having green moments to finished horses having serious opinion issues to the stuff that falls under the category of “stuff happens.”

This weekend, I witnesses one of the scariest accidents I have seen in a long time, and it definitely fell under the “stuff happens” category. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, I was riding in the indoor with 2 other riders. One was on her upper level Dressage horse and the other was riding her green, but lovely hony (not sure if he actually measures under 15h, but he’s adorable).

Down the center of the arena was a line of trot poles. The sides of each trot poles were raised in those ikea potty training things:

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These dudes

So the poles were barely off the ground. They weren’t painted poles, but they were a light brown against the super dark brown/almost black footing of our indoor.

As May and I came down the long side of the arena, preparing to run through our Dressage test for this weekend, I heard the poles clatter, and May pretty much exploded. Now, my first thought was “you’ve heard poles scatter before, May. You actually occasionally do that yourself.”

However, when she spun around, I heard the screaming and saw both horse and rider on the ground. The horse seemed stunned and was laying on the rider’s left leg and the rider yelled and shoved at the massive horse on her.

I kicked my feet out of my stirrups and scrambled out of the saddle. I could see from the white in May’s eyes that she was completely freaked by this. I pulled the reins over May’s head just as the horse regained her feet and got up. The other rider in the ring with us was also off and closer to the rider.

I pulled May over to the stunned horse and grabbed her reins before she could think about taking off. Our indoor is open at both ends, and I know how dangerous it can be for a scared and stunned horse to just take off. The rider was trying to get up, on her hands and knees, and I couldn’t tell if she was genuinely hurt or just really shocked.

I walked both her horse and May around the arena for a while, noting the initial stiffness in the mare’s left stifle. Luckily, it seemed to abate a bit as she moved. Once she had calmed down a bit, her rider was back on her feet. I rolled up the stirrups of the saddle (May’s ground manners really have come a long way), and offered to untack the mare for her.

Overall, she seemed sore, but not seriously injured. The other woman in the arena is a magnawave tech, so she offered to come over and treat both horse and rider and to check in on her. While the accident could have been so much worse, it is always a bit unnerving to see such a big accident from a well schooled pair doing a fairly simple exercise.

At this point, I have to ask, was it a full moon last week?! Pat your ponies people and always wear your helmets!

Jump Dysmorphia

Is this a thing? I think it’s a thing. Hold on, let me explain.

During my lesson this week, I was convinced the jumps were HUGE. Ok, not huge, but “a good size”. That they required effort from my little horse, an accurate ride, and that they needed a healthy dose of respect.

Then, I saw these photos:

Do you know what I see? some pretty small jumps… Not that I shouldn’t aim to ride them properly but… less than ideal distances, lines, and pace wouldn’t cause us to crash or have any significant impact on May’s confidence. It would just make them ugly.

Somehow, my brain had convinced me that I had something to fear from these jumps, from this course. As I made my way to start each round, I felt my chest tighten and my legs go weak. Even know, I can feel that drowning feeling that I get before any show jumping round.

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Baby Jump – Major heart attack. 

Right now, I am coping by doing the following:

  1. Leg on. Always. Having pace bails me out of a lot of issues, so I ride forward… almost to a fault at this point, since a couple of distances on Tuesday would’ve been fine if I had just sat pretty. Luckily, my internal metronome hasn’t gotten slow on me.
  2. Riding with a neck strap. This lesson, I made the decision to ride with my neck strap. I promised myself that, if I started to feel the UNDYING need to pull, I would just hold onto it. I will say that I am a bit proud of not grabbing it.
  3. Getting media. I think this helps. It puts everything in perspective. And, honestly, it helps me remember. When I get this nervous, I go blank. My memory goes BLACK. I remember showing as a junior and not remembering ANYTHING about a course as soon as I finished it. I was never the brave kid hahaha. That being said, I should break the habit of going back and watching the whole thing in slow-mo, so that I can judge every millisecond of myself.
  4. Getting Regular Lessons. I will say that this was like my third jump lesson since the beginning of the year so… I am not doing great on this front, but I am doing better. Tuesday nights are officially my lesson night now, and I don’t see any reason for us to miss our next couple of weeks of lessons before our show. Both of them will be jump lessons. The Dressage stuff I can polish up a bit myself. (which is hilarious to me as my entire foundation is H/J)

But I really want to move past the management of these feelings and hopefully banish them away for good. Any recommendations of good sports psychology books or things that have helped you?