Sunday, April 8, 2012

Beating Myself with the Agenda Stick

I found myself getting emotional in the warm up pen at the show on Saturday. Grace and I were just not having the ride I was looking for. First frustration set in and then I felt the tears start to well up. Luckily no one from my barn was around and I was able to talk myself down. I have to ask myself –WHY? Why do I put so much pressure on myself? Why is hauling down the road to a show so darn important to me? And most importantly why do I not have confidence in the one thing that I put more time, energy and money into than any other area of my life?

I talk a lot about not having an agenda when it comes to my horse. I will be the first to tell you that I am not very good about walking my talk. Right now I have an agenda; I want to put AQHA points on my mare before I retire her. I plan to take her to an AQHA show in June that offers both rookie and novice amature classes. I didn’t realize when I put that idea in my head that I was carrying into every ride. Our rides at home have been going really well and I could actually see us getting there by June, but horse shows are not home. It started on Friday night at the show, I was having a lovely ride loping my mare one handed when I decided to go practice the lope overs for the trail pattern. There were 3 poles set on a serpentine that I had watched another rider practice. I headed for the poles just as Sarah entered the arena, she got there just in time to see me hollow my back and stick my legs out in front of my girth all  because I was going to lope a pole. My horse protested at the rider turned puma on her back and started to buck. Sarah told me to stop and pointed out what I had just done. She explained that this is exactly why she wants me in rail classes and not pattern classes right now, because I get so focused on my pattern that I completely change my ride and this is not the experience that she wants my horse to have. It was very clear that I was the one getting in our way. I went back and loped the poles one at a time keeping my low back soft and full. I ended the ride on a good note, but was still incredibly frustrated that I could not keep it together like the picture in my head.

On Saturday Grace just wasn’t coming together for me, I was continually fighting my body to stay soft and support her. I found myself looking at the other horse/rider combinations and asking myself why we didn’t look like them. When the emotional wave hit me, I had the thought that we will just never be that picture I have in my mind. It feels like when I see a drawing in my mind so clear, but only when I put pen to paper I remember that I cannot draw a straight line with a ruler. I wanted to quit, to just spend my weekends back on the trails and chasing cows, why do I torture myself in the show ring? I asked myself “So what? What if this is all there is and I Grace and I will never be that beautiful team I see in my head? What if a blue ribbon at a schooling show is it and there will be no points, no belt buckles, no perfected Western Riding or Trail Patterns, no clapping from the grandstands? What if all the mare and I have are this moment, right here right now?” I have to say with that question a lot of the pressure went away and I finally decided to just ride every stride. I went into my trail classes, let go of the obstacles and focused on what happened in between them. The novice class went really well, the 18 and over started out rough with lope overs, but I was pleased with how it ended. The walk jog classes never really came together, Grace felt flat and stiff and I considered calling it a day. I asked Sarah about it, she felt that Grace needed to lope and that all the jogging was locking her down. The lope classes were better, but it was still not the same horse I’ve been riding all week at home.

So where do I go from here? I know what I need to practice at home, more lope work over poles focusing on keeping my back soft and not riding the pole. I also need to unlock Grace’s shoulders at the lope each and every ride so I can have it securely in my warm up arsenal at shows. I heard what Sarah said about the pattern classes, but I am not willing to give them up just yet. I don’t enjoy rail classes, but I love pattern classes. My hope is that if I let go of the pictures in my head and stop comparing myself to the other riders I will be able to stay in the moment and ride each and every stride. I’m not ready to give up just yet. As for the show in June – it is in June so I’m just going to forget about it for now. At the end of the day I have to remember that I get to spend my time with my favorite horse, and some of my favorite people who accept me for who I am agenda and all.  


  1. I have fought the same problem for years. I finally started getting better when I chose one thing, one maneuver to focus on.
    Like, "I'm going to look ahead through my entire rundown."
    Every show, I would keep that focus, but only berate myself for that single maneuver, until I had it. Then I'd pick the next one.
    So maybe if you focused only on, "I will keep my back soft on the approach to my first lopeover," and forgave yourself about the rest?

  2. That's really neat advice.

    I find at shows, particularly pattern classes, that things suddenly seem to come at me way too fast. At home it's all on my own terms. At home I know I can stop at any time and fix something. But at a show it feels like it's all in fast forward and we find ourselves charging along to our first lead change...and suddenly the end of the pattern is here and I'm not sure how many times we spun to the right! Maybe little tricks like what mugwump mentioned can help slow things down mentally which can only lead to relaxation and I'm convinced that relaxation is the key to everything.

    Another issue I find that I have at shows is that I push too hard. If I don't usually do my fast circled at mach 10 at home, why do I do them like that at shows?! Asking for more at the show than I do at home always leads to disaster. Is it possible that when you see the other horses you maybe feel compelled to try to get that jog a little slower or that head a little lower than what you usually do (even if what you were doing was perfect the way it was)? I'm always so intimidated by the other horses and riders. They always look so amazing to me and I can't imagine myself being as good (even when I am).

    The agenda thing is a difficult one. I suffer from the same problem. I want it so bad! Since I was 12 years old my mother said how she wished I could just go out and ride and forget this horse show thing. Well, I'm almost 40 now and I haven't let go of the dream yet, the only thing that's changed is that now it's my husband asking why I torture myself! Fortunately he is still a very supportive and understanding man. Having people like that around definitely helps!

    Sorry about the super long reply but your post really struck close to home.