Before our first ride, I had bought Bernie a spiffy new figure-8 bridle. Having never used this type of bridle before I was a bit unsure how it should fit, but the nose pad or nose disc, I guess, looked way too low, so I asked some of the young boarders if it looked low and could it be adjusted? The answer is yes and yes. To adjust it you just scoot it up and pull the straps through more. It really couldn't have been easier or more obvious. Graciously, these all-knowing children kept straight faces. Now don't laugh at my ignorance here, this bridle had already proven itself a complicated puzzle earlier in the week. You should have seen me putting it together when I first got it, its not like they come with instructions. If I was even an ounce less intelligent than I am, I never would have figured it out. Finally, I got all the pieces to come together with the BROWBAND (newbies, take note) and it looked right. I would like to thank Leah Groner for posting photos of Kodiak on her Facebook page with his figure-8 bridle on. This proved to be a very helpful reference. I included this story in my blog post so other newbies, new to eventing, and possibly new to figure-8 bridles too, don't feel alone in their ignorance of this leather contraption. You are not alone, you can come sit in my boat.
Moving past bridles and on to more riding. Now that I had Bernie, I promised myself I was going to push my comfort zone whenever possible, try and do some things normally I might find intimidating. This is how you progress and get better and move on to new things. I had been taking some lessons on Bernie with Kerry (Tom was out of town for a month) and was doing okay popping over some small fences, getting Bernie to pay attention to my aides, and I was feeling pretty good about our progress. There is one small instance that sticks out. We were riding in the ring, and one of Kerry's boarders came running up behind us with Arnie, the mini pony, on a lead line. Apparently Bernie thinks minis are.....horse-eating miniature ponies, or wolves, or something scary. Bernie spooks and rears. Just a little rear, but a rear. We overcome and move on, but a red flag went up in my little brain. (Ironically enough, Bernie now gets turned out with the mini).
I get my first chance to push my comfort zone (this is so silly) when Kerry and another boarder are planning a hack across the street (I board across from the MD Horse Trials) so Kerry can test out the Derby Cross course. I am invited and accept. I am inwardly FREAKING OUT, Bernie and I haven't been out of the ring yet. Deep breaths, calm yourself, you can do this, its just a hack, don't be nervous because you will make him nervous. We were a little nervous. Bernie's head was definitely on a swivel and I subsequently bury his nose in the horse butt in front of us. Bernie was just fine with that, and well, Rocky (the horse butt in front of us) was at least tolerant. We hold it together and even jump one of the elementary jumps, a roll top or barrel or some cross-country looking thing I've never jumped before. We did it three times (third time's a charm) before we got it looking nice. Okay, I admit it, the only reason we jumped anything is because Kerry told us to. I mean, I really did want to, but was kind of being a pansy about it, Bernie and I were already on edge a little bit. But then Kerry tells me to jump it and I can't go being all pansy-ish and chicken shit in front of Kerry. So we jumped it and it turned out okay. Later that evening I wished we had jumped more, but I did step out of my comfort zone if only a little. Newbies, even if it is just a little step at a time (I personally take baby steps), with lots of retreating, you have got to push the comfort zone to get better. I'm not making this up, Jim Wofford says so here in News Flash! Great Riders Are Made, Not Born (well, I guess Geoff Colvin says so in Talent is Overrated, but Jim Wofford agrees). We have to push out of our comfort zone, into our learning zone, but not so far into our panic zone. I actually really appreciate this article because it means there is still hope for me with lots of hard work and perfect practice, since clearly I was not born a great rider.
Getting back to comfort zones, I am a slow, methodical pusher of my comfort zone into my learning zone. I don't want to be anywhere near my panic zone. Comfortable jumping that fence height? Okay, we shall move it up one notch until my comfort zone has expanded to include said higher notch and then we may move it up one notch again. And so on and so forth and one day we will be at 3ft. And here is how we discover my panic zone.....
I really want to ride Bernie in the upcoming Derby Cross (Pause: this is a major comfort zone push. If for some reason you were questioning my beginner status, here are some qualifications: I have never shown before, never even been to a show before. I had to Google what eventers normally wear for the cross country phase. I have no show clothes, or show boots, no vest, armband, etc and I have no idea how to braid the mane. At this point I'm lucky I have boots, half chaps and a helmet. And Tom has already made fun of my boots because they have a westernish leather decor to them and admittedly I did purchase them in college when I was riding western trail horses.) so, Kerry and I are taking Bernie across the street to practice over some cross country jumps. I'm OKAY, but it did cross my mind this is only Bernie's second trip across the street and his first trip alone, with no horse butt in front of us to bury our nose into. We cross the street with some minor dancing on the way over, but once we get there Bernie starts spooking at everything. That blade of grass, the dog, the log, that grass-less patch of dirt, etc... He is employing that simultaneously jumping and bracing action horses do so well. We hold it together, but now I'm having my doubts. We make it over to the water jump, to give us something to walk around. We are walking and looking and then Bernie starts some little rears. I only freak out a little, I've been on rearing horses before, we push forward through some more rearing and finally at Kerry's request, manage a trot. The ugliest, choppiest, barely moving trot you've ever seen, but a trot. We trot through the water with little incident. And then we are back to rearing and Bernie rears big. I'm frazzled, this horse won't move forward, he's not paying attention to me and Kerry is looking at me, silently telling me I need to do something epic here to get this horse to move forward, but I am not epic, I am still baby steps, and I don't have a whip because the previous owners told us Bernie doesn't like being hit, and I haven't tried it yet, but I wish I had one because I would put it in my mouth right now, bite down really hard and brace myself for the impending disaster. And then she says it, "Come on Julie, you can do this, you're a good rider." Okay, I am not a good rider on my best of days, and right now I am freaked out, frazzled, Bernie is having his way with me and I'm wishing I was anywhere but on this horse. But it's what I needed to hear. It gives me an ounce of confidence and we get our ugly trot back. Kerry wants a canter, but I can't do it. Cantering is panic zone right now. I'm positively convinced cantering will lead to him running off with me, and we, or maybe just him, will end up back at the barn. So we move on to another area where there is the most innocent looking log Kerry wants us to jump over, step over, anything to try and focus Bernie. I can't even get Bernie over there. He's rearing and won't move forward and just plain ignoring my feeble attempts to control him. And that's when I start crying. He has done it. He has completely unraveled me and I'm crying because, well, I'm upset, and I'm a crier, so that's what I do. But once I start I can't stop, because now I'm crying in front of Kerry Blackmer and that's embarrassing, so I start crying over that too. But most of all I'm crying because I know this was our "moment." It was Bernie testing me to see who is boss, and I failed miserably. I did not rise to the occasion. Kerry concedes we are done, because how do you tell a crying person over the age of 7, who is on a horse to continue? We walk back across the street to the ring, Kerry asks if I want her to hop on and in a pitiful mess of tears, I nod yes and she goes to retrieve her helmet from the barn. Mercifully, it is the middle of the day and the only other person to witness my tears and breakdown is Kerry's working student, Kate, who is really nice and offers to ride back over with us, which in retrospect probably would have been a good idea, but I can't. I'm beaten and I'm a mess and all I can do is cry as I watch Kerry ride the shit out of Bernie in the ring, making him work and jump everything in sight.