I’m not sure what’s up with me lately, but there is a definite lack of get-up-and-go right now. Poor old Thunder and Skye have only been ridden once this week, and Magic twice; Thunder however got his vengeance by chewing up my exercise bandages (he is so impossible when he wants attention). He is now busy terrorising his ancient, crochety friend, Benjamin the donkey, into playing with him. Skye just makes evil faces at me and Magic is being daft; August winds don’t help him with that. He saw a feed bag blowing in the wind and tried to leap into my arms like a frightened girl. Let’s just say it didn’t end well.
Probably, I’m just still getting over the flu, because my body isn’t cooperating the way it usually does, but I’ll be all better by next week. (If not, I’ll fake it till I feel it 😉 ).
Arwen at least is being kept in proper work, because we have a (very very exciting! squeee!!) saddle fitting on Sunday. We’ll be heading off to the yard where the Ruach horses are stabled, because the fitter has another client there, but that shouldn’t be a problem at all for Arwie. I’m much too excited to have my first real fitting done and to buy a new saddle. My bank account is less excited about that, but while the Solo Classic has given me many, many hours of very faithful service, it is time for a new one. Arwen has changed shape and the Solo is getting perilously close to pressing on her withers. I’ve also worn out the seat pretty bad, and it’s hard to sit deep when your seatbones are being crushed to death. It will be kept as a spare/training saddle because I wore the dye out of the seat as well so I won’t get anything for it anyway.
It’ll be really nice to have a saddle that stays in the same spot on your horse’s back as opposed to creeping forward constantly – I bet Arwen will also be thrilled to be able to lift her shoulders properly, too.
She gave me nice work this week; on Tuesday we jumped 1.00m without any issues at all, which gives me hope for making her a 90cm eventer one day, and on Wednesday we had a lesson where we practiced our speed for the jump-off. This involved sprinting over small jumps, which was really hairy and really enjoyable. Arwen was fantastic, no bucks, although she did have a few barrel racing flashbacks and nearly spun out from under me on a corner or two.
Magic also had a lesson and impressed me by being extremely calm over some quite scary jumps (filler-wise, not height-wise). His jumping is really good right now, although we jump mostly from a trot. My next mission is to set up a little course -70cm or so – and jump around it at a canter. Once he’s doing that well, I’ll make a few scary jumps with filler in them and bright colours, maybe a couple more gymnastic lines, and then he should be ready for his first little show in summer.
He needs some variety, though. I think he’s getting bored from his monotonous routine of jumping, lunging, schooling, over and over. He can be such an idiot on outrides but I guess it’s time to bite the bullet and just do it, especially if we’re ever going to be eventers.
Other achievements for this week? Well, I taught one of my heifers to eat carrots. Merida might be a high-quality heifer and bred in the purple, but mostly she acts like a happy pet.
“Great horses are not often easy horses. They have big egos and idiosyncrasies and quirks and foibles. Horses of a lifetime do exist, but only for riders so skillful, tactful and courageous that they can unlock and then reveal the brilliance of their equine partners.” ~ George Morris
Three years ago, I was a kid with a very big dream and a small grey horse trying to achieve that dream, but the Horse Mutterer repeatedly stated (and I eventually came to accept) the fact that my small grey horse was not going to make it as far up in the world of showjumping as I was wanting to go. Trainability, soundness and willingness might be all you need from a horse if you want to go Advanced in dressage (provided you were willing to work your butt off), but each horse has a physical limit to how high he can jump competitively. And Arwen’s limit is quite some way below A-Grade, where I dream of competing.
So while I trained and worked and loved my small grey horse, I lived my big dream by paging through the catalogues of the Callaho Warmblood Stud. This massive stud holds a large and glamorous auction of top-notch young sport horses every year, and I always had my eye on one of them, even when I knew that it would be years of nothing but saving up before I could ever afford one. The ones I picked were always grey or chestnut with plenty of chrome, standing not more than 15.3hh and possessing a jump about the size of a Kilimanjaro. And then they would be sold for hundreds of thousands to someone with both dreams and money, which is a lucky combination.
And then Magic happened.
15.2hh and the bright grey of burnished steel with four white stockings and a blaze, and also the ability to jump the moon if he so desired, he cantered into my life like a miracle. My dream horse fell right into my lap, dropped strategically by my Lord; here at last was the bright, dancing creature I’d been dreaming of, something with both the talent and the heart to go all the way to the top under the right rider. He had spunk, he had spirit, he had the conformation, he was one of the best-looking horses I had ever seen and he had the look of eagles, that X-factor that I love so much in a horse.
Eighteen months down the line, I have never been more convinced that Magic has the talent to go as far as he wants to. This horse moves like poetry in motion. Muscled up, he has even better conformation than he did when I bought him. He has a bascule that most warmbloods would be jealous of and he has plenty of courage.
Yesterday, I free jumped him for the first time and he was beyond fantastic. He needed little or no encouragement, did not offer to run out even once, and in fact getting him to stop jumping was harder than getting him to start. He also didn’t overjump a thing. Not a thing. Also, this:
Yep. Long neck stretched up, knees tucked up to the bit, shoulders lifted, hindlegs even, front legs couldn’t be tighter. Nobody can deny that he has ability.
He also scares me.
When I sit on him, I know that I have more spirit and talent under me than I have ever had before. I know I’m on a horse that could be a superstar in the right hands. I also know that I’m on a horse so sensitive that the slightest shift in your mood can make him nervous; a horse that has an untold depth of courage, but which courage depends entirely on the trust he places in his rider. Magic is a great horse, but he is not a horse willing to go it alone. Like the best horses, he wants to work with you in a team, he wants to follow your lead and do as you say; but you have to give him that lead to follow.
He’s also green, which is most of the problem. He’s just too inexperienced to bail me out sensibly; he does try, but usually by overjumping massively and frightening the both of us. Ultimately, he depends on me. He’s not a schoolmaster who’ll do the job for me, and he’s also not Arwen, who’s been my partner for so long that she helps me out when I need it just as I help her out when she needs it.
Magic is never malicious. Excitable, frightened, overenthusiastic, boisterous, hot, fiery, and sometimes downright daft; but not malicious. He wants to try, but when he’s afraid, he doesn’t think. And when he doesn’t think, he has a variety of different manoevres to try out, ranging from bucking to flailing to leaping to overjumping, and when I say overjumping I mean Magic shows us exactly how talented he is and pretends a cross-rail is the size of the jumps at the President’s Cup.
It shouldn’t scare me. I haven’t lost stirrups often and I have to face it, I can actually stay on through most of the shenanigans he’ll throw at me. But it still scares me; it probably won’t, in five years’ time, but for now it does.
I think I am more afraid of failing him than I am of falling off him. Magic has no concept of potential and doesn’t know that he is a freaking good horse, obviously. Ribbons and shows mean nothing to him; he’s not sitting there telling me to hurry it up so we can get to the top. He would be quite happy to hack around and pop over cross-rails. And you know what, there would be nothing wrong with that. There are lots of talented horses in the world. The world won’t miss this one if I chose to turn him into a dressage pony or whatever. In fact, if I didn’t ride for my career – if riding was a hobby, not a passion – I’d sell him off and stick to Arwen.
But I’m not a happy hacker. I can’t sit on a piece of quality horseflesh and not try to push the limits. I can’t stay in my comfort zone on an animal that could really be something, could really go somewhere. I can’t let him slip through my fingers. And so I shall gird up my loins, take up the reins and ride him as best as I can. This horse might be a challenge, but he is my horse and he’s not going anywhere. God willing, I will grow into the rider that can ride him, the strong leader he needs, the confident partner to guide him. And it will all be in God’s Name, for He alone makes any of it possible.
No matter how much you love horses and riding, you’ve probably had motivational slumps more than once. You know, those afternoons when you sit at your desk scrolling through Facebook and checking your email 10 times per minute, looking for an excuse to avoid riding. While usually you’d ride in the rain, if there’s a cloud on the horizon, you decide to stay home and watch TV because the weather does not permit. You’re usually happy to scrounge 30 minutes between knocking off and eating dinner to ride, but today you only have an hour… let’s see… 10 minutes to get to the paddock… 10 minutes to catch the horse… 10 minutes to saddle up… 10 minutes to untack… 20 minutes to groom… nah, there’s no time to ride.
Lack of motivation is probably most common among professionals or seasoned competitors who spend hours and hours every week in the saddle. Amateurs feel it too, but pros have the most trouble, because riding isn’t just for fun – it’s their daily grind.
The bad news is, you’ll probably always have unmotivated times, no matter how well you ride or how awesome your circumstances are. The good news is, it’s possible to get out of them and back to your enthusiastic horsy self. Here are five tips that have helped me to stay motivated through the years.
1. Take care of your body. While most motivational slumps are more psychological than physical, sometimes you just literally don’t have the energy to ride. Eating the wrong stuff, getting dehydrated and not getting enough sleep can make you dopey, irritable, and feeling drained before you even hit the saddle.
For me personally, I have to avoid the slimming diets that are so in fashion these days. I’m active (around 20-30 hours of light to moderate exercise per week), have a fast metabolism, and am slightly underweight. If I was to drink only water, stick mostly to veggies and snack on fruit and nuts, I’d pass out. Most serious horsepeople are athletes and shouldn’t be eating like couch potatoes. I need at least three helpings of carbohydrates every day to keep me feeling strong, as well as a goodly dose of fats and sugars to keep me energised. Fruit and vegetables are essential for vitamins and minerals – you should still get your five-a-day. But if you’re of a healthy weight, generally healthy, and have an active lifestyle, there’s no need to be dead scared of starches and (in moderation) sugars. I’m not a nutritionist, doctor or dietician, but this is what’s worked for me. Trans fatty acids like takeaways are still trouble, though – try not to dig into a pizza for lunch every day or you’re at risk for nasty stuff like heart disease.
Dehydration is probably my number one reason for feeling tired, sick, or weak. Especially for an athlete, getting enough fluids is extremely important. I’m guilty of not getting my eight glasses of water a day, but on the days that I get at least eight glasses of some type of fluid, I can feel a vast difference in my energy levels. Again, I break the dieting rules with my drink of choice: chocolate milk, and please not low-fat milk – only the full-fat creamy Jersey-produced stuff, thanks. The sugars in the chocolate and fats in the milk give me a hectic energy boost. As an added bonus, calcium from the milk is good for bones – always essential for a horse rider to prevent breaking bones in falls. Plus, it’s just so much nicer than water 😉
Staying fit is also important. Fit people generally feel happier in their own skins and are healthier than unfit people. Riding will feel less strenuous, keeping a correct position will be easier, and muscle soreness will be reduced if you’re fit. There’s the added bonus that falling is less hazardous for people who aren’t overweight: bones can only handle so much pressure being put on them, and a fat person falling puts more pressure on their bones than a lean one.
Last, but not least, get enough sleep. I don’t need a lot of sleep, but I still feel it if I don’t get my eight hours in. Sleep deprivation makes you irritable and tired, and leaves you feeling itchy and heavy and generally zombie-like. Yeah, not the greatest mood for hard physical and cognitive activity like horse riding.
2. Try something new. Ride a horse you’ve never ridden before, go for an outride somewhere you’ve never been, or just try some new exercises in the school. Too often the boring routine of warming up, putting the horse through its paces, grooming it, putting it away wears us down and leaves us feeling like there’s nothing interesting left in riding. And if you’re bored with what you’re doing, chances are your horse’s training is going nowhere, and the horse is just as bored.
Try going to a clinic or taking a lesson with a rider you admire, other than your usual trainer. Maybe book a pleasure outride at a facility where you’ve never been before and take a friend/family member/significant other along. Teach your horse something completely new and out of the box. Doing something different can revive your interest in learning, which is what you should be doing throughout your riding career.
3. Break out your favourite horse movie. Sometimes, seeing horses in an idyllic, fictional tale can inspire you and remind you why you actually love these animals so much. Most people have an old favourite – re-watch it and remind yourself of why you actually do this crazy thing called riding. Or try a new movie; Secreteriat, Dreamer, and War Horse are my personal favourites.
Alternatively, read a horse-based novel or some nonfictional work like articles on the Web, a horse magazine, or a horse training manual. You could watch YouTube videos of your heroes of horse riding. All of this will send you back to riding with renewed perspective, respect, and inspiration for this magnificent sport.
4. Set a goal. Nothing motivates me like an upcoming show. When you have something concrete to prepare for, your drive and ambition doubles. Even if you’re not planning to attack A-Grade showjumping or Prix St Georges dressage, look for a little local show you can take your horse to, and test your training and riding on a manageable level for both of you.
If you’re not the competitive type, maybe you can set a goal in your horse’s training. It doesn’t have to be massive; it can be as simple as having consistent square halts from your dressage donkey by the end of the month, or being able to take a solo outride on your youngster by the end of March. Or it could just be schooling your favourite project five times this week instead of the usual four. Whatever it is, make it achievable and then set out to achieve it. Having a goal in sight motivates you to try harder, and it’s such a good feeling when you reach that goal.
5. Prevention is better than cure. While it’s inevitable that you’ll feel unmotivated at some stage or another, it’s possible to try to minimise it. By consistently taking care of your body and setting training goals, you’ll already make a difference. My favourite method of preventing motivational slumps is simply to keep on changing my routines, reading articles and books that will help me improve my riding, and being in a constant quest to ride and train better. Never stop tweaking your riding. Always look for different exercises you can try and things you can improve with yourself and the horses you ride. Never get too comfy or complacent: if you’re bored, chances are you’re not growing, and it’s time to step out of your comfort zone.
I also try to vary my horses’ routines. My two jumpers only actually jump once a week. In a single week, if things go to plan, Arwen is jumped, lunged, schooled, and ridden out. And if even that gets us bored, I’ll play some mounted games on her or try some groundwork. This will keep both you and the horse engaged and interested and always learning.
Riding should be a constant learning curve. Keep that in mind, and you’re set to go.