When I was in college, I made this ridiculous statement: “I want to ride for the U.S. Equestrian Team by the time I’m 35.” It was ridiculous, because at the time, I was 22; I lived in a state where Eventing was a foreign word; and I was, for the most part, self-taught. Oh, and my bank account stayed closer to $0 than $10,000.
Fast forward a decade, and here I am, still riding Eventing, but no closer to riding for the USET than I was 10 years ago. Why? There are a lot of reasons, but it essentially boils down to the fact that it was an unrealistic goal. It’s okay to have grand aspirations, but unless you set very realistic, achievable goals, you will never succeed. It’s unfortunate that it takes some of us longer than others to realize this, but I had a slight epiphany the other day that made me grateful for what I have accomplished so far. (Incidentally, I feel it necessary to mention I still have every intent of competing at Rolex one day–but my goal is to do this by the time I’m 50.)
Johnny is a very talented OTTB who, like a lot of former track horses, brings a lot of mental baggage with him on every ride. I’ve owned him three years now, and we’ve only made baby steps. And, I am okay with that. I had to remind myself that I am not Buck Davidson, Phillip Dutton, or Karen or David O’Connor. I’ve not ridden hundreds of problem horses, I’ve only ridden several dozen. And, for the most part, I’m still mostly self-taught. As a wife and mother, I have to balance my eventing budget with our household budget. Most of the time my lesson budget is non-existent if we want to pay Johnny’s board, our mortgage, auto payments, etc. So, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not going to progress as quickly as I’d like. All the same, I’ve not given up. I keep my knowledge level current by auditing lessons, reading training articles, riding lots of different horses, and teaching lessons.
While riding Johnny this week, we got about two strides of this really awesome canter. I felt him reach waaay underneath himself, lift his front end, and truly carry himself. It was a canter pirouette quality canter. For two strides. I could have been disappointed that we only got two strides, but I was so pumped! Getting a track pony to think ‘carry’ from the haunches instead of ‘pull’ from the shoulders, is always ground-breaking. Lately, I’ve been focusing on achieving little moments, then trying to stretch them out as long as possible. For my above or behind the contact OTTB, I really focus on getting him out there in front of my leg, so as soon as I feel him really step into the contact, I focus on trying to maintain that. If we get a step or two of lengthening instead of sewing machine trot, I pay close attention to how we got there and try to replicate it. I make goals as I ride depending on how he’s going; I used to say, “Today we will work on our canter transitions.” Then, I’d get in the saddle and realize Johnny wasn’t mentally capable of working canter transitions–we needed to school rhythm and relaxation at the trot that day. These days, I make a plan A and a plan B depending on how my horse feels. If I was a top-level trainer/rider working towards a short-term goal of making it to my next 3* in a few weeks, I suppose I’d have to increase the pressure. But, since my goal is to take Johnny to Prelim when he’s good and ready, we can take it one step at a time. And you know what? Since I stepped back and looked at it that way, we’ve made more progress than when I tried to push him too fast. The moral of this story? Step back and evaluate your horse from an objective perspective. Are you pushing him/her too fast or not enough? Have you made realistic goals, or are your lofty ambitions getting in the way of progress? Above all, are you and your horse having fun? If not, you’re definitely wasting your time. Have a great ride!!