This guest post was provided by Tanja Arzberger from the www.dressagehafl.com blog. If you’d like to be featured in our Guest Blog Spotlights, please email caroline@heelsdownmag.com.

I do not know whether I would have started this whole dressage journey when somebody had told me earlier that it would be that hard. When I started riding at the age of 10, being able to sit walk, trot and canter seemed like a huge achievement. For years I thought that I knew what I was doing, that walk was walk, trot was trot and canter was canter. That I know rising trot and sitting trot and that’s it. Okay, then we started all the circles and serpentines and yes, I KNEW how to ride them. I was happy. I was sure, I had seen it all. For years.

Then I bought my young Haflinger, Hafl. He was two and a half back then. We literally started from scratch. Groundwork, lunging, breaking. Walk, trot,  canter. We’re good! We started showing, first level, no big deal. Some circles, straight lines, canter departs – it was getting boring. Second level, some more challenges that we somehow managed. I still believed that I was already a pretty experienced rider, knowing ALL about it. Somehow.

We changed trainers in March and moved to her barn in June. Everything changed. Everything. The way I sit, the way I hold my hands, the canter aids, Hafl’s gaits, everything. All new. All different. Wait?! Wasn’t I a good rider before? I mean we somehow managed to come to second level and beyond almost on our own. With mistakes. Many mistakes. And what I did not realize back then was that the farther you move along the path of dressage, the more you will realize that dressage is like an iceberg. You think you have seen it all, the closer you come the more you realize that the biggest part lies beyond the surface.

In fact, that part is huge! All of a sudden, there is a difference in how you hold your left thumb when doing something with your right big toe. At least it feels like that. The more you learn, the more you realize that you had no clue before and that you are such a beginner still. And that this journey probably never ends because there is still a whole iceberg to explore. And there is not only one point when you want to quit. Like me. Over and over again.

hafl1Right now, we are learning flying changes. We meaning Hafl and me. I haven’t ridden flying changes before, he obviously hasn’t learned them before either. Now I have to teach him the aids…aids that I hardly know myself, that I cannot yet properly feel, aids where I have no clue whether I am doing them right. Apart from that, I feel physical difficulties, it really hurts, putting my outer leg way more back. My hips are so stiff. And then there is it, the moment to give the aids… wait, no, not yet, now: half halt, swing one leg back the other one to the front, change of flexion, whip for the hind legs, wait, I forgot to change my seat, weight, turning into the new direction…fail. A cross canter…again. Do it again. Do it again. There it was, a flying change. Could have been a coincidence. On one hand, I feel happy, but the feeling of being such a useless pilot is more overwhelming. I want to quit. I am obviously not good enough. Too many attempts fail, I would expect every attempt to work out. It takes time, they said. You will learn, they said.

And still, it feels frustrating. It hurts. It challenges my patience. I want to quit. Quit dressage. Go for hacks. Go for bareback saddle rides. But for how long? Where is the challenge? Where is the feeling when you succeed in something for the first time? The pride you feel? Sure, I could do it for a month or two but then I would be bored. Because I am a competitive rider. I want to improve. I want to learn. I want to see more of the iceberg. I know it is not easy and I know that I want to stop. But I also know that I WON’T because no matter how difficult it is, the journey is the reward.

Remember when we first started shoulder ins? When it felt all awkward and difficult, like you would never like that movement? Did we quit back then? No, we didn’t and endless repetitions later, we feel confident. Doing shoulder ins feels like an easy movement, it feels comfortable now. Sure, there is still the details under the surface that we can improve to get an 8 for this movement but we are not afraid of it anymore, we are not tired of trying, we do not want to quit doing it.

I am approaching this iceberg, no, I am actually already cantering towards it. I am starting to see the huge part below the surface, it is too late to quit. What would it feel like to climb that iceberg? To get over it? To dig deep into the depth to make that specific movement as good as it can get? Wouldn’t you feel good about it? Doing a flying change in a test, swing your leg back, feel your horse dance? Even if it only gets you a 6 – that is more than anyone who is not even trying to get near this iceberg. Knowing that you actually know nothing can be frustrating sometimes, on the other hand, it gives you new opportunities. The way is long but it is worth it. Go, Hafl, let’s try yet another flying change. And another one, and another one… We are just at the beginning and yet have come so far. Do I still want to quit? No, I don’t!

To follow me through all the ups and downs of being an amateur dressage rider dreaming big, go to: www.dressagehafl.com