Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2024

Giving Myself Grace In The Process Of Moving Up

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Fall finals season is securely in the rearview mirror, and the number of layers required to venture outdoors is increasing by the day, which can only mean one thing: Winter is firmly upon us. For those of us unable to migrate south for the season, it’s a time of shelling up in the indoor arena and getting some quality training done. It’s also often a time to look forward and contemplate moving up to the next level, whatever your discipline of choice.

For me, the discipline is dressage, and the next level is third level. My horse Dixie and I capped off a good season at second level in October at the GAIG/USDF Regional Championships, took the fall to ease off the intensity a bit and figure out some maintenance best practices for her, then buckled down to work toward our move up. Dixie and I have both dabbled at third level before, though in terms of showing, it’s been 10 and five years, respectively.

None of the work is conceptually new to either of us, but it’s hard. Flying lead changes are hard. Half pass is hard. Finding the distinction between the medium and extended gaits is hard. And, as ever, staying soft and clear and tactful in my body and my aids while thinking at a million miles an hour about everything I need to be doing and everything my horse is doing under me is hard.

Adriaanse Photo 3

Laura Adriaanse said that she’s working to give herself grace as she moves up a level with her mare Dixie Rose. Photo Courtesy Of Laura Adriaanse

I am my own worst critic, and I always have been. Compassion for myself does not come easily. As such, it is really difficult for me to accept the fact that I am not yet great at the third level work. I’m absolutely willing to put in the work to get better; it’s just hard for me to feel like I’m not good at something in the process. I hate the feeling of mediocrity. I feel like I’m letting down my trainer, my horse and myself. I take it personally, as a representation of my character. (It’s something my therapist and I are unpacking.)

When I think about it rationally, of course I understand that I cannot expect to be good at something right off the bat. If a friend told me they were upset with themselves for not being great at something they had just started practicing, I would tell them it was an unrealistic expectation and to take it easy on themselves. I recognize that my horse won’t be able to do all the movements well right away, that it’s a matter of strength, confidence and repetition. In fact, I take the blame for any of her missteps or misunderstandings. I take the blame for most things. The weight of not feeling good enough can be crippling.

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I am working on it. I don’t want my proclivity to tear myself down to impede the joy and fulfillment that riding brings me. And so I look back at this time last year—Dixie and I were coming off a banner 2020 year at first level that involved all scores above 69%, six overall high score awards from USDF recognized shows, and a top placing at the Col. Bengt Ljungquist Memorial Championships among almost all professional competitors. We were flying high. Through that winter, as we are this year, we focused on moving up to a level. I struggled mightily to sit Dixie’s big, expressive trot, to produce a clean canter-walk transition, and to transition from medium canter back to collected canter. These obstacles seemed insurmountable. I remember thinking I would never succeed at second level.

Now, I sit the trot—including the medium and extended—without trouble. The canter-walk transitions have become second nature, and the transition from medium canter to collected canter is a guaranteed high mark on our tests. I showed up to ride day after day; I accepted where I was; I took a ton of lessons, and I improved. My seemingly out-of-reach goals were reached. And as I think about that, if that’s all I need to do to improve this year, maybe we will find success this year at third level after all.

Things are tough right now, but ‘tis the season! Everything is new. We are moving up to a new level. We will continue practicing methodically, taking lessons and learning from our mistakes, which are acceptable to make. It’s OK not to be great at new concepts and movements. I am working hard and maintaining a desire to learn more and do better while simultaneously striving to grant myself the grace to accept myself for where I am in each moment.


Laura Adriaanse is an amateur equestrian and USDF bronze medalist based in Philadelphia. She started out in the hunters, rode for the University Of Mary Washington (Virginia) IHSA team, then switched to dressage after college. She is the proud owner of Dixie Rose, a Hanoverian mare, with whom she hopes to make it to the FEI levels.

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