Finding Our Way

It’s not often that one is grateful to have a nightmare, but that Sunday morning, my nightmare saved me.  I don’t remember exactly what it was about; all I know is I awoke mid-wail.  My crying startled me awake so abruptly that I sat up just like out of a scene in a movie.  It took me about 2 seconds to switch my focus from the context of my dream to the fact that I needed to be at the horse show to show in the final day of my very first CDI.

Turns out, I had passed out without plugging in my phone the night before, which meant the battery died, which meant, NO ALARM.

For those of you who have known me for a while, this story will likely not come as a shock.  Sleeping in, being tardy, and general lack of “having it together” have been common staples in my life that I have worked very hard in the past 2 years to dissolve.  At 41 years of age, I am very proud of the fact that I finally have peers who do not expect me to be late.

I had no idea what time it was.  No idea how late I was.  It was still dark out, but not quite dark enough.  I wanted to be at the show by 7am to be on Belle by 7:30 and ready to be first in the Stadium by 8am.  It was our 5th day at the show, so we had planned a quick warm up, making sure to save as much energy as possible for our second half of the Small Tour.

I managed to make it to the show by 7:20a and still have my foot in the saddle by 7:30a, but I don’t think I had quite forgiven myself for my relapse and my warm-up reflected that.  I couldn’t think straight.  I couldn’t focus on my coach’s instruction because I was lost inside my head.  Thinking back instead of thinking forward.  While I had had a successful test in the Prix St. George on Friday, the old Melissa was back to convince me that I was incapable of holding it together.  That ugly voice inside my head was determined to remind me that all my progress up to that point was sheer luck.  In the warm-up, I did not ride a single line of clean changes, Belle kept breaking from the canter, and when given a direction as simple as “track right” I went left. Lets just say wandered around the warm-up like a lost puppy dog.

The next thing I know, I am being called into the ring.  “What time is it?”  “Do I ACTUALLY have to go NOW?”  I even managed to get my earpiece wrapped around my chin strap as I was attempting to remove it.

But it was my turn.

I had my heart set on this moment for years.  I spent over $2000 in entry fees and passport registration fees.  In the past, this would have been the makings of the perfect storm, ending with me falling flat on my face right after tripping over continuous mistakes.

Not this time.

This time I was truly prepared.  This time I had done the real work.  This time I had the confidence. 

So, I left Old Melissa in the schooling ring and I walked into that Stadium knowing that in spite of my warm-up not going as planned, I WAS ready.  And through the cold and the wind, we rode a clean test with comments like “harmonious ride,” “focused riding” and “controlled test” and while I didn’t place high in the rankings, I received a competitive score just 0.40% below 4th place.

Today, I went back and watched the video of OUR FIRST PRIX ST. GEORGE and I smiled.  I smiled at our complete lack of impulsion, balance, and collection and I forgave myself for not knowing any better.  I smiled remembering how frustrating it was struggling to find a solid connection, because now I know exactly where it is and where to find it when it is lacking.  I smiled as I watched Belle’s hind legs trailing in the half passes, swinging back and forth through the tempis and I giggled as she stole changes.  I smiled because even though she was behind my leg, struggling to find her balance like a drunk in a field sobriety test, she never stopped trying. 

Most of all, I smiled because now I know.  I spent years beating my head against a wall, trying to get over this hump.  There were multiple times I almost gave up on her.  I loved this horse.  I bred her, I started her, I nursed her through colics.  But there was a time when I actually dreaded riding her.  Every time I put my foot in the saddle, I had to prepare to be humbled, because no matter how hard I tried, she was going to remind me that it wasn’t working and that would prove all those voices inside (and outside) my head, that I wasn’t good enough.

So I made drastic changes. I immersed myself in a program where I focused on basics and I realized that when I perfected my basics, everything else fell into place.  I also realized that I had skipped over SO MANY tiny details that build the foundation of an FEI horse.  I had no connection. Not just in my hands, but in my seat and my leg. Belle and I were never truly plugged in.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that we don’t still become unplugged, but in a place where I used to fill with a fog of anxiety, panic and frustration, I now have the confidence and ability to process and make effective corrections.

Dressage is an extremely disciplined sport. How the hell someone who once quit a job because she didn’t feel like waking up that day got involved is beyond my comprehension. But for some reason, I love it enough to be converted into a Dressage Queen. 👑

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