At 24, I've aged out of Young Riders quite some time ago. The U-25 program through USEA requires a qualifying CCI** which my horse won't even be old enough for until 2015, when coincidentally I WILL be 25, turning 26. This year Jag is only 5, and ages into Prelim (and a CIC** but not an Intermediate, you figure that one out...). Him and I are in a bit of a strange place with it all. Being a professional, there is a constant push to prove yourself against the best, have the young horses at the YEH Championships, be winning the FEI events, and climb up through the levels with as many horses as you can, as quickly as you can. It seems no one (read clients or sponsors) will take you seriously until you're a ** rider, or at least that's often the illusion. So riders pay to run as many events as they can to get their qualifiers, travel around the country, and run their horses hard to get to the elusive "Upper Levels". One ** horse looks a lot better on the record than 3-4 training level horses. Its also the chase for the multiple rides. Every professional wants to be running around like Buck Davidson jumping from one horse to the next, just to say that they have that "string" of horses. A lot of it comes down to having the money to be able to compete, fund the ever increasing prices of competitions (specifically FEI events) and the money to fund yourself to the top while hoping people notice your rise on up there. And then you look at the odds of one horse being able to go through the levels, stay sound and competitive, and fancy enough to get you noticed. So you try and bring up two, which we know is just ever so affordable... It's quite the racket if you ask me.
Fair Hill CCI2* winner Allie Blyskal and Sparrow's Nio. Photo by Jenni Autry.
How can you not be jealous??
This year after Florida, I had such a different prospective on the upper levels and the events. I watched them more closely, and to be honest, quite enviously. Why couldn't my last mare have been more of an upper level type that I could be running Fair Hill CCI** this year with her against people I had competed her against? It's so easy to find yourself to be sitting at home, refreshing the Live Scores, and being completely jealous of those riders who made it there. For me, I blamed the fact that I was sitting on a rambunctious 4 year old OTTB instead of a ** horse on the fact that I didn't have the money to get to the upper levels. That I had to try and beg, borrow and bleed my way through each show, counting my pennies just to save for the 7 shows I can generally swing in a season. I spent a solid 2 days in and around Fair Hill weekend complaining to anyone that would listen to me (and I apologize to those of you who did...) that if I simply had more money, I could compete more and get up the levels sooner. Whining that by now, if I was REALLY a professional, I would have been to a ** already. Clearly rational thinking at it's finest on my part.... (rolls eyes).
This is how I made myself feel better. Thank goodness for my new sponsor Body by Vi...
In the midst of this bit of a mental weekend, I kept questioning why people would want to work with me when I hadn't "accomplished anything of note" or why people would send their horses to me when I wasn't "proven". Self doubt is something that I think is CONSTANTLY prevalent in competitive riders, and especially as you go through the levels, look to expand your business, gain new clients, ect. You will always hit a point of self doubt, self ridicule, and frustrations. If we are complacent with our selves and our riding, we won't push ourselves to make necessary improvements. We'll allow ourselves to grow mediocre, and not hold ourselves to the standards that make good riders GREAT. What we can't do however, is hold ourselves to someone else's standard of great. I was spending so much time worrying about others and where I wasn't, that I was forgetting where I was, and what I had. I needed to remind myself of the qualities I brought to the table to clients, sponsors and horses.
Thanks to this epiphany (and to my friends who helped me see it....) I realized I needed to adjust where my current program was at. I needed more organization, more discipline in my rides, more structure through my entire business. For someone who is about as naturally organized as a tree frog, this is clearly a struggling point for me. I spend probably 3-4 hours a day in the car between barns, try and ride anywhere from 3-10 horses in a day, teach as many lessons as I can, and sleep sometimes too. Sometimes my jump days where shortened by the fact that you can only get on and off your horse so many times, and I'm told it's probably not always a good idea to jump on my own. Who knew? Instead of spending time working on fundamentals of footwork, distances ect, often I just jumped to height so I could really utilize that jump school in my mind. To me, if I was going Prelim, I should jump prelim height at least once every jump school right? Wrong. Maybe I should do two jump schools that week, one of 1' high jumps that I am perfect to every time, and one on 2' high fences focusing on my changes and adjust ability.
Working keeping Qui less overly enthusiastic, with better footwork and quality
I really reevaluated my goals. Jag is 5, and had just run his first Prelim, albeit to me with moderate success. I asked myself what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted a really solid dressage test, a clean cross country round with no "misses", and a clean Show Jump round. Not that I wanted to win, not that I wanted to qualify for a CIC* by the end of the year like I'd originally told myself, not that I wanted him running Intermidiate by Summer 2014. I realized I have nothing but time. Time to make my horses the best that they can be. To be more tough on myself in my schoolings. I needed to be more percise in my transitions, not just on dressage day, but on jump day. My jump schools needed to be more focused on the quality of the approach, take off, and my position. No jumping ahead. No leaving long. No missed changes. My lines needed to be more precise in my practice so that it became more natural. My cross country schools needed to be more focused on my course work. I needed to learn to gallop to the fences with quality, and balance, consistently.
Normally this line might have stressed me out being a very upright skinny to a bending line to another airy, upright skinny. Jag felt as confident through this line as he did through a grid of xs.
My focus needs to be on quality if I'm going to prove myself to my clients. I've said this before and I say it again. I want people to watch me run my horses around the courses and go wow, that's how it's done. I want my horses to find their courses easy, always. I want them to always be overly prepared, with the correct tools from day 1. So that is the standard that I am holding myself to. Not to being a CCI** rider. That will come when I have continuously brought up horses that have the tools that they need to succeed. The ends will follow the preparation. The months of sweat and hard work for truly quality horses of every price and talent level. It's something I've always expected of my riders, and it's something I will continue to preach. Results follow when you continue to hold yourself accountable.
You will always have days of self doubt, self frustrations when rides don't go as well as you hope, when you feel like you've let others down. Use these doubts not to bring yourself down, but to push yourself to a higher standard than you have in the past. Push yourself to be the best rider you can be, every ride.