Iliado and I

Iliado and I

Hello HJU readers! Happiest New Year!!! I hope that 2015 arrived safely for you and that you are all stoked for what will (hopefully) be a wonderful year.

As the clock stuck twelve and January first was thrust upon us, I couldn’t help but feel overcome with excitement about all the great things planned for 2015. I really, truly think that this year will be an incredible time for learning new skills, taking risks, making friends and striving for excellence. So, to kick off the year I will be sharing the 3 key things that 2014 taught me in preparation for 2015.  I hope that you learn from them as they are so important in the development of horsemanship skills.

1. The colour of the ribbon is not a representation of your skills

Really. I know everyone says this but I truly mean that. Before 2014 I would have never been happy with anything below a third place finish. I would tell myself that nobody cares about who finished second and that the only one who matters is the winner. But you know what? It’s not true and that attitude, I now realize, was incredibly obtuse. Because I know that if I had a push-button Grand Prix schoolmaster I could go into the FEI ring and win a junior class. But I would way rather finish with a pink or gray or purple ribbon on Iliado because I know that we earned that. So when I look at my bedroom wall and see that green ribbon that we got at North Americans, to me it doesn’t represent a loss anymore. It represents all the hard work that went in to earning a chance to compete at a big show. I am grateful to 2014 for teaching me to stop focusing on getting a red or blue ribbon and start focusing on trying our best.

After the experiences that 2014 gifted me with, I am being completely truthful when I say that a first place ribbon is not a measure of how good a rider you are because what really matters is your growth as a horseperson and as an individual. So, I ask all of you competitors out there one thing this year: Please don’t ever get down on yourself because you didn’t win a red (or blue in the US) ribbon. It isn’t what is truly important. Try to always remember, no matter how big and prestigious shows are, that not focusing on placing first, but focusing on improvement, is the actual key to success.

2. You’re only competing against yourself.

It’s true. In 2013, 2012, 2011 and before I would stare at the list of placings at shows and only view my results in relation to other riders’. My goal was always to beat my competitors and to win, not to do my best. But 2014 really changed my attitude because I realized that there is always going to be someone better than me: someone with a better horse; someone with more experience; someone with more talent or ambition. I realized that if my only goal is to defeat others, then I would never be satisfied because it is impossible to always lead the victory lap.

The international shows really taught me this because the calibre of riders and horses increased dramatically, as you can imagine, and I regularly faced much stiffer competition. And although I am a very competitive person and I truly wanted to win, I felt satisfied with even the rides that I didn’t earn a top placing. I came to understand that a good ride is not measured by the people that I defeat or lose to, but my whether or not I beat myself.  So in 2015, I will never tell myself that I need to beat another person, I will only try to keep upping my game and developing better and better horsemanship skills, quality of rides, and thus scores,  because in the end the only thing that matters is working hard to improve your own skills and be the best horseperson you, not you in relation to others, can be.

Iliado and I during the freestyle championship at NAJYRC 2014

Iliado and I during the freestyle championship at NAJYRC 2014

3. Mutual trust trumps everything.

I think I learned this on the day of the freestyle at NAJYRC. Any of the other juniors who rode their freestyles then will agree with me that it was a really hectic and nerve wracking day. As the event horses splashed across the Head of the Lake and shook the ground with their thundering hooves, the dressage horses’ nervousness heightened – some to the point of uncontrollability. Some horses could not even get in the ring, many had trouble executing their tests because they were all so scared.

I was pretty sure it was going to end in disaster for Iliado and I, as our warm up was filled with wild gallops, bolts and tension. And even though I was scared too I knew I needed to be a leader for Illy, so I tried my best and that’s when he finally calmed down. That’s when I realized that as long as he trusted me it all would be okay, but I had to trust him too because we’re a team. And a team can’t communicate and unify if the members don’t trust each other.

Remember – harmony is a collective criterion in dressage, and therefore, trust and faith in one’s equine partner is of utmost importance. How can we really be understanding the fundamentals of our sport if we don’t train ourselves to trust our horses, and have our horses trust us? Well, we can’t. I think that all dressage riders have an important responsibility to uphold the integrity of our sport by really grasping the cruxes that are responsible for all the beauty and appeal of it. And trust is a big part of that. So in 2015, if anything ever goes wrong, I have to believe in Iliado and believe in our partnership because if we trust each other, anything is possible!

Alex