Thursday, June 14, 2018

Derby Weekend: Day Two

You would think that a sport like cross country would be a sketchy choice for a confirmed anxious rider. I mean, galloping over uneven terrain at solid jumps takes a certain level of insanity confidence and hopefully skill?

As I have neither skill nor confidence, what exactly am I doing?

To be honest, I am having a blast when I'm out there. And at starter level 2'3" jumps it is pretty okay not to have much skill. Really, just point your horse at the little log and even if it doesn't go well, at least your horse can just walk over it if all else fails.

Blurry screen shot but definitely smiling!
So going into Sunday's derby I was feeling pretty optimistic (perhaps even hoping to be a little competitive!). Well, that was until dressage.

We warmed up rather well and I was feeling kind of excited. This would be Shiraz's very first judged dressage test. My goal wasn't lofty -- just try to find a good trot and concentrate on correct test. As we began walking around the outside of the dressage ring for our turn though, things unravelled quite quickly. The temporary ring had been set up tucked into the corner of the cross country field next to the trees. The wind was blowing and the branches were making usual branches-in-the-wind noises. Shiraz seemed pretty sure the forest was full of bears. She started prancing on the spot and I began to struggle to get forward and up seemed like a possibility. Then we came around the corner (still outside the arena trying to do the usual lap before the bell) and in her prancy state she decided people in lawn chairs trying to watch some dressage were actually wolves about to eat her alive. As she unravelled I just could not. I hopped off before it got any worse and scratched from dressage.

In a slow walk of shame, I led her back to my trailer and deliberated over whether I should scratch xc too or just hope for the best. I waivered a few minutes but heck, I was here. I knew xc would probably be okay. I was going to do the thing.

Coming in hot! ...or mildly lukewarm, lol!
I had entered two starter rounds of xc. The first went really well, but we trotted quite a bit in the beginning. She handled every jump really well and galloping cantering slowly up the hill to the final jump and finish line, I was just so pleased with Shiraz and glad I had made myself do it. Our second round was even better and we were able to increase the pace a bit.

After completing the starter courses and seeing Shiraz do so well out there, I can really get a picture of how things will be once we are through this green stage. She is a good horse. I just need to be patient, and pace myself for my own confidence-sake and keep building on what we have.

In my happy place, and I think Shiraz agrees :)
I was considering meandering through this summer without a clear-cut itinerary. To heck with that. I need a plan. Charts, graphs, a support team. All of it. I do better with goals and coaching.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Derby Weekend: Day One

As per usual, our derbies consist of a "meet the fences" practice day followed by derby the next day with dressage and xc. On Saturday the plan was 11:00 a.m. group lesson on the cross country field, then take pony back to the barn and come back for my volunteering slot at 1:00 to paint xc jumps. Unfortunately when I pulled in at 10:00 a.m. I was told my coach had something come up and my lesson would not be until 1:00.

Practicing in the cross ties. Wiggly pony is not amused, but patience is a virtue she needs to learn.

Alrighty then, I really did not want to ride anyways so no big deal. The day was starting out cool with a misty-rain so I left Shiraz in the trailer and headed off to help set up flags for the derby. It was good in the end - I got my mind off being anxious for a bit, although I was wearing my paddock boots and half chaps and they were soaked through in no time.

It mostly stopped raining by lesson time. I had saddled up and lunged Shiraz by the time everyone else in my group arrived. They all rode their horses down the hill to the second field while I led my pony following behind. Coach was fantastic assessing the situation even though I said I was doing great with a big smile plastered on my face. She gave the group a talk about not leaving any horse behind, to be mindful of other riders, aware of green horses and buddying up when we change locations.

Look! It's Savvy on a distance ride! <3 Her new owner sent me this yesterday. She is doing really well with her new job and her owner loves her. How could she not though right?!

Shiraz has not had much experience riding with other horses and she gets occasionally worried about other horses coming towards her. It is especially worse when a horse is cantering near her - she will do this little on-the-spot freak out and scoot sideways. At one point a rider came up too close behind us and she kicked out at them. I gave her a firm whack with my crop for that one. Ugh, mare.

As I kind of expected (and really hoped for), Shiraz settled nicely once we started jumping. We covered just about every starter jump out there and she never hesitated. It felt fucking fantastic. We even went through a deep ditch which a lot of the other horses were having trouble with.

By the end of the lesson, I was feeling much better about the derby, heck really about riding in general and my future with this horse. Perhaps I might just eke out a bit of fun this weekend after all? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Getting off the bus of struggles

I'm sort of in a downward slide confidence wise. I have been out every day since I moved Shiraz to the new barn and most of those visits involved a lot of trying to talk myself out of being nervous.

The outdoor arena is great and should be no big deal. Shiraz is actually doing quite well. She is only a little up, but can relax and walk with a long stride or stand still (which never happened once the entire time at barn#1). In the trot though she gets very up and is thinking 'canter now?' the entire time.

But the problem is not her. Its me. My last ride was completely uneventful and Shiraz obliged with walk/trot circles and over poles without any spooks at all. Except the entire time my heart was pounding out of my chest.

Really I know I just need to rebuild the good experiences to tip the scale back in balance. There were a lot of stressful moments riding-wise these past few months with Shiraz showing some serious ninja moves during spooks. I also know from past experience that stress from my life usually spills over to cause riding anxiety, and ya, things have been pretty stressful.

Proof to myself that I can toodle around a xc field and live <3
But I also have the great experience at last month's derby and I am holding onto that like Dumbo's feather. I have the next derby this weekend. Currently I cannot even walk/trot circles in an arena without total panic. I am kind of just hoping it all falls together though like it did last time? Shiraz is a really good girl. She loves to jump. Yes, I might ruin her but I am trying really hard not to.

I almost decided to cancel my entry in the derby, but... I know it doesn't take much to tip my confidence back in a more positive direction. A few great jumps on the xc field can go a long way for making me remember I can ride and that riding is fun. So, I am making a plan to halt this downward slide.

First, I need to remind myself just how green Shiraz is and how amazing she is doing already. Comparisons are my friend in this case; it took me two and a half years to get Savvy and myself to the point of being able to go to a derby. Shiraz went to her first derby 10 months into training under saddle and killed it.

Second, I have to try and focus on positives in training and remember how great it is to work on the details and problem solve while riding. I'm so caught up in being mad at myself for being nervous that it translates into frustration and disappointment. I am going to try to acknowledge my fear but then redirect my thoughts to actual training. If I am stuck at the walk because of anxiety, then I'll just work on something at the walk and make it the best walk it can be (and fix my position while I'm at it).

Well, that is what I'm hoping to try today anyways. :)

Avoiding Rabbit Holes

The drive to Shiraz's boarding barn has been accompanied with an all too familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. Shiraz can be a va...