From Endurance to Dressage
Yesterday, while driving to work, I heard something on a podcast that resonated really strongly with me. The speaker - forgive me as I didn't catch his name, said that there are three main types of fear:
I know that all three types of fear are something I struggle with, but fortunately, my fear of failure isn't that strong. I don't like looking inept, but it doesn't stop me from trying. A real fear of failure, according to the interviewee, will prevent one from even trying. The fear can be so overwhelming that a person would rather not even try rather risk failing. That would be very frustrating.
Fear of success is also something that hovers around my peripheral vision. I didn't know it was there until I earned my USDF Bronze Medal. When I heard that I had earned my final score, I burst into tears of relief. Within a half an hour though, I became anxious. I didn't even take an hour to celebrate my success. Earning that medal made me feel as though things had just gotten real. As a medalist, I felt that there was an expectation to continue succeeding, and I worried that I wouldn't be able to do any better. I still worry about that. The fear doesn't stop me from trying, but for some people, being a one hit wonder is terrifying.
The third fear, fear of judgement, does color my thinking. I wish that it didn't, but if I am being truly honest, it does. I very much worry about what people think. I do what I am going to do despite rail birds or critics, but negative feedback hurts. That makes me wonder if writing in this space has been my subconscious's way of forcing me to confront that fear. Because really, who would deliberately share their opinions, failures, and innermost thoughts in such a public way if she didn't seek out judgement? Me, apparently.
The speaker pointed out, specifically in reference to fear of judgement, that it is important to be one's authentic self because we can't please our critics. They don't like us anyway, and they don't want to like us. So why waste time worrying about appeasing their sensibilities?
Which brings me to the interviewee's suggestion for dealing with fear. First, he said, make a list of every single fear you have. Then, work hard to check them off. Confront the fear, take steps to eradicate it, and then, once overcome, strike it off the list. With enough work, we can all become fear-less. We all know it's not that easy, but it is certainly something worth doing. So, here I am confronting my fear of judgement.
I am an awkward rider who loses her balance frequently. I am tight through my elbows and struggle with following my horse's movement. My sitting trot is more about bouncing than sitting. And sometimes, I am afraid of losing my seat and hitting the ground. Speedy made things look easy, Izzy makes me look like the rider I am. Despite all of these marks against me, I am still going to be my authentic self because those who judge me harshly, don't like me anyway, so why should I care?
Face you fear, cross it off your list, become fear-less.
Friday Happy Hour
Most happy hours come with booze, and that is a good thing. I'll have a bourbon. Neat, please. This one was not that kind of happy hour. Instead, my Friday happy hour was filled with a wonderful, beautiful, sunny sky.
I have made it through the darkest part of winter and already feel a sense of gladness and joy. I made it to the barn at my regular time on Friday, about 3:15. It was cold and there were scattered clouds, but there was actual sunshine. I saddled Izzy and had a very pleasant ride that finally used more than a single 20-meter circle. The arena had finally dried up enough for me to have 35-meters of length. It was enough to do a few changes of direction and try a bit of a canter lengthening.
While it was a short ride, I never felt rushed or hurried. With the sun still above the treetops, I found I had enough time to trim Izzy's bridle path and then pull Speedy out for some grooming, too. Both boys' bridle paths had gotten a bit shaggy, but over the past two months, there hasn't been daylight enough to do those small chores. Those few minutes of daylight we gain each week are finally starting to show themselves. As I walked towards my truck ready to head home, I glanced over to see the sun still peeking through the trees.
Happy hour, indeed. I'll have another, please.
Sometimes We Need to Hit Pause
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage sent out an email mid-week last week canceling all lessons at his barn due to rain. Knowing that we don't get nearly as much rain as he does, he told me to keep him posted about my own footing. It was supposed to rain off and on all last Friday night which meant I wouldn't really know about the footing unless I drove out there at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. I texted him to cancel. I didn't care whether the footing was good or not. I didn't want a lesson.
That's just so unlike me. I am all in all the time. Lately though, as I've already described, lessons have begun to feel like a chore. They're not fun, and I am not feeling energized and motivated by them. I should add that it's not Sean's fault. It's not like he has turned into a jerk over the past month; it's me. I've been putting so much pressure on both Izzy and myself to IMPROVE ALL THE TIME that I am exhausted and not feeling very kindly toward the sport.
Being middle-aged has its advantages. One of which is a certain amount of wisdom as a result of experience and age. I no longer let myself get so far off into the deep end before I start looking for a life preserver. Instead, I start to evaluate which way the tide is going, and I start paddling for shore. While I might have felt a twinge of guilt about canceling the lesson, I knew I had my best interests at heart. I did ride on Saturday, later in the day, but I took Sunday off. Of course it rained off and on all day, so I didn't feel guilty, but it was a nice break from the monotony of having to ride and "succeed."
This week my rides have been a lot less goal oriented. I am riding the horse I have rather than the one I think I should have. We've schooled the flying changes and gotten them. We've schooled the flying changes and not gotten them. I didn't care. I just went on to something else and focused on creating a better connection with my horse. I (mostly) blocked out my inner critic and tried to stay in the moment. It definitely helped. I am supposed to have a lesson in the morning, but I cancelled it and the next three. I talked to Sean last night about cancelling my weekly lessons until the new year. He understood and even said that sometimes a break can be the way to move forward,
I already feel better.
After competing in the sport of endurance for more than sixteen years, I eventually reached burnout. Doing training rides every single weekend, month after month, year after year, finally became something I dreaded. I never went to parties, showers, shopping dates, or anything else that happened on a weekend. Nothing was more important than riding my horse.
Besides all of the conditioning miles we rode, every endurance rider copes with a ton of stress. Endurance rides are hard on horses; so many things can go wrong. Besides the obvious things like trailering accidents and pasture mishaps, endurance horses compete right on the knife's edge every time they tackle a 50 or 100-miler. Colics are a concern, but so are torn tendons, strained ligaments, damaged kidneys, popped splints, tying-up, and regular wounds. Crossing the finish line wasn't enough; your horse had to be fit to continue to get a completion, and then there was the drive back home where the strain of travel might induce a colic or a mystery lameness. For most endurance riders, a horse's health is always the priority - even over a completion, but that responsibility is a heavy weight when you are running at speed over long distances. No one takes it lightly.
Eventually, I just got tired of it. Near the end of my endurance days, I started taking dressage lessons. I had fun, my horse didn't get beat up, and no one almost died. When it came time to renew my membership to the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC), I let the renewal date pass by and instead, I joined the California Dressage Society (CDS).
I started my dressage journey way back in 2010, more than twelve years ago. I am starting to feel that same sense of burn out that I felt while doing conditioning rides. Just like in my endurance days, I spend every single Saturday morning doing a lesson. It has begun to feel like a grind. What makes it worse is that my work-to-reward ratio is way out of whack. I put in a massive amount of work and get no tangible rewards. Nothing that I can look at to prove to myself that the work I am putting in is worth it; that the experiences I miss out on are worth missing. There are plenty of adages that express that lack of balance: all work and no play make Jack a dull boy comes to mind. It's not a good place to be in.
I am looking at solutions. Time off or a change of the view I see between my horse's ears are among the possibilities. When I left the endurance world, it started with a break that turned into forever, but with no regrets. I don't know if I am there yet with dressage, but it's something to consider.
I don't think it will happen this week, but I am leaving myself open to whatever possibilities arise.
What's In a Name
I started this space back in February of 2011, nearly twelve years ago. I know there is at least one person out there who remembers my very first post, but I don't know if she reads anymore. We're still friends, and since those early days, I've made a lot of new friends because of this space.
Back then, my web address was the same, but the blog was simply called Karen's Dressage Blog. I couldn't think of an actual title, and it didn't matter anyway as I never in a million years thought I'd still be writing more than a decade later. Back then, I posted seven days a week. I am not sure when I switched to a Monday through Friday format, but it was probably seven or eight years ago.
After several years, I realized Karen's Dressage Blog was more of a place holder than a title, so I sat down to choose a name that embodied my experiences with horses in general and dressage in particular. Speedy's name has always been a bit of a tongue in cheek name - his dam was named G Im Fast and her sire was named Fast Ptrack. Speedy was my new endurance horse, so the name Speedy G stuck, especially since he wasn't very fast. At all.
Nothing about my dressage journey has been speedy. It took me ten years to earn a USDF Bronze Medal, and Izzy and I have been at this for eight years, and we still don't have scores that would qualify us for anything. While the name is appropriate to our pace of learning, the inevitable meaning of "not-so-Speedy" was not lost on me. I knew that eventually, this space would not include Speedy. Fortunately, Speedy's transition from star-of-the show to supporting character has been slow and gradual. He hasn't died in some freak accident or acute illness. He's still with me even though we don't do much together anymore.
Over the weekend, I pulled him out for a grooming session. I conditioned his mane, tail, and forelock before gently combing them all out. I gave his coat a quick curry - he was actually pretty clean, and then brushed his hair smooth. The entire time he nudged my hands and pockets looking for treats; I will forever be his human Pez dispenser. The next day, I turned him out to graze in the alley in front of his paddock, but when I came back an hour or so later, he had put himself away. If he had had thumbs, he would have closed the gate and clipped the chain on.
He's not nearly so excitable these days, but he does have his moments. On Sunday, I laughed particularly hard at his crotchety old man expression as he followed me while I carried his lunch bucket. He plodded along behind me with his ears flat back as if to warn anyone watching that that bucket was his and his girl had better hurry the hell up.
So here we are. My journey has not picked up its pace, and Speedy doesn't make nearly as many appearances here as he used to. I think the name will be relevant for as many years as I continue to write and post.
Not-So-Speedy Dressage remains true on many levels.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: