Looking Back at 4 Years of Dressage

AKA Making Big Strides Quickly

Okay…it hasn’t been exactly 4 years…more like 4.5 since my first dressage lesson.  But looking back, I am astonished at how far I have come (and to think I’ve not even really been riding for a decade…it makes it even more crazy).  I have been so SO lucky.

In 2015 I was dinking around on the talented… but not at all trained for dressage Champ.  We were dealing with chronic injuries to him.  We could barely canter.  We mostly showed Intro, but did a couple of Training level tests at schooling shows and did fairly well.  We were taking lessons from a trainer with a lot of experience teaching, but not a ton of showing experience in the last several decades.  She came to the tiny arena at the barn we were at where I had printed and stapled up dressage letters in a not at all accurate way (the arena was no where near dressage sized… Maybe 15 m x 60 m…maybe).  It’s amazing I ended up showing 2nd level just a few years later…never mind PSG.  Full of motivation, goals and drive…but without the tools to do so.

Enter Spice.  Spice was a truly lucky find.  Without him, I’d probably be still messing around on western bred/trained horses pretending I was doing dressage.  Or I’d have stopped riding…or I’d have gone to a jumping barn…or lord knows what else.  But no…I found Spice through an ad on Facebook.  The ad wasn’t super specific and it’s amazing it caught my eye at all.  There was something about the single photo of a big brown horse looking tense but kinda fancy.  He was nearby.  He had shown to PSG and trained to I1.  He needed a certain kind of rider.  I thought to myself (after being convinced by my husband) that I lost nothing by going to try.  I honestly thought I had no business riding a horse like that…but I figured…what the hell!

Our first ride was a mess, but I was hooked (and in love).  A few months later we showed training level and first level.  There was a huge learning curve that first year.  There were shows we “Hi Ho Silver” reared in front of the judges booth before we even entered at A.  We had one tempis instead of canter lengthenings.  We had several days he almost got me off…but he never did quite manage it…and after a while he stopped trying and we became best friends.  Though I’m not sure who am I kidding saying it was a year of major learning…there was a huge learning curve my entire 3 years riding Spice!  He taught me SO much I can’t write it all down without writing a book.  I learned a lot from him the day before he died.  That’s just how it was.  He taught and I listened (and adjusted).

My first full show season on Spice we finished our 1st level scores and focused on 2nd and 3rd and I earned my Bronze on him exactly a year after our first show together.  Talk about shooting off into the stratosphere.  Going from a dressage noob to someone earning a Bronze medal was something out of a dream for me.  Then just another year and a couple of months later going out at PSG for the first time was just insane.  And though our show career ended together in January of 2019 due to pregnancy and his passing…these last 6 months I learned even more than I had in the years before.  He took care of me while I was pregnant and we worked on the basics.  By July, we were really and truly ready to go back out at PSG again, but it was not to be.  But we did go from training level to PSG in less than 2 and a half years.  So much progress in so little time…if only there was a little more with him.  But no matter when he left, I was always going to want more time with him.  He was special.

Moving on…So how did I do it?

1.  Excellent trainers.  I wouldn’t have done it without excellent trainers…both human and horse.  Spice, Brenda Beare, Brian Sabo and Heidi Gaian were the biggest influences on me these last few years and each has taught me so much.  There were some others I didn’t take lessons from that gave me tips on things as well that helped with specific issues.  Thankfully the dressage community is full of people that want to help and pass on their knowledge!

2.  Support.  I have an amazing husband that supports my habit.  I have wonderful friends I have met along the way that have cheered me on, sat with me and talked on hard days and given me training tips of their own.  I’ve had many friends motivate me with their own awesomeness!

3.  Treating it like college.  If I learned one thing from my over-education in the liberal arts…it’s how to learn and always approach things like a beginner.  I am not afraid to ask questions, do things wrong, be embarrassed, sit down and read a book, read articles, watch videos, watch other riders and soak it all in.  I also take notes and practice…I don’t go in the arena and mess around.  I have a goal almost every single ride.  I still try and ride like this every day.  My goal going into lessons isn’t to show the trainer how pretty we look, but how much is going badly.  I don’t feel bad to show her what looks like garbage…and I don’t give up.

4.  Speaking of not giving up.  Tenacity.  Not giving up is a big one.  DON’T GIVE UP.  Nothing that is hard was not worth doing once accomplished.  A lot of times if it’s easy, it wasn’t really worth doing at all.  If you don’t have time, make it.  If you’re afraid…realize that fear is a mental construct AND a choice…you don’t HAVE to give in to it.  If you have large life changes (like pregnancy and a baby…or horse injury…or horse death), don’t let that be an excuse.  I could have given up at a number of points, but I didn’t.  Don’t. Give. Up.

5.  Enjoy the ride.  Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.  Goals and progress are nice, but stop to enjoy the process along the way.  Relish in that perfect pirouette.  Smile and loosen the reins and let your horse gallop a little.  Go on that trail ride.  Take a day off riding to go to that girls day out.  Dressage is serious…but it’s not that serious.  Appreciate that you get to do this and have this connection with your horse.

Where are you in your journey?  What has your horse taught you recently?  Where are you headed with your riding?