Saturday, September 12, 2015

Why there are no "Bad" Days with Horses

(Photo Credit: Diana Rowland)

In keeping with my policy of sharing the ups and the downs, here’s the rundown from today’s less than stellar outing at Fair Hill.

Why there are no “Bad” days in horses.

It’s of course at moments when you’re faced with challenges, problems or let downs that we look inwardly and try to process and power through the disappointment. My day today was one such day. But before I go into the retelling I need to flash back to 1996 and a more ‘goal’ oriented younger version of myself.

Flashing back to an event in October of 1996 where I was taking my new horse to our first Intermediate. He’d done the level before, I’d done the level before. It was a course described as a “good move up” and so off we went to take on the move up. We’d done 4 prelims in our time together and were definitely gelling as a team. But we didn’t gel that day.

I look back on that day often. It was a bad xc round and it ended with me in the hospital with a broken collarbone and my horse laid up with a hurt knee. It was avoidable if I’d pulled up at fence 4 after the awful jump there, or maybe fence 7 when he nearly did a rotational fall there. But I kept powering on thinking that I HAD to finish. The trip had cost a lot, the event cost a lot, the horse had cost a ton and the pressure from my own mind pushed me to a track that led me away from some sound decisions.  Simply put I was really wrong.

I learned that day that completing a bad round is not the be all end all. Stopping and calling it a day is a far greater skill and one that isn’t as prevalent as it should be.  It really doesn’t matter what it cost, what it means to points, scores, ribbons, future glory or whatever.

The feeling of reflection when laid up for 10 weeks is:

 1) Depressing; because you start to see a lot of things that could have been different
 2) Humbling , there’s no greater moment to have to face your own bad choices
3) But most of all it’s just frustrating because there’s no immediate way to go back and rectify things. That alone drove me nuts.

So with this kind of reflection you have to look on the overall lessons and effects of a “bad” day.  
The challenges in life should come with a life or skill lesson learned and a positive change. Now that’d be the ideal but maybe not the actuality of the things.  Did you fall off and think to maybe not lean as far forward at the jump the next time? Or did you decide you’re the exception to such rules and start your promising career of being a professional lawn dart?

Also there’s the friend and now the social media effect. It used to be that you just dealt with your friends who knew of the ‘issue’ of the day and gave advice, opinions and thoughts to consider. Now with social media the judgement of the crowd can be much harsher and far less likely to leave a person to feel buoyed up by those close enough to the situation to understand all the details, and not just the surface view.  So currently it can be more challenging to feel like you’ll get somewhere positive after a low point but the truth is that you can get there if you analyze the situations correctly and factor in the advice and help of those who know you and know the situation. Leave the internet behind in these moments and dive into your friends and peers. They’ve been there for you before and will be there when the internet crumbles. (Probably from one too many friend requests)

Lastly, and I know that on 9/12 it’s a really easy day to recognize this point, the world is full of MUCH bigger issues than your problem with your horse. There’s countrywide poverty, terrorism, natural disasters, or whatever. The horse you fell off of today would feed a small village for a week in some places, and that’s how they would view it. It wouldn’t be swathed in a Rambo in cold weather and it surely wouldn’t have the life that we give it. The problems of our lives need perspective and the goals to fix them require planning and thoughtful execution.

So today Gin hit a pothole. Don’t get me wrong he had a much better dressage test, and I thought we’d really improved. All things being relative the dressage judge has a job for a reason. Her perspective showed me we weren’t all the way on track but this feedback combined with the video proves that we are heading the right way. So off we went to stadium and xc. There wasn’t rain in the forecast that would affect my times, as of last night. But today was a different story.

Around 10 o’clock the rain started spitting. I honestly didn’t think it was a big deal as we needed the rain and I thought the ground would just soak it up. But what actually happened was that ground didn’t soak up the rain and the grass on top got very slick. The warm up area then got a bit chewed up. I rode at this event last year and it was a deluge. Lunar thrived in it and as he was shod up front and not behind I rode carefully. We had no issues. I assumed (warning!) that Gin would be no different. Yea….no.

Gin was slipping badly in warm up. His first fence wasn’t great but he improved. But as we jumped more he was slipping…a lot. Warm up is on a slight incline and my eye was yielding some move up distances which I should have corrected, and did eventually, but not before , my scopey, reliable over jumper had taken down the oxer a few times. I worked to get him confident again but the slipping continued and though he jumped well, he was losing his confidence. Truth be told I was not loving the idea of trying xc if he was knocking down a simple oxer.

So we went to do our stadium and see how it would go. I was a bit worried as the oxers seemed to be where he was concerned and they started at fence #2 on our course. As predicted we circled and started on course. He jumped the first vertical well but added a stride and crawled/popped over the oxer at #2 taking the back rail with it. I regrouped, got the correct lead and kicked to #3. You can see on the video he flat slid into it and popped it to take the rail down and landed in a heap with me missing my stirrup. I pulled back and did a circle very aware that I was 1) NOT Mark Todd and 2) I was going to need the stirrup for fence #4 a bigger oxer with aqueduct fillers. I cantered positively towards the oxer and Gin, God love him, he tried to go for it but his hind legs did a fabulous reining stop as he planted to try to jump. As I am watching the video I think my biggest flaw was that I was trying for an open going distance in crappy footing. 

I really do think I should have balanced more and adjusted to be closer to the jump in a more round ‘bouncy’ stride. So Gin moved the aqueducts apart from his front end weight and took out a rail. They blew the whistle and rebuilt the fence. Upon blowing the whistle to go again I was filled with dread, I didn’t even really want to try it but I knew it would be good to see if we could get over it. I also knew if we didn’t clear it this time I was done, for the day. And so we tried it again and again he slid into the fence, taking it apart. I raised my hand as they blew the whistle signaling elimination. It was a rare moment of a retire/elimination combo. And the kicker was, I wasn’t upset about the decision.  It was the best decision ever and it allowed me to put my horse above all else, right where he belongs. Why this is a shock is beyond me but I walked back the trailer completely happy. I was sitting on a sound, but a little skeptical of mud, horse. I hadn’t had to hit the ground and shatter myself to make the right call. I didn’t even consider doing xc, it wasn’t an option. Gin said no, I listened, end of day.

Back at the trailer I washed him off and grazed him as I checked him over. No issues and a VERY healthy appetite. I talked to John and he of course had wonderful words of wisdom and gave me huge kudos for putting Gin’s interests first.  I chatted with some friends and congratulated them on their days and listened as they too agreed with much of my thoughts on the day and offered some other thoughts.

I took Gin home and watched as he galloped to his friends, my other 2 horses, and dove back into the lush grass of his field. He is my horse of a lifetime and so it’s good to know that I’m learning from the horses that preceded him.  He’s getting the benefits of my life lessons to this point, and so today wasn’t really a “Bad” day. It was just another step on the journey to making better decisions.

 Link to the video of the stadium round:


No comments:

Post a Comment