Last month I traveled up to HITS Saugerties (New York) for my final regular-season horse show of the year before the Great American/USDF Region 1 Dressage Championships, coming up Oct. 6-9 in Virginia. My horse and I made the move up to third level this year, and as with any move up, it’s been tricky. From our arch nemesis, the flying lead changes, to maintaining the rideability we have at home once we get in the show ring, there has been no shortage of things to remember and to improve upon at any given moment.
Throughout the season, we’ve had some really good moments, like scoring consistent 8’s on our extended gaits and centerlines, but they’re unfailingly coupled with difficulties, like my horse’s desire to take over in the canter tour and freestyle a bit about where, how and with what degree of pizzazz the flying changes should be performed. Such is horse showing; it’s rare that every moment is perfect, no matter your level or discipline. You go home, you work on what needs improvement, and you ride your best at the next outing with the hope of a better performance.
It’s often discouraging. I’ve had so many moments this year where I convinced myself the work would never become as good as we needed it to be. My horse and I can establish such softness and harmony in (almost) every movement at home—and often in the warm-up at shows, too—but when we get in the show ring, we clam up. The lead changes are slowly but tangibly improving, even at home. Throughout the season, I sometimes found myself wondering if all the hard work we put in would be enough, or if perhaps my talent had already reached its full extent.
But then it all comes together. It feels like it happens overnight, like you wake up one morning, tack up to ride like you do every day, and you’re suddenly able to do what you couldn’t yesterday.
For me, it was at the horse show at HITS. I was able to replicate the feeling we’d established at home, and my horse let me ride her every step through all of our tests. The changes weren’t perfect, but they were the best they’d been in the show ring all year. It was the best feeling in the world, and the scores, which were our highest third level scores to date, were just icing on the cake. I could have floated on air back to the barn afterward.
And that feeling, that “A-ha, we finally got it!” feeling, is the reason I do it. All the hard work, the hours spent in the saddle, the lessons taken, the energy poured in, the blood, sweat, and tears—it all comes together. It’s a high that keeps me chasing the feeling again and again. The pride in myself and my horse and the feeling that we really earned this is indescribable. I hope every equestrian gets to experience this kind of euphoria at least once in their career.
I promise I am not writing this as a self-congratulatory proclamation. I just mean it in a sense of encouragement and as a reminder that hard work and dedication do always pay off, no matter what you’re doing or what your goals are. Maybe it will take longer than you’d like, but it will happen. As long as you keep showing up and chipping away, the results will come.
Horses have a funny way of keeping us humble and rerouting the timeline of our goals, and it can be frustrating at times. But on the flip side, the reward of it all coming together is 10 times more powerful than any discouragement. Keep working; keep chasing. Things may fall into place when you least expect it.