Train ’til the Light is Pink

Apologies for the quality of my screenshot!

Here is Shanghai. Apologies for the quality of my screenshot!

Grace. Power. Teamwork. Inspiration. Truth. Clarity. A breath of fresh air. That’s what I experienced at WEG that Friday afternoon for the Musical Freestyles. My Roomie and I were able to pretty spontaneously hop over to Paris and then to Caan when a dear soul gave us her tickets to WEG a few days prior. Being in awe was a constant state of being for those three days. Admittedly, I practically lived inside of the movie Sabrina (the newer one with Harrison Ford) in the couple of weeks surrounding our Paris trip. I thought Sabrina’s letter home to her dad in New York was perfect when she spoke of a song being played across the street from her in Paris.

“I’m always surprised at how it moves me. It means seeing life through rose colored glasses, and only in Paris where the light is pink did that song make sense. But I’ll have it in my pocket when I get home, and I’ll take it with me wherever I go from now on.”

Seeing life through rose colored glasses maybe sounds a little bit like a lie… just pretending the world doesn’t turn the way it really does. But then really being in the light, living in the light that is pink, now that’s experiencing rare and true beauty.

The quality of the horses and riders was unlike any other show I’ve experienced in person. Valegro earned every bit of that 92% freestyle. I’ve never seen so much power, precision, and obvious relaxation all bundled together. Telling people about it at home gave me goose bumps for days! And then there was our Laura Graves who put in such a fantastic ride, we were all hooting and hollering when she finished. Being there, seeing and feeling that just makes the dream seem so possible.

It wasn’t the same for me as the other big competitions I’ve been to over here. I didn’t go to the WEG in KY, but I’ve been to the Masters a few times and our big qualifiers. Honestly, those competitions often have the opposite effect on me. I get a little bored. I see the top riders and think, this is the best it can be? All of the blood, sweat, tears, and years and this is the top? I mean no disrespect to our riders, horses or competitions. I know it’s a freaking hard sport, and I’m certainly not at that level. It’s just that the light isn’t pink. BUT it exists. And now I’ve breathed it in.

Courtney referenced the dressage scale at a clinic recently. She had one of the riders raise the bar saying, “Make your expectations like an 11.” It made me think about riding at NEDA Fall and talking to Clair about her test the day after winning her regional championship class. Someone asked her if she won today, why would she go back to do it again tomorrow? Her response was to ride a mistake free test, that Courtney wants perfect. She wasn’t delusional about getting a 100%, but she wanted to improve. The goal isn’t just a blue ribbon, it’s the training.

I’ve ridden with someone in the past who got excited about a 62% or even a 60% at a certain level. This is not an amateur or young rider, this is a trainer on a fancy horse. The “professional.” So in training, basically the goal was achieving a 7 (fairly good). An 8 or 9 would be a miracle and time to pop open a bottle of champagne! Sooo if the goal is a 7 and we’re creatures that constantly fall short, we’re probably going to end up with a score sheet of 5’s, 6’s, and the occasional 7… maybe an act of God gracing us with an 8. However, when the goal is Grand Prix, when the goal is a 10, or like Courtney said, an 11, when the goal is to make a perfect test even after winning regionals, perhaps getting 70 and 80%’s becomes more than possible.

Shanghai my little love is Francine’s 5 year old Oldenburg. That little rascal has a serious grip on my heart. He’s the good boy who wants the cool dude/bad boy persona. I can just see him in a black leather jacket and dark shades helping a grandma with her groceries on the way to his motorcycle. He can be sort of a grump… he’s just very honest when he has a complaint. But when he understands something new and you tell him that you love him and that he’s a rock star, he’ll try his hardest to make you proud again and again.

I’m realizing that he’s a big kid now. He may be just a teenager, but he’s prepping for Harvard and he’s going to get his PhD. We took him to NEDA Fall for his first real horse show at First Level. He started off by jumping errr clamoring out of the ring in the middle of his canter lengthening. Ooops. I was thinking, Well, yea. That just happened. Hmm. I tried to finish the test, but the judge didn’t have the time for it and we were thanked out of the arena. Ha. Ohh dressage. He was worried about the new show setting, but each test he grew a little more confident. The last day he seemed like himself – barely half awake as I hand walked him around his show arena in the A.M. instead of dragon snorting and snooting along the way. He so lit up in the warm up. He was feeling proud and worry free. Feeling the ride, smiles and giggles were poking their way through my ready for business attitude. Man is it fun when it’s right! That test he wrapped up the show by winning with a 76.6%!! I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity to ride him. And just so excited about that little dude!

Here’s to shooting for 11’s. The harmony and power that comes with that standard of dressage training appears to be nothing less than a miracle. I want more than just a taste of that miracle!

Believe It

Sometimes I think that you just have to decide that you can do it. You can be confident. You can be brave. You can grow. You can lead. You can believe that your words are diamonds, that you are talented, that you can be just as inspiring as the people who inspire you, that you mean something to someone in a way that no one else does. Sometimes it seems to start as simple as realizing that you can rock out red lipstick and fitted leather pants. You can own that tux or sequined dress, muddied up hiking boots or high strappy pumps, wide brimmed cowboy hat or a freaking top hat (off the horse that is, let’s keep our brains protected people) if any of that sounds like fun to you!

(I was told by a fellow shopper that she was “actually scared” when I decided to have some fun walking around the shoe store in these with a couple of friends the other night. I guess making myself 6’6” can be a little overbearing haha)

(I was told by a fellow shopper that she was “actually scared” when I decided to have some fun walking around the shoe store in these with a couple of friends the other night. I guess making myself 6’6” can be a little overbearing haha)

Just decide that you can ride. You can feel and understand. You can listen, share, and understand the worldview of another living being. Even if you’re not the most experienced, or learned rider out there, you can embrace that everyone has something to learn and even the big boys have been where you are now. Don’t hold back. Just try stuff. Just feel. Just believe in what you know how to do or in something you want to try until proven right or wrong. But you’ve gotta believe in it. If you don’t believe in your training, in your ability, in your worth, neither is your partner. We all get it wrong sometimes – or a lot of the time, but floating around wondering and hoping you’re on the right track doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re always just wondering.

Fargo and I have really felt like we are hitting our stride over the last few weeks. Courtney and I have spent so much time zoning in on the basics of basics, and I think that it’s starting to pay off in the obvious kind of way. In weeks prior it was a different picture. I felt like we were stuck in a valley for too long and was wondering why everything was getting more difficult when we’ve only been working on easy, happy basics.

I realized that I’ve created a long list of rules for the two of us. (Anyone noticing a pattern here?) “Make sure to do this, never do that, always do that this way…” I’d gotten into quite the routine of avoiding certain mistakes and planning exactly the right order of exercises to do or ways to think in order to make his body feel good. There was a day that I was riding Fargo on my own and I thought, “You are going to ride this horse like you would ride him if it was your first ride, like you don’t know any of his “special” needs, issues, lessons – just like getting on someone else’s horse at a clinic to make a difference, only knowing what you feel in that moment.” Boy what a difference it made. His body did not start out feeling any better that day than it had in the last few rides, but it got clearly more rideable. I could school things that I couldn’t have dreamed of touching on earlier that week or month.

The difference was that I started our ride deciding to forget everything. Forget the problems. Forget what we “can’t do right now.” Forget what we haven’t proven that we CAN do. Forget the quirks. Forget what might happen, and just feel. Then, as my body just sat into the saddle, rode like we should be able to show small tour tomorrow and decided that he was going to accept my aids like any other horse, everything came together. THEN I could start to incorporate our lessons and exercises. Forget the details for a while and just do it, kid.

Along the same lines of confidence and feel, our next lesson with Courtney really improved our half halts and quality of the gaits by just changing the way I think. Instead of just half halting, we actually rode halts. When I ride a halt, my body instinctually ensures that the butt is active and stepping underneath of my horse’s body in order to stop. I put my leg on and if I don’t immediately feel the energy from the hind end carrying more underneath my butt then my leg gives a few little kicks until it does. There’s nothing more dull than watching someone slooooowwwwwly eeking to a stop. No way are you getting a powerful trot transition after one of those. Courtney had me ride a few good halts and then in the middle of doing a half pass or medium trot she would instruct me to, “Think halt.” or she would tell me to halt and then change her mind to keep going before I was stopped. I started to have some really effective half halts. She asked me, “Did you feel the difference in your body?” I responded, yes, that it seemed to be giving the same aids as before, but thinking “halt” somehow just made them work better. Courtney explained that it was because I believed it. I believed that I was going to get the necessary activity, and so my horse did too.

Let’s ride real half halts. Let’s believe that we’re actually going to halt. Let’s explore what we can do and make room for new ideas. How else do we learn but to try and teach others to try? Let’s show doubt who’s da boss.