I took my time stepping up into the saddle. The little red mare eyed me placidly. I had every reason to believe things would be okay once I was up but I have had all those reasons fly south before in hot nano seconds of misjudgment and I had way too much going on to risk getting hurt.
I finally put my foot in the stirrup, bend her a little so if things do go bad I have an idea what direction they will head for and it’s cowgirl up. As I settle in, the mare shifts slightly under me.
I’ve been riding horses all my life. At this point I’d been a professional horse trader slash trainer for some 15 odd years. That first few seconds on a horse’s back can quite often tell me everything I need to know. This mare shifted, settled and waited for me in a way that only the very brokest of the broke will know to do. I couldn’t believe what I was feeling. She didn’t lie, either, Penelope was a broke beast with a heart of gold.
Royal didn’t lie either. He leaped, spun, skittered and twirled but he did not lie. Every so often amidst all that, he would show me a stride or two of pure brilliance. Moments so sane and brave I’d almost get lost when he’d immediately become terrified again of an odd colored leaf or the wind whistling by a road sign.
In search of finding that sanity, those brilliant moments, I hauled him to a Peter Campbell clinic. Rather than ride Foundation with him, I took an offer from the NHS to start one of their rescue horses with Peter. What an opportunity!
That put Royal and I in the far more advanced class Horsemanship 1. A friend of mine noted us as being “high headed and unpredictable.” My first thought was, yeah and you should have seen my horse!
Point being, I know what broke feels like. I know broke and sane, and I’ve had my share of terribly troubled.
Peter is maybe not the first person I heard say that the mental change occurs in me before my horse even has a chance but he’s the first one that’s shown me how it matters not just in horsemanship but in life all over. You cannot be one person at the barn and someone else all those other places.
If I am scatter brained and inconsistent, what can I expect from my horse? If I have no discipline, no respect for myself or others, what are any of my results going to be, not to mention the ones reflected back in a 1000 lb mirror?
Riding with Peter has opened my mind to listening to my teachers even if I don’t understand where they are going or the point they are trying to make. I am a skeptic by nurture and I began as skeptical of Peter as I am everyone else. Not that I hadn’t seen a lot of good things happen auditing his clinics but just because you can do it does not in any way guarantee I can. Special, you know.
I’ve gone down enough roads with Peter, and Trina, to have decided they are worth my trust and I am worth theirs. Taken the same risk with my corporate boss in my day world. Suddenly I am listening to people, taking instruction and my life has become fuller with people, new friends and family than it has been in a very long time.
A couple weekends ago, some of those new friends from the barn Royal lives at now and I ventured off to the Shaggy Horse Dressage Show in Lincoln, NE. This is the short term goal we’ve been working toward taking lessons with Becky Parker.
Setting goals at the beginning of the year is nothing new for me. I set a lot of them and weed out, pare down as money and time allows. The show was important to me for a lot of reasons. A commitment, something to follow through a process, and a chance to get my horse and I out in the world and see how we measure up in our new discipline if we play for real.
If you follow us on Facebook you would think it was an Olympic try out as much as I have gone on about our weekend. Baby-ist of baby steps is what it was. Intro A and B.
Walk/trot only, not even a single canter transition. I asked Becky what she thought I should try for our first show and she said pick the one that looks so easy it’s boring.
When I first looked at the tests, that’s what I thought. Walk some, trot some, a couple circles, straight lines, halts. What’s so tough about that? Hah! Try riding those with precision, geometry, rhythm, relaxation, proper position, posting on the correct diagonal with consistent elastic contact (on a horse who once went straight to funky town any time I put pressure on his face). As in all things horse and worthwhile, it’s not as easy as it looks.
All weekend a calm eyed happy horse greeted me when I arrived at his stall. The hydrated hay bales we were introduced to when I won one at the CTR last year have solved our drinking problem. Well, his anyway. He slurped up his bucket the first night and drank half his water.
In my overwrought nervous state, I reversed my Friday and Saturday ride times and missed my first ride, Intro A. My stomach sank and it was all I could do to not sit down and cry when I got the news. My horse, all braided and tacked up, me in my fancy duds . . . and nowhere to go.
I’d just been busy telling a young friend of mine that sometimes life will hand you lumber and you just have to build a bridge and get over stuff. Now it was my turn, once again, to practice what I preach. It was a throatful, let me tell you. I took some deep breaths, said, okay, that’s just the way it goes and moved on.
Thanks to Rachael and Becky, the show allowed me to ride the test later in the afternoon.
Warming up earlier that morning I had no idea what I would find in my horse in the busy arena. Lots going on, energy was high and I could hardly breathe. Thinking about it now, my shoulders are tight remembering. As he does these days, Royal cuddles up to the block and welcomes me aboard. No nerves from him until I share some of mine . . .
About 100 people told me to relax. Becky too. She told me to stop forcing a form that wasn’t natural, to just sit and ride my horse. I tried, I did. All that anxiety that I carry around anyway formed a tight band in my brain and descended into my body. What I thought was at least a little bit loose looks pretty tight in hindsight. Explains a lot.
The best moments of relaxation were found hanging with my barn friends. We parked our chairs in the aisle, and hung out. We cheered and encourage one another in our rides, and Kenzie braided manes, equine and human alike.
Our test went okay, I knew there were no really great moments like I have been catching glimpses of in our practice rides but nothing terrible happened either. I had a very decent score for a first time ride. Not that I knew it at the time as I am very novice at dressage and how they score is very different than anything I have previously encountered.
Rachael encourages me, telling me not to get discouraged at the feedback. “Mostly, they tell you what you do wrong,” she said and that was true to my first ride. I gave them plenty but it was a solid respectable try and I felt the pressure was off for the next one.
Day two, we enter the dressage ring. Just warm up until the bell rings. We practice a couple corners, important they are square not half circles and just broke into a trot and it’s the bell.
Kenzie, called my test for me (she and her dad, Gene and Jess got these great photos too!) Her voice, clear and concise directed me from one exercise to the next. Coming into my circle to the right I am encouraging Royal to extend his stride and really move forward. He interprets it as a canter request and breaks gait. I sit back, bend him slightly into the circle and he’s trotting again.
There were moments in that test where we felt completely united. Just like there were moments, standing with him in his stall, his neck happily curling around me, partners enjoying one another’s company on yet another grand adventure.
Those moments of brilliance from Royal are now so close to the surface, if I can be handy enough they are there to tap. That is what it is about, me getting somewhere close to being able to accept what my horse has to offer instead of continually impeding and getting in the way behind my preconceived ideas of what might or should possibly happen.
It’s not about ribbons, test scores or even the wonderful comments I hear from my friends these days about how my horse has come such a very long way. He has, and I love that other people can now easily see what I used to feel for a split second at a time but that was enough to know it was in there.
Looking at the pictures and the videos, I can see how his fussiness comes directly from my stiff spine and iron shoulders. I’ll be better next time and so will he.
We had a lovely score, that ride. Gave us a blue. Not a large class, again but the score would have stood on it’s own against quite a few.
My Riding Center friends that showed had a lot of success too. Greg Queal who operates the Riding Center now for his mom, Sally, came away with Training Level Reserve Champion. My friend Jess and her Jedi gathered up a colorful handful of ribbons as well.
The judges write notes on the score cards. They are invaluable aids and I plan to keep mine forever. Especially the second one.
“Lovely horse with some very nice moments. Needs to soften over the back and steady into a soft contact (read TERRI needs to soften . . .) LOTS (underlined twice) of potential!”
Yep. I am completely stoked. The compliment is to my amazing horse, Peter, Trina, Becky, Colleen, and an incredibly long list of of dear friends, even my boss at work because without them, I would never have made the mental changes that’s given Royal a chance to make his.
Can’t wait to see where this goes but awful happy where it is!