Monday morning already! Clutching the covers around me before getting up I see moments of the four days we spent at the Dressage Finals Show flash through my mind:
Cherry-Cherry Cola quivering with anticipation as we tacked up for a schooling ride on Thursday afternoon. “I came to a show! I love to show! Let’s go!” If horses could articulate their feelings, these are what I believe Cherry would be thinking. She’s been a show horse for many of her 24 years and always is energetic and enthusiastic. No fussing, no fears, no worries! Just get on and let’s go!
Cherry standing perfectly still as I braid her mane before our first test on Friday. She knows that braids mean “show ring” and the sooner the braids are complete the sooner we go into the ring. Our test that day is in the outdoor grandstand arena, on a beautiful fall afternoon with the sun shining and the air cool and clean. Cherry trots around with a spring in her step and we enter at A, ride up the center line and salute the judge. We’re on!
We decide to have a practice ride Saturday morning with the hope of raising our score that day. The judges on Friday commented that Cherry’s shoulders weren’t up enough and she wasn’t collected. OK, let’s try to fix that. With coaching from Stephanie, I flex Cherry’s jaw left and right, work on getting her more responsive to my aids, and carrying more weight on her hindquarters, which is what makes her shoulders more up. I feel very positive about the prospects for the afternoon ride. We also go up to the warm up ring on the big hill next to our completion arena that day. I breathe a lot so I am not too tense about the change of location and Cherry seems fine to go along.
A short late-morning rest and then it’s time to get ready. For Cherry, braids that look a lot better this time and a fresh white saddle pad. For me, my white breeches and stock tie and a new bow for my hair. We’re ready. The judge rings the bell to get started and there’s a new faster gear in Cherry all of a sudden. She’s saying “you want to go, I’ll go!” I have memorized the test and know it perfectly, yet we’re going so fast that there were times when the sequence of movements in my mind was a few behind where we were on the ground! Dressage is not about speed, unfortunately, so zooming through the test did not win me any good words from the judge.
I was also at the show in the role of proud owner. My horse Joey was being ridden by our wonderful trainer in two Second Level Finals classes—the regular test and the Musical Freestyle. I wanted Joey to look as beautiful as possible so I spent time grooming him, combing the long feathers on his legs and braiding his long mane into a French braid along the crest of his neck. His tail is a wonder to behold, so I conditioned it, combed it, and braided it to get wavy. When it came time for their rides, I got him ready for Stephanie.
Saturday was the big day for Joey. His regular test Championship ride was in the mid-afternoon, and his Freestyle was in the early evening. We spend only an hour or two out of each day riding and many, many more hours getting ready to ride and cleaning up after a ride. Stephanie was also riding her own horse Alex late Saturday night and I helped her get ready. By the time the Awards ceremonies were over and we made our way to the hotel it was close to 11:00PM and I was exhausted.
Thinking about the low scores I had already received, how exhausted I was and the 8:30AM ride I had for Sunday morning, I was tempted to scratch that test. To tell the truth, I was also feeling more anxiety due to the fast pace of the ride on Saturday. I wasn’t going to fall or hurtle out of the ring, but Cherry had definitely decided on the speed and ignored my efforts to moderate her. Could I get her to listen to me? I didn’t know.
And that challenge is what got me up at 6:15 in the morning, over to the barn at 7:00 and on her at 8:00. I was going to warm up with her and Stephanie was going to help me manage Cherry so that she went when I asked her to and she slowed or stop when I asked her to—no matter what. As we were walking to the warm-up ring Cherry started to jig and I halted her with insistence. She stopped for a few strides, then started jigging again. Once more, I halted. After the third time, she relaxed her head and neck a bit, a small sign of submission, and I felt better. During the warm-up I asked her for everything and then I asked her to stop. She did so better and more quickly each time. By the time we went into the competition arena and rode down the centerline, I had my horse responsive to my aids and my confidence had risen a bit.
We trotted in, saluted and began the test. My movement-by-movement mental picture and our physical presence on the ground were in sync. We were showing the more challenging geometrical movements in a recognizable way. And then, when I needed a whoa before a go, I got the whoa—and a reinback! We finally transitioned to the canter as required and rode better again, until the next time I needed a whoa—and she gave me a complete stop before the go.
Although the score on this test was at the same low level as the ones before it, I feel very good about the ride. I needed to believe—and she needed to accept—that I could moderate her speed at will. Without that we could not get better at the specifics such as collected trot and canter, medium trot and canter and medium and free walk. Each of these gaits and the transitions within the gaits requires a horse that is attentive to the rider’s correct aids. Now that I’ve experienced my own success at moderating her gaits, I can adjust my application of the aids so she responds but doesn’t stop.
Monday morning and now I’m up and ready to go myself! That’s what facing a challenge does for me. There is nothing in my work or personal life that is as physically challenging as dressage and a horse that’s got lots of go. And yet everything in my personal and business life is about facing challenges, figuring out how to address them, and being able to evaluate each effort in order to apply the right amount. Having successfully met the challenge of Cherry-Cherry Cola, I am ready to meet my clients, put myself out there for others to find and deliver results. Different clothes, different judges, same person!
How about you? What challenges do you face at home and at play? How do your responses to those challenges boost your self-esteem? The connection may not be obvious, yet if you look you will find it. Instead of looking for inspiration in popular culture, look for inspiration within. It is there and finding your own best self will lead you to your personal success.