Returning to the Show Ring / Birthday Weekend

I’m writing this post Monday morning after an amazing weekend spent returning to the show ring, sans horse show hangover. And the weekend could not have gone any better!

Bless up to all the ladies out there going out to their friends' shows and taking amazing pictures for them to obsess over. Thank you Dani!!!

I was able to do this show as my birthday present, since budgeting is still tight before hubby takes the bar, but I feel like… I want this to be a usual thing for me. It was seriously so fun and the camaraderie with barnmates and the horse bonding (Leo nickered when I arrived Sunday morning!) and my husband came and hung out and videoed for everyone and there was wine and I'm bringing mimosas next time!

Leo was in a GREAT mood, and I was so pleased. He’s had a history of throwing hissy fits in the show ring, or really any time, when he gets too overwhelmed, but he was a v. good boye and got told so many times! Even his little “spook” at the tractor was very small and I easily got him past it in a few seconds.

My goal for the weekend was to 1) have fun without (no nervous breakdowns) and 2) win (I am actually the worst – I know). Both goals were accomplished! I had a secret goal of being the long stirrup division champion, but unfortunately, they did not hand out 5 cent tri-color ribbons for this show. But according to the points and final placings, WE WERE L/S CHAMPION. I might make my own ribbon. So proud of Leo. What a good boy. Really, so many pats and treats were had.

Recap of My Time in The Show Ring:

I did the same course for all three classes Saturday and then a different course three times for each Sunday class. My second rounds were best both days, but that’s usually how our lessons go, too.

Saturday. Was windy (but also made my jacket look real’ fly). I didn’t realize quite how nervous I was until I was in the ring and from the second fence on, chipped every single fence. I came out of the ring and my trainer asked me why I was going so slow and holding him back, and I was like… we were galloping? But I think it just felt like that because the wind was so strong. Leo attempted to have a hissy fit during our third class (eq over fences) about the tractor parked at the end of the ring but it was easy to make him change his mind.

Sunday, we started off the day really well with a first in eq on the flat. Flat classes are always fun with him because he loooves to chase down the ponies, wants to make friends, plus he has a giant stride so it’s both concentrating on myself and my position and “changing lanes” to weave in and out of traffic. My over fences classes also went much better the second day! First class, I made myself give him a loose rein and just let him flow, which is not how I usually ride him. Normally, once he starts jumping he gets very forward and I really have to package him up, but he was in a particularly good mood and kept it together. Trainer said to just check him a little in the lines so that the last stride doesn’t end up looking like an ‘add’ and I ended up second in the next class! The third class I let him pick up the wrong lead (he hates his right lead) but the rest of the course was awesome! It was the $100 open stirrup class though so the kids totally beat out the long stirrup ladies.

All in all, I’d give the show a 10/10, would show again! I am so proud of the rider that my trainers and Leo have made me and the progress we’ve made (really, look at my Vimeo video from last September). Next show, we’ll be tackling the 2’6” hunters and I can’t wait!! 

Barn Wisdom

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  1. Life is better when your schedule is fluid. Returning to riding has brought a whole new meaning of roll with it to my life. Things happen at the barn, horses happen. Lessons run long, trainers have to squeeze in an extra ride, but can also be understanding when you should up half an hour early for night lessons.
    I found out early it's best to not plan something immediately after barn time. If you're in a rush, the horse notices, the trainer notices and your anxiety level becomes apparent and manifests itself, usually in missed distances and forgetting to clean your bridle. I stopped stressing about timelines at the barn a long time ago and it's made a world of difference. Taking the time to give Leo a good groom and graze session after a lesson brings me just as much, if not more, joy than a kick-ass jump school.
     
  2. In the same vein, the barn is a place of escape and calm, so don't ruin it for others. I go to the barn, and I think most people do, for a break from real life. When I'm riding, it takes every tiny brain wave I have to focus on the situation at hand: piloting a 1,500-pound animal over jumps while trying not to meet dirt. Is there time to worry about shitty co-workers or bills or my to-do list when I get home or that asshat that cut me off this morning? Nah. Also, respect that other people think of the barn as their haven—don’t bring yo drama to that environment! 
     
  3. Don't take it personally. People and animals have off days. Trainers and barn mates can have bad days, and unless they explicitly tell you you’re the problem, assume you’re not (good rule anywhere in life). Animals being naughty also aren’t always a reflection of your personality or actions. This lesson was best taught to me by my wild child dog, JD. There’s only so much training and exposure that can change the wiring in his brain. He’s just a talker. He will probably always have a meltdown upon seeing a dog that’s also excited to see him. I don’t take his “misbehavior” personally anymore and just deal with the situation as quietly and kindly as possible. Same with horses. There are times when you can do everything right and still have things go wrong. That’s life.
     
  4. You are your own competition. I ride at a pretty nice barn and, especially growing up, envy was something I struggled with. I’ve since turned my “benign envy” into admiration. There’s a lot of respect to be had for people who’ve had desires, turned them into goals and accomplished them. It’s also impossible for me to objectively compare myself to their achievements. It’s been said many times before, but I feel like it’s particularly true in horse sports. Horses have different personalities, strides, heights, jump-styles, fitness, struggles as with their riders. The only person you can compare yourself with is you.
     
  5. You get what you put in. Call it intentional thinking, mention skill refining, sports psychology, or whatever you want. Planning a time to positively think about schooling rides, lessons or show classes is so worth it. Also, keeping in my mind what I most need to work on most (collecting that giant stride, mostly) keeps those thoughts in the forefront of my mind. Taking the time to mentally prepare yourself before riding, especially when jumping makes it that much easier to get yourself focused in the moment.
     
  6. Horses are basically giant, expensive dogs that you can ride. Just needed to be said.
     
  7. Buy quality and only cry once (but for a long time). If you try to cheap out, safety and comfort are the first things to go! No further elaboration needed for my husband’s sake.
     
  8. Don't dwell on the mistakes! Distances get messy, lead changes get missed, shoulders drop in, rails get knocked. When you try it again, work to correct it but also don't assume that it'll go wrong again. And focus on what went well. Maybe you totally chipped the vertical, but your position wasn't thrown out of whack. Positivity.
     
  9. If you're thinking about returning to riding, just do it. Riding has brought so much joy back into my life, I’m only disappointed that I waited so long!
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Prepping for My First Show as an Adult Ammy

My time back in The Ring is in exactly two weeks! So what have I been doing to prepare besides calculating how ounces of mimosa would perfectly calm my nerves for a 2'0 Hunter O/F class (I'm thinking ~6 oz.)? See below!

Shopping!

There are certain items one needs for a show (regardless of size) that are different from every day schooling. As much as I would love to wear my favorite olive breeches and riding vest that I'm never seen without, it's not show appropriate.

Luckily, I haven't had to do a ton of shopping for the show. Last December I noticed a gorgeous RJ Classics jacket on steep clearance and jumped on that...by adding it to my wishlist on SmartPak. My lovely MIL gifted it and a pair of tan breeches to me for Christmas. Btw, that was the sign that I was meant to return to the show ring this year.

I only had to make a few other important purchases:

  • Show Shirts
  • Laced reins
  • Treats

Dieting.

So those breeches I received for Christmas? Yeah, their sizing is not as forgiving as Tailored Sportsmans. They're just a little tight in the waist, which sucks because that is usually where I'm most slim. I've been back on keto for two weeks now, and will just have to keep eating bacon through the show. Though, I have been pleasantly surprised by how easy it's been to transition back to low carb!

Riding, riding, riding.

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I've been riding 3x week and... IT'S AMAZING. No wonder I was never really able to improve as a junior riding once a week. Not only being able to practice, but properly building to muscle to support the theories behind lessons has been great.

Squirrelling away all spare monies.

The best thing about cash budgeting is that you can physically move money out of your wallet and into your Top Secret Show Cash envelope. It's made it much easier for my to rein in (hehe) my spending in anticipation of horse show expenditures. Cheers to being a responsible adult!

Creating the Ultimate Riding Playlist.

So far, my super extra motivating awesome playlist consists of songs like:

  • Polaroid/Thunder/Believer, Imagine Dragons (okay many, many more I.D. songs)
  • I Lived, OneRepublic
  • Saltwater Gospel, Eli Young Band
  • Malibu Man, Dan Auerbach
  • Livin' the Dream, Drake White
  • Something Just Like This, Chainsmokers
  • Hall of Frame, The Script
  • Started from the Bottom, Drake (my husband makes fun of me for this SO MUCH)
  • Finish Line, Chance the Rapper

I can't list every song here, but you get the gist. Find songs that make you feel empowered and inspired, channel that feeling into your ride. You will be golden.

Selling the Show to Everyone.

I have always wanted that 'barn family' experience and I'm trying my hardest to cultivate it, if only for this one schooling show. Everyone I talk to is absolutely nagged to the point of exhaustion that they neeeeed to do at least one class! I will provide anything needed. I'm talking breakfast, post-ride champagne, coffee, donuts. And I'm happy to report a good majority of the adult ammies at the barn will be participating! #hype

Lesson Update - February 2018 II

 
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It’s rare I get to do two lesson updates in one month, but hubby was feeling generous and opted to spend another gorgeous day with me at the barn (poor him). Thankful tho!

 

So some things finally clicked with my riding. First, it’s inside leg over everything. Before when trying to collect Leo, I would try inside rein or outside rein or both with both legs to collect. Nothing worked, he always just trotted. Outside rein and inside leg only? It’s the holy grail of riding Leo. I don’t know why it never clicked for me before, my trainers would always tell me to do it but now it’s like I’m finally able to apply it. Leo doesn’t especially love being made to collect himself which I think is apparent from the pinned ears most the time. Hopefully we can find a happy medium between a twenty-foot long stride and being a grumpy Gus having to engage his hind end. I hate seeing the angry ears over fences.

I’m also trying to work on my posture and back muscles. What’s worked best for me is imagining strings tied to the bottom, inner corners of my shoulder blades and those strings being pulled down. It’s much easier than just using my weak upper back muscles to pull my shoulders back which always makes me super sore. We're getting there.

Also, can I point out how little my leg swings now!? Seriously, I’m so proud of the progress I’ve made in the strength department. I honestly thought it could be years before I was that strong.

My next priority I think will be working on not jumping ahead and/or too far out of the saddle. Nothing like having an amazing lesson and going home to watch the video, pausing over every jump and thinking WWGMS: what would George Morris say? (He would say jumping ahead is an epidemic in modern riding) (and that makes me sad)

I also wonder if I sit down [make contact] in the saddle too soon after a jump, or if my butt is just so big that it touches the cantle but it’s fine because it’s not my seat/seat bones touching down? I need to find other big booty riders and see what they have to say.  

Note: these breeches are super unflattering, I'm never straying from Tailored Sportsman again. My TS’s don’t accentuate my jiggling. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I TRY TO CHANGE IT UP.

All in all, I feel like I’m well on my way to being prepared for the schooling show in April and I’m HYPED.

Lesson Update - February 2018

My lessons have been going pretty damn well since I decided to not get sick again, so I finagled my husband into coming out and videoing a lesson. My lesson was the day before a schooling show started, and I wanted to get a good video of us doing the hunter course perfectly.

But now I kind of realize why Leo doesn't do a lot of shows. He was so interested in everything going on, as told by our inability to jump the cross-rail towards one end of the ring because a horse was being loaded into a trailer. He literally did not see the jump either time until the last minute...

After settling from being distracted it was a constant struggle between not running down each line and keeping him from trotting in the corners. Combine that with being sore from a no-stirrup, no-spur lesson on Wednesday (complete with cantering) annd it was hot and there was a ton going on... I'm just glad neither of us had a meltdown. He has just the best expressions though and I'm so glad he puts up with me. I was told he bucked a girl off last weekend, so he's not beyond being a v. naughty horse!

When my husband decides to become the artsiest horse photog ever.

When my husband decides to become the artsiest horse photog ever.

Why I do it

I had my usual Wednesday riding lesson last night, and though I think my lesson updates are done with for now (unless I have video or an update to report) I had a thought that I wanted to share on why I chose to return to riding. Why do it when I don't own my own horse, I'm not competing [yet] and it's a financial strain to participate in this hobby? This post may sound like a classic TEN REASONS YOU SHOULD RIDE HORSES, but oh well.

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What I’ve grown to love most about riding and just being at the barn and around horses is how much it puts life’s stresses and minor problems into perspective. It both removes the worrisome thoughts from my mind while there and brings me enough confidence to conquer those problems [when I return to real life].

Riding, at least for me, takes every ounce of concentration and brain power I can muster. There is no room for thoughts about grocery shopping, did I make the dog a vet appointment, crappy work meetings, that one time I embarrassed myself last month, or anything else. Other than the straight distraction, it’s great confidence-building which sounds a little lame when you’re not talking about a child, but it’s true. I don’t think it’s just the hopping on a 1,200 pound animal and steering it around a jump course that does it, or even having a bond with an animal that large. I really think it’s the continuous improvement. 

If I can return to the same challenge time after time and make improvements, why should any other challenge in my life be any different? And I think this is true with any hobby, or anything else in life. Compare yourself only to how you did yesterday and focus on continuous improvement.

My favorite part of finishing a particularly hard lesson, even though it’s definitely never perfect, is being able to say that I did X better than last time. In my mind, that’s really what it’s all about—the continuous struggle to overcome a challenge.

This is only in addition to other obvious benefits like it's some of the best exercise you can get, it gets you outside, you get to hang out with animals which make most souls happy, character building, etc.