Thoughts After Pine Top

Normally by now, the week after a show, I’d be knee deep in show recaps and bothering my husband to edit photos (okay, I’m still doing that but only because there are other people waiting) but this show left me with a very different taste in my mouth and it’s taken me a few days to process. Even now I’m not really certain how to feel. I was on the opposite side of the field but I saw the accident out of the corner of my eye and I saw that horse lying on the ground as every free hand went sprinting towards them. And as I watched, knowing what the outcome was long before any official statement was released, I cried. That could have been Gus.

Gus has never been a super star jumper. I’ve complained about it here over and over again. He’s not always careful with his knees. He still jumps over his shoulder if we get a really bad distance. He isn’t naturally brave (though he is willing). There has been some improvement from when I first got him and he does love being out on XC. We’ve run him through grids and chutes and I’m also getting more confident. He is better than he was.

But is better good enough?

I had no plans to go training any time soon (the novice fences at Pine Top were huge, in my eyes, and the training fences even bigger) but this is definitely making me rethink if I want to take Gus training ever. While accidents can still happen at all levels, I am confident that we can handle anything at the novice level or lower out on XC with minimal risk. Not that something couldn’t still happen but then Gus could trip on a trail ride too and I can’t stop riding all together. Riding horses is inherritantly risky.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want to lower it where I can.

I’m not sure at this point what the future is for Gus and I. Everything is as clear as mud right now. Luckily we’re in for a little bit of a break around the holidays so I’ll have some time to think. Gus doesn’t have anything to prove and, more importantly, I don’t either. There’s no rush to move up to training and I have plenty of time to decide if Gus is the right horse to take me up there or not. For now we are going to have fun at Novice and keep the higher heights to the stadium ring.

2017 Tryon Riding & Hunt Club HT – XC

I had just about two hours between dressage and when I had to be on for XC. Two hours to cool down, switch up my gear and get back on. 

Two hours to work myself into a panic. 

As I tacked up Gus, I could feel my stomach tying into knots. My hands were clammy and slipped on the zipper when I pulled on my vest. By the time I made my way to warm up I was shaking and pale and the only reason I wasn’t throwing up was because there was nothing in my stomach. 

I think LT was actually a little worried when she finally saw me. I rode up to her, sucking in deep breaths to try to calm my panic and told her I didn’t think I could do this, that I was having a panic attack. 

We talked for a few minutes but I honestly couldn’t remember what was said and then I started warming up. It was not a good warm up. Gus was fine. I was not. I couldn’t make myself ride boldly and the fences weren’t even that high. Before I knew it, they were calling me on deck and I hadn’t even gone over the oxer. Great. 

I rode back to LT and she said, “Just go out of the start box. Just go over the first fence.” I nodded, my heart in my throat and trotted off. 

The starter counted us down and we came out of the box boldly towards the first fence. And over we went. 

Then we went over fence two. 
Then fence three. 

And all of a sudden, I realized I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was having fun and Gus was having fun. Somehow LT had known. 

Gus flew over the big brush jump without blinking and we soared over the weird horse fence.

And then before I knew it we were through the water and up the hill to the ditch. Gus looked at the ditch so hard he almost didn’t realize we had another fence. But he pulled himself together and gave me a huge leap over it to continue on. 

Gus was flying over these fences like they were little logs on the ground. His ears were pricked and he was having a blast. I was even doing well enough on time that I could open him up and let him gallop through the end of the course.

When we crossed the finish I let out a little whoop of delight and threw my arms around Gus’ neck.  And then I let the tears come. That had, without a doubt, been a test of courage and my emotions were shot. 

Gus didn’t have a care in the world and he strutted back to the barn like he had just won the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t know how hard getting out of the start box had been for me. 

This go around XC taught me more about me and my horse than I had thought possible. It taught me how to find my courage and taught me to trust in Gus. 

And really, I was thrilled I hadn’t packed up my ball and gone home the night before. 

A XC Perspective

It was so awesome to go XC schooling at Poplar. It’s the very first place that Gus and I ran XC at a schooling show. We’ve come a very long way since then. If you’ll remember, I was terrified of a itty bitty little tadpole table. And, okay, they use that table for the BN course all the time but still. It is tiny. Now I see that table out on course and think, what was I scared of?

It’s all perspective, right?

And now that I’ll be running Novice my trainer has to find a way to push my limits and still maintain my confidence. It’s not an easy task but she’s pretty amazing. She has complete faith that Gus and I can do this and that helps give me faith that we can do it too.

For example, once through our warm up there is no easing into higher fences, we start riding the Novice fences right off the bat. It’s almost like she’s not even giving me a chance to over think. Don’t worry. Just do it. And so that’s what I did.

The questions started easy. Single fences, long distances. Slowly we added related distances, tighter turns, more terrain and little courses. I was thrilled that Gus didn’t even peak at the ditch or the drop, even though I was slightly terrified of the later. Each fence and combo under us made me a bit more confident.

A lot of it really is time and the right frame of mind. And, of course, the right horse. Gus is becoming confident too and is much braver than he used to be. He might look at a new or scary jump but he’s also willing now.

So one new fence after another. We’re on our way!

Faking Confidence

I’ve written a lot about my own struggles with confidence on this blog and you all have indulged me by reading and being so supporting each time I do. It has been a long, laborious process. But you know, I think I’ve finally found that sweet spot where I have my confidence but still have a healthy respect for the type of fences I’m asking Gus to go over. They do not fall down so making sure we’re both ready for the next  step is important.

Jump School @ Ashland Farm 3.18.17

New Trainer, also known as LT, told me after our XC schooling the other week that “confident riders are made when they know their horse can move up to a spot and get them out of a tough situation but a confident horse is made from the rider.” Or something like that. I was so high on the great ride that I wasn’t completely listening and I may be paraphrasing a bit, but I get her point.  Because the really miraculous thing is I’m not the only one who is feeling confident and ready to tackle the next step, Gus is too. And I did that.

Cross Country @ Poplar Place Farm 2.11.17

I don’t know if you all remember, but the first time I asked Gus to go over a little cross rail, it was a disaster. Not only did Gus not know where to put his feet (not surprising) there was a complete lack of understanding on why the heck he would be asked to go over a pole and I was generally afraid that he didn’t like it. But I kept on it. I lunged him over poles time and time again. I build a jump chute hoping that maybe if he had some freedom to jump without me on his back it would help (it did not… it was a disaster). And mostly I just kept asking him to go over little jumps anytime the jumps were already set at 12-18 inches. Eventually Gus got the idea and would willing go over the fence as long as I was riding confidently.

Jump School 8.22.15

Only the problem was that I didn’t feel very confident. Gus was not Dandy, which is both good and bad. I know, without a doubt, that Dandy will go over any fence he’s pointed at as long as his rider doesn’t get in his way. Gus does not have that natural confidence. He wasn’t born understanding this like Dandy. At the same time, I stopped trusting Dandy a long time ago so it doesn’t matter whether or not he can jump the moon, he’ll never do it with me on board. But Gus doesn’t know about all that history and he needed me to tell him that jumping was all right. That jumping might even be fun.

Jump School 11.26.15

That’s hard to do when you’re not even sure that jumping is fun. But I had a memory of it being fun and I had a memory of being confident. So I dug down for that memory and held on to it as I faced those fences. Then somehow, at some point, that confidence stopped being just a memory and started being real. And while that was happening for me, Gus found his own confidence.

It’s not over. Training fences still look huge, not every Novice fence is inviting, and I still have to swallow down a little moment of panic when LT goes to move the jump cups up. But I have confidence in Gus and, I think, he has confidence in me now too.

Brave

In posts from my early days of having Gus, you may have heard me say how proud I am of Gus Gus. How brave he is. What a good boy he is on trails. How awesome he did in a crowded warm up.

ChattHills63

Well, that was all true. But what the past two shows and the Elisa Wallace clinic has shown me is that Gus has lost some of that confidence.

It’s gotten so bad that the other day when I was hacking him around the property we walked past a hole in the ground he had seen a million times before. It is literally on the walk to his paddock every day. But today… hic sunt leones! And I swear he almost got me off, the bastard!

ChattHills10

So when I get back from MN and am done with the wedding nightmare, we are back to ground work and desensitizing. Clearly we need to remember how to be brave again.