"I knew you would win the championship."
"What?" I said. "How did you know that?"
"The only thing between you and winning is your mind," she said casually. "You've got to get used to showing until it doesn't bother you. Why not come to the show this weekend and try again?"
My initial response was that showing the coming weekend was impossible. I hadn't had time to ruminate on another show. I hadn't improved the forward. I hadn't even ridden First Level Test 3 yet!
"Come on, someone has scratched, take their place," she coaxed.
So I found myself heading to a show Sunday morning with no idea what ride times I had or if I would show First Level 3 at all. There was too much left to chance......scary!
As I drove to the show grounds, my stomach knotted up. My stress response was not news to me. As a youngster I had a difficult time performing in front of an audience. Every time I was given the opportunity to dance, sing or act in front of a group of people, I would hyperventilate and not be able to go on stage.
When I ran in track in middle school, I was fast enough to pick any position I wanted on a relay team. I made sure that I was the anchor, so I could run last. When I crossed the finish line, even if I helped win the race, I disappeared into the nearest building to be alone.
At age 13, I decided to try out for a cheerleader position just to see if I could do it. When I was chosen to be on the squad, I made sure that I was placed as a wrestling cheerleader. I knew that because of the nature of wrestling bouts there were no halftimes when the cheerleaders had to get up in front of the crowd and lead cheers.
As an adult, I wrote and performed a one-woman show in a Berkeley experimental theater. I was, after all, a theater major in undergraduate school. The opening night the theater was packed, I got half way though my monologue and left the stage, unexpectedly. I surprised myself with this one, I woke up several minutes later in a coffee house wondering what had happened. The audience waited 30 minutes for me to come back. I never returned and have never performed since.
When I began showing horses, I wasn't surprised by my immediate stress response. I had hoped that the symptoms would subside. What happens to me is variable. I get tense and cry. I get tense. Teddy gets tense. I can't get him forward. I get angry. The symptoms are unpleasant and no one wants to be around me when I am having a melt down.
My trainer's challenge to get over it was very mild compared to what she said to me after my first ride at the championship show. I left the arena swearing loudly that the whole show was a complete waste of time and Teddy was the worst horse ever. She very quietly but firmly told me to "Stop it or I will take you and Teddy home now."
So here are some observations from this weekend of showing. My internal monologue sounds like a Russian novel. In the warm up arena I concluded that I lacked skill, grace and coordination to ride. I should not be allowed to ride a horse. Everyone in the warm up was better qualified to ride than I. I should just commit suicide before the test and get the pain out of the way. But after several minutes, I dared to look around at the others warming up their horses and decided that there was no problem with my riding at all.
In the arena, I was sure that I could hear the judge marking my ride down. As my ride progressed, all I could see was what was wrong with the test. Teddy took a step backwards after the first halt rather than going forward to the next movement. My leg yields were not parallel to the wall. My canter did not extend enough. It piled up. I left the arena thinking we would be doing well if we got a 60 percent.
In reality, the leg yield right got us a 6 because it was "a little restricted," according to the judge. Not great, but not a disaster. The leg yield left got us a score of 7. "A little tight in the neck but even sideways," commented the judge.
I was right about the canter work. According to the judge much of it was not forward enough, but we still got a 7 in the first lengthen stride. Where we fell down was the working canter one loop. The first score was a 5 with the comment, "clearly avoids difficulty." I was actually happy with this figure because he did not fall out of the canter as I had been allowing him to do in our practice sessions.
The final comments included a "well done" written across the collective marks. I received a 7 for rider position and seat. We won the small class with a 64.7 percent for First Level Test 4. This was a qualifying score for the California Dressage Society's annual show.
Because my second ride was five minutes later, I didn't know I had done so well on the first test.
When we were finally allowed to enter the arena, I could feel that Teddy and I had lost a tremendous amount of energy. It was hot. It was after 1 pm and I had not eaten since 6 am because I was too stressed. I tried to get Teddy forward and then to bring him back, but the only way to do that seemed to be in the in the rising trot and as the First Level tests are ridden only in sitting trot this was impossible.
When the bell was rung and Teddy and I entered the arena, my worst fears were realized. I could not keep him forward. I tried a tactful whack with the whip, nothing. I tried raking him with my spurs (rollers), nothing. This was going to be a slow, plodding test, I said to myself as a dribble of sweat rolled down my face and partially obscured my vision.
So, if it was going to be slow, could I keep my cool and keep it smooth? I tried, but lost all composure when I went off course on the walk portion of the test.Crap!
Now I was sure we were moving down in the percentage points below 60. I was sure I could hear the judge giving us 2s and 3s. I tightened my knees and hands because I was having trouble balancing in the saddle. We slowed down even more. By the time we came down the centerline for our last halt I was sure we were creeping.
But the result was far from what I had expected. Again we had received a 64.2 (a loss of a few percentage points for the error) and the comments "good horse, needs to be ridden forward. Some good work. Improve suppleness and steadiness in seat and hands to increase effectiveness of your aids."
I was astonished by the score and asked the show secretary if the judge was know to be an "easy scorer?" Her response was to say that most people felt that she was "extremely honest" and there was no "easy pass" with her. "Many people won't ride in front of her because she is so hard," the secretary said.
Well, so much for the internal monologue. Hopefully, this has given me enough feedback to still the overly critical voice and allow me to concentrate on riding.
The photos are of Artisan, a coming five-year-old Swedish Warmblood. His sire is Puritano (Westfalen) and his dam is Afrika (SWB). His damsire is Callaghan (SWB) He is ridden at Training 3 and 4 by assistant trainer Stacy Zwergel. In this show he received a 67 percent for Training 3 and a 70 percent in Training 4. He is owned by assistant trainer Erin King. He has been under saddle for one year.