From Endurance to Dressage
I love to travel. My first trip on an airplane was as a 17 year-old headed to the Canary Islands, alone! I did my senior year of high school as an exchange student. The Canary Islands lie less than 65 miles off the western coast of Morocco. While there, I also flew to the Spanish mainland and toured the country with a group of other exchange students.
The summer I graduated from college, I flew to Costa Rica for a few weeks, also alone! A few years later, Hubby and I took a trip to Hawaii as well as a road trip around the western US that included a few days on Vancouver Island, Canada.
In the spring of 2005, Hubby and I went back to Hawaii and later that summer, I went to Ireland for a horse back riding trip with Cross Country International, again alone! In 2010, we went to Peru, and in 2011 we went to England and Scotland. This summer, we visited Belize and Guatemala, and we're already planning on where to go next!
I tell you all of this because this trip was different from any other I've taken. I consider myself a pretty fearless traveler. Airports, food, people ... I take them all in stride and never worry. In fact, I relish meeting new people and find the differences from country to country exciting and invigorating. This trip however, stretched my comfort level in ways that I never anticipated.
I have a pretty deep fear of heights. If you're a Facebook friend, you already know that I challenged myself several times during this trip to face that fear. I can't say that I did it with any kind of grace or dignity, but I didn't let the fear stop me.
Hubby and I rappelled the Black Hole drop - kind of an odd thing to do for someone with a fear of heights. The Black Hole is actually a sink hole with a 500 foot diameter and a drop of more than 200 feet. From this photo you might think I was enjoying myself; I wasn't! I didn't know my look of terror was so similar to my look of enjoyment.
We were a group of ten: three guides, a family of five, and hubby and me. We hiked into the jungle with our equipment and water in backpacks. The guides pointed out various animals and plants while we walked. Once we reached the drop off point, the guides gave us a lesson in rappelling.
They demonstrated how the belay system would work and explained all of our equipment. When asked who would go first, I happily let the whole family descend first so that I could watch. Hubby seemed to understand that I needed to wait a while before making the descent. When our turn came, I asked Hubby to go before me so that he would be at the bottom waiting for me.
Finally, it was just me. I was relieved that only the last two guides were there to watch. I needed to be alone so that no one would pressure me to hurry. As I approached the cliff's edge, I kept my eyes locked on the guide. I had seen everyone else step over so I knew that he would be instructing me where to place my feet as I stepped out onto the cliff's edge.
As I was balanced at the point of can't change your mind, I looked the guide in the eye and whispered that I was beyond terrified. He was incredibly supportive. For every other climber, he had encouraged them to take the next step, enjoy the view, look around, etc. For me, he just held my eye contact, breathed, and waited quietly. I also took a breath and kept me eyes locked on him. He calmly told me where to place each foot and never mentioned that I should look around. Each time I placed my foot in a secure place, he told me how well I was doing and encouraged me to find the next foothold.
For the whole descent, I either looked up at my guide, at the wall in front of me, or I squeezed my eyes shut. Once I was beyond the cliff's wall, I continued to lower myself in a free fall until my arms became too tired to feed rope through. Knowing that I was at my limit, the guide yelled for me to open the rope's angle so that they could control my descent for the rest of the way. During that whole "free fall" period, my heart begged to cry, but my brain held it together.
The instant my feet were on the ground, my husband was by my side as the tears began to flow. I took several deep gasping breaths as the tension drained out of my body. It only took me a minute or so to get it together, and after that I had a great time climbing back out of the hole. The family who had hiked in with us was very supportive and congratulated me on facing my fear. I was really proud of myself for not quitting at the top. I was also quite embarrassed about crying, but I told that voice to shut up. I recognized that facing my fear and being honest about it was worth being proud of.
There were many other ways that I challenged myself on the trip: climbing the Mayan ruins was amazing. Descending the ruins was scary. There were no hand rails, and the steps were quite high and frequently narrow. I climbed every single ruin we were permitted to climb and never let myself sit one out, although I occasionally sat down to descend!
Throughout our entire trip, I found that I was challenging myself each day. We went zip-lining through the jungle canopy. Each time I approached the platform, I had to force myself to take the plunge. It never got easier, but I knew that I could do it. It wasn't fun, but I never backed away.
Even swimming was a challenge. I am a relatively good swimmer, but it has been awhile since I've used snorkel gear. For this trip, we twice snorkeled in water that was too deep to stand in. And once we were in the water, we simply followed the guide without being able to hang onto the boat. Several of the tours involved snorkeling for more than an hour without resting or touching bottom. For our first day, I had a small panic attack and had to work really hard to keep my breathing under control.
Facing that fear was so worth it! We got to hold giant nurse sharks in our arms (she was bigger than I am) as well as swim with sting rays on our chests! We saw many kinds of fish, both big and small, as well as sea turtles and all of the other things you would imagine seeing in the Caribbean Sea.
I know you're wondering what all of this has to do with riding or dressage. What I realized over and over during this trip was that it is very important that as riders we stretch beyond our comfort zone. The more we stretch, the more confidence we build. The less we stretch ourselves, the less confident, and more fearful, we become.
I think that as a rider, switching from endurance to dressage was a huge stretch that thrust me into very uncomfortable territory. Now that I am no longer a dressage "beginner," I am going to need to make sure that I continue to find opportunities to go beyond my comfort zone. Riding Sydney outside of the arena more frequently will be one way for me to stretch myself. Taking him to shows is another. I know that JL is asking me to push Sydney now so that we can help him deal with the mental stretch that he'll experience at shows and clinics.
I think the trick is to monitor how far you stretch yourself, parachuting would have been beyond my limit and nothing would have been learned. The stretch needs to be somewhat uncomfortable, but not debilitating. I think it's also important to have a good safety net. I couldn't have done some of the things we did without the support of my husband and the knowledge of the guides we used.
I hope you'll find ways to challenge yourself and to continually build your own confidence both in real life and with your horses.
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%: