Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!
First and foremost, I want to thank my gracious mother who agreed to drive home while I pensively jot down some of my thoughts from this weekend at The Fork. Sometimes we as event riders, who seldom live sedentary lives, forget the meaning of holidays such as Easter because we are in the midst of our hectic and exciting show season. However, it’s times like these, as I sit to the right of my mom (who is currently rocking out to Sugarland) that portray just how important family is to our foundation as athletes and as human beings because they are ALWAYS by our side, from our dressage, cross country, and show jumping rides, and, more importantly, on the ride home, where ever that may, Happy Easter everyone.
This weekend served as such an important milestone for Al and myself in our eventing career on many different levels. We arrived on Wednesday to perform our trot up as we had an early dressage go on Thursday morning. As I began my warm up the next morning, I was greeted to a stern shout “Lainey, SHORTEN UP YOUR REINS” coming from across the ring from a small person on a big white horse....from none other than the DQ herself, Kim Severson. I have been working closely with Kim for the last few years to hone my dressage skills but since I spend my winters with Buck in Ocala, and she winters in Aiken, well, let’s just say, Al and I were a bit rusty in her standards. I swear, if you could take a picture from the beginning of my warm up to my entrance into the main ring, Al’s frame changed exponentially, as I was made to shorten up my reins about six inches, and really “kick” him up into my connection. Al’s trot work in the test consisted mostly of eights, sprinkled with a seven or six here or there. However, the canter is where I lost the “lead” so to speak. Because of the different connection that Kim was able to extract from us, which was both foreign and tiring for Al and myself, Al managed to swap in the last counter canter, which brought our score from the mid to high forties, to a fifty, which was a few points shy of the goal I had set prior to the weekend. I was very happy with Al’s comfort level in the ring and although our test contained a few mistakes, I know we are well on our way to achieving a very competitive score in the MAIN ring.
The cross country course was a test of technicality and endurance as it offered more than six corners and undulating terrain that is constantly keeping both horse and rider on their feet (or we hope). I was very concerned about the technicality of the course as corners are Al’s and my hardest question to answer, as our past event record so immanently displays. The thing about cross country is things rarely go as planned, which parallels with horses in general. As I jumped into the first double corner combination, which was early in the course, I took a deep distance and opted to bend my line to both corners in place of the original plan which was to take the straight line. Although it may have seemed neat and tidy to onlookers, my decision to hold and wait costed Al and I a few seconds, which, at the four star level, is HUGE. As I went to the next combination, again, I “picked” my way to a deep distance to the corner, adding another stride that certainly didn't need to exist. After the water I managed to pull myself together and kick my horse in front of me and finish with a confident round, adding only 3.2 time penalties to my dressage score. Although I was ecstatic about my horse’s performance and fitness level, I was deeply concerned with my lack of confidence in myself. You see, a few years ago, forward thinking was something that came easily to me, something I probably took for granted. For a variety of reasons, I have become inconsistent in believing in myself and when something doesn't go exactly according as planned, I opt to wait, wait wait. Although I am constantly badgering my students that “the worst decision, is indecision,” I sometimes find myself in the same predicament, which, up until a couple years ago, rarely occurred. Somehow, I manage to let negative thoughts and nerves get the best of me, and rely on my assertive nature to get myself out of problem areas....however, at Kentucky, as with any four star for that matter, questions must be answered, and decisions must be made. In the next two weeks, most of my work will be done in my Mind Gym....because as Yogi Berra once infamously noted, “90% of the game is half mental.”
Alex couldn't have gone any better. A few years ago, had I ridden him backwards or put him to a wrong distance at the advanced level, he would have easily run out or given up on me. However, that’s what makes our sport so’s not about me as a rider, it’s about Al and I as a TEAM. Where he is lacking, I pick up the slack and vice versa. Al handled the course with ease, despite my mind’s imperfections and cantered across the finish line ears pricked and ready for more. I cannot express to you how long the road has been with this mighty little horse, and just how much faith I have had in his sturdy hooves to take us to the top level where we have FINALLY arrived.
Show jumping has always been my hardest phase. Hard because it’s enclosed and not as inviting as an open grassy field, and hard because those stupid colorful poles fall down so easily! I knew that I needed to redeem myself for Al’s sake, and to finish off our last outing before Rolex well, so that we could head to Kentucky bursting with confidence and excitement. As we meandered up the long path to the main show jumping ring, fellow BDJ student Casey McCissock yelled to me, “just ride it forward Lainey!” Coming from someone who just earned herself a clean round, I had better heed her advice. As I entered the ring I took a deep breath, gave Al a pat on the neck, and approached the first obstacle with Casey’s advice emblazoned in my mind. As we crossed the finish line, free from time or jump penalty, I smiled to myself thinking how such a small phrase could effect my riding in such a big way! Thanks Case!
Al and I finished off the weekend in seventh place, in a class of more than fifty very talented and eager horse and rider combinations. I now have a better grasp on what it is I need to work on, and things on which I can ease up. I will tell you this much, I am sitting on one of the most talented horses of all, and I would put him up against anyone world wide. Big words for such a small horse, but pending his pilot is on point, we will let you be the judge... Until then, heels down, elbows in, and eyes forward...we are at nineteen days and counting!