I keep looking back at my ride yesterday, and at my warm-up, and at my plan over the last few weeks, looking for the reason it all completely went to Hell.
Did I not warm up enough? Did I warm up too much? Was he tight, tired, not through enough? What did I do wrong? Did he do anything wrong? What’s the reason?
I knew from our first steps of trot in the warm-up that it wasn’t going to go well. Midge just felt flat and tired, not remotely resistant, not unhappy, just blah. And all this after being so phenomenal on Wednesday! If this had happened at home, if I’d gotten on him and he’d felt like that, I’d have taken him out for a hack instead of a ride.
But I couldn’t do that, so I made a ton of transitions, got him as keen and in front of my leg as possible, and went down centerline.
We started with a bang, a nice straight centerline, a nice powerful extended trot, a decent trot half-pass zigzag. Then we just couldn’t find the passage, which means I had no transition to piaffe. I somehow resurrected the piaffe but then had a hitchy transition out, another crappy passage tour, a marginally better second piaffe, and lost rhythm coming out. Our extended walk was OK but flat; we broke twice in collected walk, something that’s NEVER happened before, and then had a weird transition to canter.
He stole the first flying change after the medium canter; I bungled the first pirouette. The extended canter and second pirouette were pretty good, and then I made a complete hash of BOTH the ones AND the twos.
In short, if my test had been a show jumping round, you could have made a bonfire with all the rails I would have pulled. We placed eighth, on 62 percent, the worst score Midge has ever gotten at this level.
He was tired, that is for sure. But why? I’ve never taken him on a trailer trip this long and had him need to be fresh at the end; we’ve never traveled more than eight hours to a show, and when I go to Florida, I give him plenty of transition days before we go to work.
But I also wonder if maybe I had the wrong approach to Midge’s fitness over the summer. I’ve been trying to give him down time, trying to spare him, trying not to spend him or drill him. I think the result is that while he’s plenty strong, he doesn’t have the muscle stamina to make the Grand Prix every day in an international-caliber way.
I was a pretty big mess about it on Thursday, and while I’m still furious with myself, I’m trying to find the silver lining, the thing that will take this from frustrating to educational.
I keep reminding myself that, in spite of the oodles of mistakes, I still got some very good marks on some things, and that there is absolutely no inherent flaw in my wonderful horse: He never stands up in piaffe, never runs backwards, never spits the bit out, never bolts or spins or bucks.
And I try to remind myself that I am here, one of the top pairs on the nation on a weird little horse that I trained almost exclusively by myself, a horse who is capable of getting at least 7 on every movement. And I’m extremely grateful that I’m learning these lessons now, at 27, on a 10-year-old, with both our careers just beginning to unfurl their wings.
But I also feel the weight of all the things I could have done better, of all the riders in my age bracket at the Olympics who don’t seem to have the same problems I do, of how much, how much, how much I have left to learn before I have any hope of playing in that league.
We just hacked today, and I do the Developing Horse Grand Prix tomorrow morning, my favorite of the two tests. I hope I can redeem myself. I hope I can show off all the wonderful things my delightful horse can do. I hope I ride the test I know I can ride. And I hope that this is an experience I can learn from, grow from, and never, ever repeat.