Ike and Alison at HITS Culpeper, Virginia. Photo by Angelina T.

Ike and Alison at HITS Culpeper, Virginia. Photo by Angelina T.

This past weekend was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting.  Ike and I had our third show of the 2014 show season at the revamped HITS Showgrounds in Culpeper, Virginia.  The show was hosted by the Virginia Dressage Association Charlottesville Chapter.  Ike and I came home with a first, second, fifth, and a six, but not without some tears shed, some aches and pains, and a huge blister on the inside of my right knee where my britches didn’t sit quite right.

Anyone, whether you are a professional sportsman or the amateur competitor, who commits their time, effort and money to the sport that they love, knows how vested you are in the outcome of your dressage test, game or match.  This is why you see 300 pound football players with tears in their eyes when they lose the big game.  The emotional, mental, and physical investment into the sport you love is huge.

You sacrifice in other areas of your life when you commit to the sport you love.  I’ve missed weekends away with friends and family because I’ve been sitting in the barn waiting for my ride time.  I’ve turned down promotional opportunities at work which would mean less time at the barn.  My yard looks like a jungle for most of the year since I’m at the barn rather than tending to the flowerbeds.  The dogs are a bit unruly since I lack the time to take them to obedience classes.  The house is “clean enough” but never ready for a white glove inspection.  I’ve become a budget ninja to fit my horses into my life…and have a credit card on file with the veterinarian which I’m pretty certain helped finance the vet’s latest vacation.  I’m a compulsive list maker to make sure that nothing is forgotten while trying to juggle home, work and barn time.

You feel bad when you fail to succeed.  There are so many people who support you as you pursue this crazy obsession – your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and your horse support network that includes your vet and the farrier.  They miss seeing you since you are atop your horse for yet again another lesson.  They come and cheer for you as you head down centerline.  You want to do well to thank them for their commitment to you.  I know that I wish I could crinkle my nose and disappear after the end of a disastrous test.

The commitment to the training also takes its toll on you mentally.  There are dressage tests to memorize.  There are countless lessons and clinics so that you can become proficient enough to brave the scrutiny of the judge sitting at C.  It is a challenge to learn to coordinate your aids to obtain the movement you want…then you have to do it at least 1000 times the exact same way before it becomes effortless.  Even after 5 lessons in two weeks, I still enlisted help at the show to keep Ike and I focused.  A girlfriend who does competitive dog obedience trials and I noted that our trainers are much like our graduate school professors.  They nitpick the minutia since we are driven to do our best.  They constantly ask us questions and expect quick answers.  We are mortified when we cannot quickly answer since there is no time to deliberate in the show ring.  The answers must become second nature and you must always be thinking one or two movements ahead.  Um, yeah, sure, that is how I ride.  Ha!  There are times that I can barely hold it together for the movement at hand.  “Use your corners to rebalance.”  Right, I’m lucky to steer through the corner without knocking a rail down.

You can’t discuss riding without noting the physical toll riding takes.  I’ve had people note that “How hard can it be?  You are just sitting there while the horse does all the work.”  Yeah, no, how wrong you are.  This is not trail riding on a dead broke trail horse as you play follow the leader down the path.  Riding well enough for competition requires that you have aerobic stamina, core strength, leg strength, flexibility, and lightening quick reflexes.  And while you are sitting up there working your ass off, you should look like you are just along for the ride.  I haven’t quite mastered that part yet.  Smile, I’m told.  Photos show that I grimace while I concentrate.  It is a good look…There is also the fact that I managed to pick a horse I consider to be extremely big and who is very fit.  When I am done riding, I am spent.  It doesn’t get any easier as you move up the levels either or so I’m told.  Good heavens!  I guess I’ll join a gym in my spare time to be able to keep up with my horse.  Besides the physicality of riding a 1200 pound animal, I’ve also got my blisters and callouses, my mystery bruises, achy back, and sore ankles.

In spite of all the challenges riding presents, I would not give it up for anything.  The emotional low of failing to perform as you had hoped only helps you to appreciate the good rides even more.  Saturday was a challenging show day.  We did okay with our Training Level test, but with a huge spook with resulting tension, Ike and I completely botched our First Level Test 3 ride and the 60th percentile was again unachievable. {Insert tears of frustration and embarrassment here.}  The hardest part was the comments from the judge at the end of the test sheet.  [Note to judges = Please try to find a polite way of telling a competitor what they need to work on.  We all didn’t come out of the womb being world class riders.]  I am proud of Ike and I for regrouping on the second day.  We rocked our Training Level test 2 and won the class.  But best of all, we finally crossed the 60% mark for First Level Test 3 with a 65.6%.  It felt like redemption and gave me hope for our future success.

Alison

Total Saddle Fit 600