Winter has been hard. It’s cold. It’s dark. We are stuck in the indoor. The horses get to go outside, but don’t play on the lumpy, frozen ground. They come in sassy and unfocused when we want to work. It’s almost over, but spring can’t come soon enough.
I had a serious case of the winter-blah’s this week. But I told myself what I tell all my students. One Day At A Time. It’s the only way to get anywhere. Dressage is a process, a journey, an education. Above all, it is not a destination. If we can’t enjoy each day, we have picked the wrong sport. But I was feeling like I had worked so hard, day in and day out (literally, often 6 or 7 days a week, and often 10 hours a day) and I just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then we had a frustrating ride, and I just crumpled inside.
Then as we discussed show plans, my trainer told me she wanted us to try a training level test and see what we had, since I would have to show Open and he is, as much as I love him, an ottb with less than spectacular gaits. I felt like giving up. I know I will be competing against riders on fancy, big moving warmbloods, but I just can’t afford more horse. I felt defeated, like I was fighting an uphill battle trying to make this racehorse into something he just was never meant to be.
But, I told myself, one day at a time. See where we are tomorrow. And one of my favorite quotes when I am having a bad day “And this too shall pass.” And, of course, it did. Quicker than I thought, and without an additional herd member.
The next day I talked to my trainer a little more about plans for the show season. But instead of discussing where we wanted to try to start in a month or two, I wanted to set some goals. She wants me to try for an All-Breeds award with Liam. I love that idea. But, I asked carefully, would it be asking too much to try for it at first level instead of training level? I was fully prepared for her to laugh in my face, and to accept that. Yes, dressage is a humbling sport.
But to my surprise and utter delight, she responded with a hearty “Oh, sure” and went on to say that we were already doing almost all of the movements. And actually, the only thing we would need to really work on and develop still were the trot and canter lengthenings, and that the hardest part of those for Liam would be returning to the working gaits! But, since last year he was such a spaz when I took him to a show, we’d make it easy on ourselves and just get him in the ring a few times doing tests that wouldn’t add any extra pressure. And then she told me that dressage mantra again, “We’ll just take it one day at a time and see how it goes.”
So we made a plan to start doing more work over poles with him to teach him to stretch his stride out without getting faster. He already has offered us a little lengthened trot, and I’m sure he’d LOVE to give me a bigger canter, but we have to teach him to do it correctly and keep it under control.
And on top of that, he has to learn to handle the show atmosphere. The ultimate test will be whether or not we can get the same work out of him in a show environment that we can get at home. The only way to find out, unfortunately, is to go, and just see what we have.
Out of curiosity, I just looked at First Level Test 4, the hardest test of the level. As I read it, I found myself thinking, “Yep, we can do that. Uh-huh, no problem. Ok, not bad…” all the way through it. Sure enough, as my trainer had said (of course), the only part that needed a lot of work was the lengthenings.
So I got curious, and looked at Second Level. To my surprise, it didn’t really look so bad! We are obviously no where near ready to show at second level, but it doesn’t look like an impossible task. It actually seems well within reach if we keep going the way we are.
All my winter depression faded instantly. Cooped up in the indoor, barely able to make ourselves work in the cold, we had actually made incredible progress. One cold, dark, winter day at a time.