We’ve all done it. We’ve all made fools of ourselves. Some of us just do it more often than others. And some of us do it on a regular basis. I’ve been told there are two types of smarts. There is book-smart and then there is common-sense or “street” smart. Well, apparently these two attributes rarely go together. And apparently I am of the “book-smart” variety, (yes, I did well in school) which is to say, I lack common sense. And this is another one: “Some people are just really good at taking tests.” Yes, that’s me. Will there be a test on this, please? I’m hoping my ultra-honed test-taking abilities will carry over to dressage tests (somehow I’m thinking not). I’ve had the bookish, smart-person label all my life, and I’m okay with that, but for f*ck’s sake, I can be a massive idiot sometimes. A lot of the time. I refuse to believe I completely lack all vestiges of common sense, so I’ve given some thought to the causes of my frequent air-headedness, and here’s what I’ve come up with.
1. I am normally in a hurry
2. I don’t always take the time to think things through (see #1)
3. I tend to be a bit absentminded and A.D.D.
4. I spend a lot of time thinking about the immediate immediate and not a lot of time thinking about the immediate future, which means my “planning ahead” skills are a bit suspect (see #1 and #3)
I don’t really agree with the term “absent” minded. While the dictionary definition of absentminded, “preoccupied” could be my life’s motto, I take issue with the word “absent.” Implying the mind is nowhere to be found. I‘m actually too much “present” minded. I am in my head all the time, often preoccupied thinking about one thing while doing another. Which means I am too busy over-analyzing the tightness present in my left hip which is causing my left leg to slip back over fences, and lose the occasional stirrup and what stretches, warm-up and foam rolling exercises would be beneficial to correct this, than to think about the most logical way to load the dishwasher.
Now, remembering my list of excuses above for my frequent forays into idiocy, I will move on to a section of my blog post which I am calling I SWEAR I AM SMARTER THAN I SEEM.
I head to the barn Saturday evening to clean Kerry’s tack in preparation for Sunday’s event (she is taking Rock star novice for me). While there I get a very helpful lesson on tack cleaning (thank you Elizabeth Darr). Laugh all you want about my rudimentry tack cleaning knowledge, but I’ve NEVER been to a show before, which also means I’ve NEVER cleaned tack in preparation for a show before (newbie eventer, remember?). I don’t know if there is some special show ritual for cleaning tack. Do you use special saddle soap, is there a special order, some unwritten but well-known process of cleaning tack for a show? These are all things I don’t know. And this isn’t tack cleaning for me, its tack cleaning for Kerry, so, you know, it needs to be done right. The good news is cleaning tack for a show is the same as cleaning tack normally, but more thorough, so I feel I was successful with the cleaning aspect. The bad news is I unfortunately wasn’t there the next morning when Kerry was prepping for the event, so hopefully I managed to put everything back together correctly.
While at the barn cleaning tack, it does not occur to me to go ahead and grab my helmet, gloves, boots and half chaps, which I will need for tomorrow morning’s trek to Dodon Farm. I blame it on the wine I had with me for tack cleaning endevours, but we know the truth (#4 above). My lack of preparation and forthought lead to an additional 20 minutes added to my early morning trip, as I retrieve these items from the barn which I could have easily grabbed the night before when I WAS RIGHT THERE.
Necessary riding equipment acquired and I’m on my way to Dodon Farm. I am CONVINCED I need to take I-70 to get there, and as such I do not plug in my GPS until I reach the highway. Which I then promptly ignore as I drive past my exit. An hour and 20 minutes later, I arrive. On my trip home, I immediately plug in the GPS and it proceeds to take me a completely different route (no I-70 necessary) and I make it home in an hour. I swear I’m smarter than I seem.
I am doing some work for Steuart Pittman for Retire Racehorse Training Project (RRTP) and in exchange he is giving me some much welcomed riding lessons whenever our schedules coincide and I can make the trip to Dodon Farm. (www.retiredracehorsetraining.org CHECK IT OUT). Last time I was here I made a bit of an ass of myself by crashing through an oxer and subsequently leaving my helmet and gloves (see blog post My Visit to Dodon Farm). So, I’m figuring it can only go up from there. I’m not nearly as nervous as I was last time, which I’m hoping will translate into some more relaxed riding. A lot has changed at Dodon since my previous visit and I give myself the self-guided tour of the new barn, which is amazing. There is something peaceful about being in a horse barn. I could probably spend hours sitting in a barn, I enjoy the sounds, even the smells and the simplistic atmosphere. I also appreciate being in a place that while neat and kept, is never really truly CLEAN. Because its not supposed to be. It’s a place where horses are loved and cared for, which also means it’s a place where horses poop. I think its hard to take yourself too seriously around horse poop and I appreciate that. It seems like a lot of aspects of my life have been very, stressfully “serious” lately and I will find and take comfort wherever I can get it, and if its horse poop, then its horse poop. If I can just get to the barn, I’m immediately more relaxed and all of my big, looming problems, don’t seem so big and looming anymore. I can take time to turn my focus to my horse, my riding and our partnership and everything else just seems to fade away, if only for an hour. Sorry if I went too deep for some of you about horse poop, but maybe you should spend more time around horses and horse poop and see if you feel similarly.
Horse poop ruminating aside, Steuart appears in all his glorious tallness and infectious enthusiasm and we select my mount, Laney (aka Lois Lane on Dodon Farm’s horses for sale page). Steuart hands me a boot as we boot her up. (We actually had to trade boots because Steuart handed me the wrong boot for the right front, which I actually noticed, kudos to me. Don’t worry I’m about to blow all my horse-tack-knowledge points on what happens next). Then he hands me what I think is some new-fangled fancy saddle pad as he retrieves his saddle. He goes to put the saddle on Laney and realizes I’ve put the saddle pad on upside down. NO! I’m really
impressed with my new low of stupidity embarrassed. I mean, Steuart is well aware of my mediocre
riding abilities, but not being able to figure out a saddle pad?!?! I glance around for a large hole to crawl in,
but there isn’t one. For f*ck’s sake, really
Julie? Is this your first time tacking up
a horse? If my work for RRTP thus far
hadn’t been spot on, I’m quite sure Steuart would think I’m a nincompoop. I
swear I’m smarter than I seem!
To top it off we are bridling Laney with some contraption I’ve never seen before, and I’m shooting Steuart loads of quizzical looks as we adjust it.
“You’ve never seen one of these before? They’re all the rage.” He tells me.
No Steuart, I’m still coming to terms with figure 8 bridles and apparently saddle pads, which seem at the cusp of my IQ level, this thing is way past. The contraption in question:
Alright, boots on, saddle pad right side up, fancy Micklem bridle conquered and we are ready.
We do a little bit of flat work and transitions so Laney and I can get the feel of each other and to warm up. I never really get her round at the canter which seems to be the story of my life lately.
**Side story**: I had a two hour lesson with Tom (Waters) recently prepping for a dressage test (that never happened) and I could not get Rocky round at the canter. Just couldn’t get it done. Tom hops on (in jeans and sneakers mind you and NO spurs which are a requirement for riding Rocky) and he has Rocky lovely and round at the canter in 30 seconds. “Julie, this horse should be making you look good! He already knows everything and does everything for you, a monkey could ride this horse and do well in dressage.” Says Tom. Okay, maybe he didn’t say the monkey part, but its something he would say. He hands Rocky back over to me and I STILL can’t get a round canter. Mcuk Me. **Side Story End**
And as much as I love my forgiving, willing Rock star, Laney is a bit more forward and easier to keep cantering, which is nice. But Laney is a rock star in her own right over fences. Very easy and comfortable to jump. It's easy to see she enjoys it and really hones in on the fence once you point her at it. She is faster and more forward to fences than I’m used to, and it’s fun. I miss a couple of spots to the fence, mostly the long ones, but for the most part I’m staying with her and even asking for the extra step here and there. Steuart puts me on some courses, which is good because I don’t practice a lot of courses (clearly I should). He also incorporates some tight steering and correct aim, which I miss the first time around and we have an awkward S-curve approach, but work it out any ways. And we do OXERS! And I don’t fall off. I’m feeling pretty good and confident and Steuart and I discuss my jumping before we do some cross country. He tells me even when I have a good spot to the fence, I’m still just a little forward a tick too soon with my position. I know. I can feel it. I need to sit and wait a half second longer. I’ve suspected this. Even when I’ve felt good about my jumping with Rocky I’ve suspected my bad habits haven’t gotten better, only my timing of my bad habits. Steuart has just confirmed my nagging suspicions. Still something to work on. Wait and then wait some more. I don’t know what my mental block is when it comes to waiting. Am I afraid of being left behind? Am I still trying to “help” the horse forward by leaning forward? I can hear Tom yelling now “there is no reason in any riding discipline to ever throw your shoulders forward in front of a fence! Ever!” Ugh, he’s right. Quiet the mind and still the body in front of fences! Only been working on it for a year now. Maybe another year and I will have this habit conquered. Steuart makes an interesting suggestion based on some advice from Jim Wofford: draw my head back (like you’re trying to create a double chin) right in front of the fence. If my head stays back, so will the rest of my upper body. According to Jim Wofford (according to Steuart) there are two sports where you never want to stick your chin out, riding a horse over fences and boxing.
As we move to some cross country schooling, I give this a shot. While a bit awkward and yet another addition to the ever-increasing list of things I need to think about in front of fences, it does work if executed properly and timely. If you over do it (which apparently I was) then it can make you stiffen the upper body, which you don’t want. So, just a small motion and don’t make yourself rigid over it. If you’re interested, here’s my list of things to think about in front of a fence:
1. SIT DOWN
2. LEG ON
3. Don’t throw your shoulders forward (EVER!)
4. Left leg at girth (it tends to slip if I don’t think about it)
5. Hands down and quiet
6. Count your strides
7. Look at the top of the top rail of the jump
8. And now: Draw head back and make a double chin
9. Oh yeah, and don’t fall off
So, that’s a lot to remember and execute well in the seconds before a fence. Perfect practice makes perfect. I need to master a few of these until they are automatic (good habits!) and then move on to the next few.
Alright, more about my cross country schooling. Laney is a forward horse, so I secretly have concerns about her running away with me. But she doesn’t! She is obviously a very well-trained horse, because you get the impression she WANTS to take off like a bullet, but she knows better and waits for her rider’s cues. We go over logs and roll tops and take an awkward one over a coop. And we do my first chevron! Made easier by the fact it was flanked by two large blue barrels, but still, it was my first! Now we are adding a ditch and a down bank. Apparently I like to tell Steuart when he is asking me to do something I’ve never done before (aka a down bank and an up bank). Steuart then likes to make me do these things. He’s incredulous over my lack of experience with banks. The up bank is easy, but down banks TERRIFY me. (See blog post Things I Learned from the Olympics). Which is impressive in its own right, seeing as how I’ve NEVER done one before and have no real negative experience with them. Nonetheless I’ve done a pretty solid job of mentally freaking myself out over drops. So we trot to the down bank and it’s a bit ridiculous. Right before the large drop (small step down, whatever) I take my leg off and completely stop riding Laney and in turn she completely stops. Steuart yells “LEG!” sounding suspiciously like Tom, and we quietly step down off the bank. Sheepish smile. Does that count? Of course not, now we are just going to add it into our short cross country course at a canter. Yikes. Laney is doing her thing, I’m trying to do my chin thing (rather unsuccessfully because I kinda forget, see list above) and we do the ditch rather nicely and canter the approach to our drop. I get confused, probably on purpose, miss the “drop” and we canter down a sloped hill to the left of the drop instead. I miss the interesting tire jump altogether but turn it around and finish the last two jumps. So much for confidence, steering and staying on course. Steuart’s expression is a bit unreadable after I finish my mini-course, I think he knows I sub-consciously, possibly consciously, missed the down bank because I was, uh, scared, but he lets it slide. It’s the end of my lesson and maybe he’s just happy we’ve finished with me still in the saddle, so he doesn’t push the bank issue. I have a feeling this drop will resurface in my next lesson. I do two more jumps specifically to practice my double chin and I nail it on the second one. It felt RIGHT, I was with Laney, not a split second ahead of her. Her motion moved me into my motion. Now if I can just memorize and replicate.
We head to the barn and I get Laney untacked and ready for turn out and I’m searching everywhere for her halter. Finally I ask Steuart and he says, “you’re holding it aren’t you?” Why, yes, yes I am. And now I’m looking for that hole to crawl into again right after I get back from turning Laney out in the wrong pasture. I swear I’m smarter than I seem.