The ride home from a horse show is always a long one. Some days you find yourself grinning stupidly as you anxiously await getting back to the barn to tell all your friends about the amazing day you had, and others you practice your explanation of the day until you have it memorized, making yourself promise not to cry as you dread the return to eager, smiling faces.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such a defined mix of both of these emotions on my long car ride home from last weekend’s event.
On paper, it probably looks like something major happened. But Murphy and I actually had a fantastic day. I think the best way to explain is just to give you a brief summary of the day, and then I’ll get back to my reflection.
The day started with a great dressage test. I am so happy with how we have both progressed in this phase- it has just started to become how I ride everyday, and I carry that feel from home, into the warm-up, and straight into the test.
I really understand now that there is no need to be nervous or stress about the test, because you’re really just putting your training to work, just like any other ride at home. It is a HUGE accomplishment for me to be able to say that because, a year ago, people would tell me this constantly, but I didn’t understand how they could make it sound so easy! Trust me, it’s not easy getting there, but once you do, you’ll look back and wonder why you couldn’t have just ridden this way in the first place. I truly think the only way to accomplish that, though, is by going through the experience and riding through the bad tests, as frustrating as that may feel, and slowly but steadily improving so your tests feel no different than how you would ride any other time.
With all that said, I still have a long way to go in the dressage, especially as we start moving up the levels.
Show jumping was awesome! It’s probably the strongest phase for both Murphy and me. I have been working on half-halting him several strides out from of the jump, while still keeping the impulsion, so he can get more balanced distances to the jump. Overall, it was a smooth, fluid round, and much improved from past rounds!
Cross country is something I’ve been working hard on. I lost a little confidence here last year, and that carried over to Murphy. I have been focusing on giving him confidence out cross country by making sure that my position stays strong- my leg needs to stay on and down, my body needs to stay tall, my shoulders need to stay back with a following connection in the reins, and I need to maintain a light seat to the jump. The first four or so jumps into the course, Murphy is usually very sticky and a little unsure, and that’s exactly how he was on course last weekend.
But this time, instead of letting it intimidate me, I rode through it confidently and kept Murphy forward (with half-halts!) to the jumps.
After those first few jumps, Murphy got rolling! Right over the ditch, stream, and up-bank – and then we came to a small log jump at the bottom of a mound. I rode it how I planned to ride it. I got my balanced and small, but still forward, canter so he wouldn’t be surprised when he got to the bottom of the mound. I felt him lock onto the log for a second – but at the last minute he ran out to the left. I have no idea why. I think my line was straight, and Murphy certainly had enough time to see it. He could have trotted over it! Of course, Murphy being Murphy, he came back around and popped right over it.
I wasn’t going to let that get in my head, though, so I kept riding to the next question, a bending line, and he jumped it perfectly. The end of the course offered the opportunity to open up and let Murphy gallop a little, so I did that, and it went great. I was able to balance Murphy while still keeping a forward pace with him jumping out of stride.
He really is incredible to ride. I haven’t felt like that out on cross country in a while- I was smiling ear to ear galloping back home, the wind in my face, feeling totally in control on what should be an uncontrollable animal. I didn’t realize how much I missed that feeling.
So, this sounds like a rewarding day, right? It was, with the exception of one little log.
On the walk back to the trailer after cross country, I found myself in a pretty good mindset about the day. Of course there was a little bit of lingering frustration, as anyone might have. Even though it wasn’t a perfect day, it was still a massive improvement over any competition we have gone to in years past.
But as is the case with most things for me lately, there was a catch.
I knew that we would place pretty well in dressage, because our test felt solid. I had no jump penalties in show jumping. I knew that after cross country we would drop significantly in the scoring because of the runout. That’s what I prepared myself to see on the scores after we packed up and went to pick up my dressage test on the way out.
I immediately saw that we won the dressage (that has hardly ever happened for me!) and stayed in first place after show jumping, so we would have won… if not for that runout on cross country. To make matters worse, the scoring for my division got messed up somehow, so the final scores showed me still in first, with zero jump penalties.
Of course, I told the show office that my score was wrong. They didn’t record my runout. But to be caught off guard by seeing what could have been really plays with your mind.
My excitement and pride were slowly overtaken by frustration and regret, no matter how hard I tried to push them out.
I thought about all the ways I could’ve ridden that fence better. I replayed the now faded moment over and over in my mind to analyze what went wrong in an attempt to have peace of mind.
I also thought about what people would think when they saw a 20 on the corrected scores. It would probably seem like something major happened, even though it was just a small blip in an otherwise positive day.
It’s definitely hard, but I’m still holding onto those feelings of excitement, and I’m trying hard not to overthink anything, because I know that I rode that fence well, and Murphy should’ve jumped it. As my trainer said, “that penalty was on Murphy.”
He seems to not care enough about the smaller fences, but at the same time it feels like he loves to run and jump across the country. We’re just going to keep moving forward with our plans to move up to novice, and see how that goes. He always rides much better over bigger fences, so maybe he just needs to be given something to care about.
I wish I could come up with a more positive and definite ending, but I feel like this story is to be continued.
On to the next horse show!