Failing Upward


Let’s talk about failing. Oh, failing, my old friend. So I managed to be talked into entering Texas Rose because Angela said I was ready. After having my two planned shows of MeadowCreek and Pine Hill scratched because of Ollie’s lameness, I admit I was keen to get out there again.

But, as tends to happen to me, my time off from jumping allowed my balls to take a vacation and come back with significant weight loss. Aren’t you supposed to GAIN weight on vacations? I know I always do. It’s hardly fair.

My week ‘o’ fail started when I struggled with leg yielding in and out at the canter in our dressage lesson. Ollie’s all forehandy and was being a bit strong and pissing off. So we had to go back to just collecting and transitioning with a semblance of obedience, since we couldn’t complete the intended exercise.

Then, we had a jump lesson on Thursday. I had apparently been hit by the struggle bus and time and again Could. Not. Find. the appropriate distances and pace to jumps, resulting in knock-downs, misses, etc…. and then we got to doing a triple line.

OK, back up, OTHERS got to do the triple line. I got to poorly do the first jump and then eat shit on the second one. Yeah, I had exactly the wrong pace and decided to swim off Ollie’s left side when he ducked out. I totally had it… had it….had it…. didn’t have it. And then proceeded to have one of those slow-mo falls where I nearly landed on my feet, but then my tailbone felt lonely and decided to give the dirt a hug.

Then today, we had a little XC lesson in the field at home. Things were OK until they weren’t again, and wouldn’t you know it, I popped off his left side again (Always the left. You’d think I’d learn.) This time, I landed on my feet, so there’s that. This time, it was actually a goshdarn STADIUM JUMP oxer out in the field that did it. I don’t know my mental issues with stadium jumps, but dagnabbitsonofabiscuit, it needs to stop.

Essentially, my problem is that I freeze. I feel challenged and feel the panic rise within, and I stop riding. When I give up, Ollie really doesn’t care to follow through of his own accord, and feels me saying “Maybe I don’t actually want to….” and happily obliges (can I go eat now?) He’s really kind like that.

So, of course, all of this fail was swimming around my head today as I looked ahead to next weekend’s competition. Doubts swirled. Am I really ready for this? Should I scratch? Am I going to keep failing? Am I cut out for this? Cue the waterworks. I’m not a big cryer, so it pissed me off more that I couldn’t hold the tears back. Riding can be so frustrating.

Angela reminded me that she wouldn’t let me do anything I wasn’t actually ready for – and I believe her. She’s not one to mince words or blow undue sunshine, and she’s told students no before, with good reason. Later, I got talked off the ledge more with a good chat with barn friend Melanie.

Everyone indicated to me that I am indeed ready for this. That I have the needed skills. Ollie can do this. I just have to believe in myself. Believe in my riding.

So I spent the afternoon reflecting on everything and eating cheese (hey, it helps. Cheese is life.). I thought about each “fail” and what they really meant. Maybe they weren’t all really such big failures after all.

In my dressage lesson, the canter leg yielding wasn’t working. But in my repeated canter transitions and collecting, I felt Ollie truly lighten UPWARDS for the very first time – truly collecting without excess weight on the forehand and leaning on my hands. It was a feeling unlike anything I’ve felt before with him. It was magical.

Then I thought to my jump lesson in the arena. We may have crashed and burned, but at the end, I found a good pace and distance to a line of jumps in both directions, and it felt great.

And today. We cantered a sizable log three strides to another log and got the distance. I was able to nearly all throughout allow him pace while still having control.

All of this points to progress – progress that perhaps I didn’t think possible even a few months ago. So much has improved with us separately as horse and rider. But I have a new Ollie, and I haven’t fully adjusted to the new ride I have. I am re-learning how to ride this new magical beast with pace and new striding, and my balls are still straddling the line between the present and the former Slow-Mo Land.

I needed the reminder that progress is not always linear. That I can’t be too hard on myself about that, but I also NEED to be harder on myself in other ways. I need to trust my training. I need to unfreeze myself when I start to get nervous. Ride with gumption. Ride each jump LIKE I MEAN IT. And remind Ollie that I mean it, too.

Essentially, I need to forget the word “fail.” I’m not failing. I’m learning. I’m progressing. And each time I “fail,” what I already know gets reinforced. Maybe all of these lessons this week are the exact reminders I needed before my horse trial next weekend. Maybe I needed these reminders here so I don’t have a bad experience there. That’s my thinking right now, anyway. In the end, I’m feeling more confident about next weekend.

If not, there’s always alcohol.