10 January 2015

when the ride doesn't go as planned

"How was that fall off your horse, Mom?" Yonah asked when I got home.

"Oh, you know," I shrugged. "It was a fall."

"Was it pleasant?"

"No," I said. "No, I definitely wouldn't call it a pleasant experience."


Last month I rode in my very first ever ground poles class at a schooling show. We did really, really well - and while we didn't get a ribbon, we didn't come in dead last. Plus, we completed the entire course! That in itself was a huge win.

blissfully confident before the disastrous round
I thought that this month we'd be able to actually maybe get a ribbon. My goal isn't to "win", nor am I hugely into showing by any stretch of the imagination; but how else am I supposed to start my obligatory Shuga Wall?

Besides, it's my birthday month. This timing, combined with how well we did last month, combined with how few people were in my ground poles class, made it feel like fourth place was manageable. Maybe even third if I got really lucky.

The trouble is that horses and their riders don't progress in a straight line. It's a circular mess in which there is always room for improvement, and things that you have mastered will likely need to be mastered again (and again) later on.

So when Shuga freaked out so badly that I lost my seat during our schooling round, and couldn't complete our showing round*, I wasn't as upset as I thought I might be. Instead I was able to understand the opportunity to grow.

*We couldn't complete because Shuga balked and thoroughly refused the course, not because of injury.

already showing spazzy hints of difficulty before we tacked up

Crappy warm up
Because of the hectic amount of riders all trying to get their horses warmed up and practice before their rounds, Shuga and I didn't have enough time to really run the course beforehand. Last month we were able to not only address the trouble fences, but also to familiarize ourselves with the course. I think being able to do that again would have made a big difference today.

Shuga's side:

Hyper energy
The biggest issue creating the disaster today was the fact that the ground is frozen. Without an accessible indoor arena I haven't been able to do anything at all with Shuga for a month, and she hasn't even been able to play with her horsey friends in the pasture because of these winter conditions. On top of this, I also wasn't able to lunge her pre-show to work out excess energy. Since excess energy always makes her nervous of her own shadow, I knew we were going to have some issues.

Another contributing factor was that in the midst of this spazzy, hyper, spooky scenario we were already working through, we ran into some old horse friends she knows very well. Because she is very herd-focused in personality, she immediately based more security in their presence than in my hands. Remove the horsey friends and suddenly everything is a shark trying to eat you.

so many horses trying to warm up and practice!
I feel like we would have been fine if we only had one of these issues to deal with. A more experienced rider could have gotten through both. Unfortunately for Team Shuga-and-Brenna, I'm still learning.

My side:

Loose reins/inconsistent contact
After warm up and practice she began to settle down so I let her relax. She didn't feel like she was going to be trouble after that so I didn't think to tighten my reins again. Shuga is a horse that must feel strong and consistent contact during nervous moments or she feels all alone and completely loses her brain. Especially when she isn't basing very much safety in my hands in the first place. This was a dumb rookie mistake* that ultimately sealed our ride's doom.

*I am lenient about most of my rookie mistakes, but I know Shuga is like this and I knew she would be having beyond normal spooking issues. I don't know what I was thinking.

Not being present 
The course was much less intuitive today than it was last month, and since practice was so hectic I didn't have time to become familiar with it. Instead of being with my horse and letting her feel more confident with my presence, I was thinking a fence or two ahead to keep us from getting lost. (Which we did, anyway. Very frustrating.) I don't think it's a coincidence that I fell during the more confusing middle part of the course.

My trainer asked if I needed to move to the back of the list so I could recover from the fall. I told her I needed to finish the school round. That was a great choice. I would have lost a lot of confidence if I hadn't. The problem was that I decided to just get it over with and do my show round immediately after, when it would have been smarter to retreat momentarily to process and regroup.

if you can't win a ribbon, at least you can look fancy
I lost my center when she started spooking left and right. This did not help my attempts to not lose my seat.* After remounting, I felt like I was physically doing everything right. Instead I was curling up defensively. Worse, I couldn't correct the issue because I felt like there wasn't an issue, and there wasn't enough time to think through how my trainer's directions were not already being done.

*Although to be fair, when your horse's back suddenly and unexpectedly goes from looking like an I (from the rider's viewpoint) to looking like a C (again from the rider's viewpoint), it's a bit challenging to not lose your seat.

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