Would never have imagined a better official tenth anniversary post. It’s a bit tl; but please do read.
‘Are you going to do the eventing?’
Eventing? As in ‘three day’? It was the first I’d heard of it and I had to think twice, to be honest, before I said ‘Yes’. Despite the usual trepidation about doing something horsey I’d never done before, any excuse to be up at the yard is a good one, and I really wasn’t ever going to say no.
Three day eventing is comprised of dressage, cross country and showjumping, and was originally developed to test the cavalry for mastery in all three disciplines. Taken as a whole, it’s daunting, and the variables of each, in terms of riding Connell, were fodder for the sort of mind games I could play to psyche myself out. Taken over three separate weekends, one event each Sunday, there was way too much time in between to get lost in my head — or, if I was choosing to be optimistic, loads of time to focus in my weekly lessons in between disciplines, and psyche myself in.
Dressage: boom. No worries there. In fact, I was keen to show off how good he is at it, how well he listens to the aids, how we actually manage to do this pretty well, together.
Cross country: eh. He has his moments, which do not run on a spectrum but are either 0 or 60. I prefer the latter because we are at least going at speed and I needn’t break a rib trying to get him to go, and I was pretty sure that there was a time factor involved in this aspect — we’d need all the help we could get.
Showjumping: *sigh*. This leg of the competition was bound to be in the upper arena, and we had yet to even get round a course up there, much less me staying aboard. Okay, we were improving in the latter aspect, but despite my intellectual awareness of what was needed to get him to stay a course, I had yet to bring this to fruition physically.
Ah sure, feck it. What did I have to lose?
We got the test on the Wednesday, to learn by the Sunday. Two years ago, maybe even as little as one, this would have felt utterly impossible. But like anything else, the more you learn a technique the easier it gets. I have a method that has to do with drawing the test out over and over until I ‘know’ it — but knowing it in my mind is not enough. I tried some of the transitions in warming up before my Saturday lesson, and that helped — but the ‘knowing’ comes from the doing. I wouldn’t be doing it until the actual moment on the day.
On the day, everyone was in their proper clothes — jackets, white jodhs, even ties and shite, like the hairnets. Dammit! I have all that stuff but have never worn any of it, because things are generally low key up at the yard. Was I going to lose points for wearing the wrong thing? I was assured I would not, and frankly I hadn’t ever ridden in the jacket and had no idea of how it actually fits in action and wouldn’t want to test it out at the last minute. (Note to self: wear that jacket sometime when actually on a horse.)
I shook it off, and went and groomed Connell, stopping short of trying to plait his mane. I reckoned I could use about half an hour to warm him up. Up in the arena, I felt pretty good: he was awake, aware, perhaps happy to have gotten a good brushing before setting out to work.
The white boundary markers were down, there was a stranger in a Jeep parked at C, the whole thing was utterly official and I managed to be excited by this rather than intimidated. I knew the time for my test but hadn’t bothered to note who was in front of me so I could figure out when I was meant to go. I wanted to make sure we had just enough time to chill before going in, but not so much that Connell (or I, in fairness) would lose focus. At some stage, after doing a bunch of transition and some moves that I thought we might not do so well, it became clear that I could go at any time, so I went.
I introduced us to lady in the Jeep. I brought Connell up to trot, waited for the honk of the horn (my signal to start), got the beep and began.
Well, overall it felt pretty good. We entered, and I thought That entrance was not great, but just kept going, one transition at a time, just went forward into one thing after the next, feeling when something went well, realising when things could have been better, forward, forward until the end, which came as a relief and a paradox: every 20 metre circle felt like it took about 20 hours, but then all of a sudden we were done. Madness.
I got my sheet: 114 out 220, mainly 6.5s and 7s. I also got the insight that what I feel may not match up to what it looks like: I earned a 7 for that entrance, which had felt pretty wobbly. Peeks at other participants’ marks revealed that Con and I were pretty much in the middle of the class; I had hoped to do better, but felt like the pressure was off.
Until showjumping day.
This ought to have been cross country day, but due to the possibility of rainy weather, the showjumping was moved up.
In my Wednesday lesson, we had jumped in the upper arena. Connell ran out once, up the side of the hilly verge at the edge of the arena, and tanked off to the back of the ride. I stayed on, kept him under control, and tried again. We got over the fence. Later, he tried to run out again, I prevented it, we got over, he tanked off, I stayed on, and… yeah. What an amazing confidence-building exercise.
I woke up on the Sunday feeling actually nauseous and I didn’t want to go. What difference did it make if I didn’t continue? I wouldn’t look like an fool, that was for sure. I wouldn’t look like I didn’t know how to ride a horse. I wouldn’t look like I had some nerve even joining in at all. I kept up this equally amazing confidence-building monologue as I dressed, got on the the bus, walked up the laneway of despair to the hill of death… and as much as I hate that quarter mile uphill, it served to get me out of my head, into my body and onto the horse.
It also served to help me start repeating different thoughts. I am staying on that horse today. Connell and I are going to get round. If I have to take him down to walk in between each fence so he doesn’t tank off, I will do that. I am going to stick to the 70s and stay the course. One fence at a time.
I am going to ride this course one fence at a time.
I walked the course with another rider, went and got Connell, warmed up, popped a few fences. There weren’t too many other participants up in the arena, but we got cracking anyway. I went third. Leg on, head up, heels down, canter, fence one, two, three… He wasn’t fighting me and after a while, maybe around the sixth fence, I didn’t feel the need to bring him down to trot after every element… we went clear through the first round and went for the second, a repeat of fences one to six — and I got into my head before fence three and tried to prevent him running out even though he’d given me no indication he was going to, and he knocked it — but we got over the last three, only four faults, the first time he hadn’t managed to get me off, put in a dirty stop, run out of a fence. We got round, and while I berated myself a bit for that fallen fence, as far as I was concerned, it had been a triumph.
Somebody said, ‘Well done, Sue!’ and I babbled a bit about how this was the first time we’d got round and they said, ‘Yeah, but you’re also in fourth place.’
Whaaaaaaaat. I immediately took a picture of the standings and Insta’d it. If this was as far as I got, I couldn’t have been more pleased.
Woke up feeling not quite as nauseous because we’d gone out into the fields the day before in my lesson (yaas); got a lift halfway up the laneway of despair, felt pretty good… then saw that there were flags up at the elements in the tyre field, like a proper legit cross country event and got breathless all over again.
I had somehow managed not to Google ‘three day eventing scoring’ throughout the week. Had those four faults knocked me out of the standings entirely? All the other adults went double clear, or only had four faults as well, how would it work, even if they had done the 80s and I had only done the 70s? There wasn’t an updated list… hmm, maybe I needed to concentrate on my course.
I wasn’t going to walk it but realised I ought to because the fence markers were a jumble of numbers and letters. I was going to do the minis which comprised two fields, starting downhill — hate jumping downhill! — in the four jump field into the tyre field and then back to the four jump field, which was now more of a six jump. New logs were down on the ground, and even though I knew to look for the red flag to be on my right, it was helpful to the nerves to have an idea of where I would be going. Anyone in a position of authority was pelted with questions, and one glance at the sheet laying out the fences for the other courses cured me of any notions of doing the midis.
So, the children and I got ready to go. We warmed up in the upper arena, followed the leader down the gate, and went in the order we just happened to be in, in the ride.
Some of the kids looked peaky. ‘I’ve never done this before — gone over these logs by ourselves,’ I said. ‘I’m nervous.’ And the girls exploded with agreement: none of us had ever ridden in the fields basically alone, we all knew how the ponies were, chasing each other, what if we went too fast/what if we went too slow? ‘We are all going to be great!’ I said, and the girls (and I) took a deep breath.
Connell and I were fourth. At the start of the warm up, he felt a bit sticky, a bit distracted by the ponies, a bit bolshy, but I worked through it slowly, mainly because I felt mostly okay. When it was time for us to go after our ‘three… two… one…’, he gave desultory hop over the first log, and then started to trot down the hill after the pony ahead. I wanted to keep him going, but I didn’t want to get up the pony’s butt, so we took it easy — and it became easy. Once we got over the downhill log, it was smooth sailing — he even waited calmly with me until we let the ponies go ahead, and then went from 0 to 60 properly as we trotted through the break in the hedge to fly over the last elements.
‘How’d you do?’ ask the scorekeeper. ‘Clear!’ I replied; I brought Connell down to the walk, patted him heartily on the neck, and the watchers at the gate cheered.
Delirious with relief, I put Connell back up, gave him his well-deserved Pink Lady, and hung around and watched the midis and maxis, standing on the highest hill freezing to death but feeling so well in myself. I had given it a bash. I hadn’t given up. I learned so much: how to gauge how Con and I were doing and how to either do something about it or take advantage of it; how to move forward through something like that challenging pre-showjumping lesson and leave it behind; how to do the thing one event at at time, one transition/fence/log at a time… which is what horseriding is all about, if you ask me. It’s about learning from your mistakes and building on your successes without clinging to either; about moving through the rubbish self talk and overriding it with activity and action; about setting manageable goals and of not over-facing myself due to pride and ego.
After the last rider went, I debated legging it down the hill to the laneway to the bus stop. I put on my rucksack and wondered if I could get a lift from someone, but I was asked if I was leaving? ‘Eh, no?’ I said, and leaned on the windowsill. Everyone had gathered and I guessed that ribbons were being given out? Maybe I got a ribbon?
The first place winner in the minis was announced: me.
I accepted my rosette and trophy, euphoric and humbled. I couldn’t have predicted this and wouldn’t have experienced it if I had based future events on past challenges.
For every fence I fail to get over, I learn how to change something so that my chances of success increase.
For every time I think I may not bother trying, I find myself moving through the thought to take an action.
Next time when I think I have to do a whole thing all at once, I hope I recall this and break the thing down into smaller parts.
Ten years may seem like a long time, but in horse years it equals about a minute. Okay, maybe an hour. Whatever it adds up to, at bottom it’s all about intention. The only intention I had when I got up there on Mercury in 2006 was to stay up and not end up, ignominiously, on the ground. The intention I have now is to keep going forward, forward, forward. And to go double clear in the upper arena*. And from there, who knows? I may even get my own horse one day.
Until then, I’ll just keep showing up, one day, one lesson, one fence at a time. And I’ll keep my trophy in the loo, I think — I hear that’s where Kate Winslet keeps her Oscar.
*Which I did do! And then the next week got decanted onto my face! That’s horses!