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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I had one of those huge mental breakthroughs that doesn’t happen very often but when it does you sort of feel like a rock star. I looked at a 2’9 fence and it didn’t look big. I won’t say it looked small but it looked manageable and as we cantered towards it I felt so much confidence that Gus and I had it.
Which we did.
This is the first time in almost three years that 2’9 has looked manageable or that I’ve gone over one without wanting to throw up before and afterwards. In fact, now that I’m writing this, I’ve realized that lately I’ve been going around courses and I’ve been breathing (you can even hear it in my videos). It may be very heavy breathing but it’s there and I don’t feel the same anxiety as I used to.
I know in the grand scheme of things, 2’9 is not all that big. I know that I still have a long way to go until I’m comfortable jumping an entire course of 2’9 – 3’ jumps.
But you know what? Who cares about all of that? I jumped 2’9 the other day and I am amazing.
There was a week or so in January that Jack was off so I had one last lesson on Dandy. Going in to it, I wasn’t sure what to expect but it ended up being both very productive and a really good lesson. Lessoning on Jack had improved my riding a ton in just a few weeks and that really helped me when I got on Dandy.
He still had his moments but because my seat was more secure and my hands softer, I was able to push through and avoid any major tantrums. It was such an empowering lesson, knowing that I could handle Dandy if I had to. I pretty much expected to not ride him again once I made the decision to sell, I didn’t see the need to put myself through any of his antics. But I’m glad I did. I think it helped close the book.
Being on both Jack and getting back on Dandy has given me a new confidence going into a new horse. I can’t afford something completely made, and I certainly can’t afford a Jack(!), but I feel confident finishing a lightly started or let down OTTB again. I just have to find with a more amateur friendly mind.