Now that the winter season is nearing its end, I feel like I’m finally ready for it to start.
The best thing for me, as far as motivation and diligence is concerned, is to get my butt kicked. I never fight harder, focus better, or dig in deeper than when I’ve had my teeth kicked in, and man, did I get my teeth kicked in in January and February. Virtually everything that could go wrong did, including a few 0s and an elimination, a brief financial crisis, a family calamity, an Achilles tendon strain, and my boyfriend breaking up with me.
I cried, I drank a few beers (ok, maybe more than a few), and then I picked myself up off the mat and dug in. I trusted my coach when he changed my training plan. I pushed myself into running and biking farther and farther. I ate a lot of salad. At my last CDI of the season, Ella and I had our best Grand Prix ever—on nearly 66%—and had a totally solid freestyle ride. And after that freestyle, I received one of only 10 invitations to ride at the CDI 4* in Omaha, Nebraska, the test event for next year’s World Cup Final.
It’s going to be an epic schlep across the country, and a test of Ella’s fitness, but it’s a little pat on the back, however minuscule, for three months of hard-won battles against my demons.
More on preparing for that journey in a blog to come, but for now, Ella’s getting a vacation, light work in the snaffle bridle, no curb no spurs no problem, just simple collection and transitions and throughness, throughness, throughness.
Ella’s not the only one who’s had a killer season. While I didn’t show either of them, both Danny and Dorian have made monumental progress in the last two weeks; they’re practically new horses, compared to what came down with me. Dorian had a 6-month case of the twisties about flying changes, which rattled my cage a bit, because they’re something I’m normally quite good at installing. For whatever reason, nothing in my usual bag of tricks worked for him, so I took a deep breath and threw out my playbook. Normally I think of the change as being like hitting an elevator button, one swift and precise aid; for Dorian, I thought of it as a broader and softer pressure. Normally I teach them out of renvers, bent in the “new” direction; Dorian worked best in haunches in, towards the “old” direction. And normally I ride the canter forward, so the horse doesn’t get sticky; Dorian figured them out from almost pirouette canter. Today, I’m within a few weeks of having the whole Prix St. Georges, 4s and 3s and the zig zag and all, with no anxiety or drama. Naturally, he’s got all this figured out just as we’re leaving, and selling him from Virginia will be a greater challenge than doing so from Wellington, but he’s so special; he’ll find his person.
And Danny, oh Danny! That’s going to be an amazing animal. Danny didn’t learn anything “new” this winter, no new tricks or movements, but Danny has a whole new groove to the way he uses his body. He’s developed so dramatically in his strength, his balance, his ability to take a half-halt. He’s also made a BIG step in the maturity department, though I did almost get dropped in my lesson yesterday when the wind blew and Mr. Ocean briefly considered exiting stage left, but I held on, and he kept going, and all was well. At the end of the day, the thing that will help him piaffe 12-15 steps in front of five judges with no whip at 12 years old is probably also the thing that makes him spook at the wind at 8 years old, so that’s just going to be how it is.
So Ella and I are finally ready to actually do a CDI at Grand Prix, Dorian is finally ready to be shown to prospective owners, and Danny is finally ready to carry himself for an entire 45 minute lesson, more than two days in a row. And we go home next week. Great timing, right? But this is how it goes—training has no schedule. Learning has no calendar. As we say a trillion times a week at my house, the horses learn their jobs when they learn their jobs, and not a minute sooner. The same is true of people: their schedule is their own, and inherently unpredictable.
I’ll make the most of our remaining time, and head home having accomplished a lot. What more can I ask for?